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If you could have one leadership quality, that would remain constant throughout your everyday life and work, what would it be?

As you know, there are many qualities that are necessary for effective leadership. The list is long: trust, compassion, vulnerability, authenticity, integrity, stability, hope, accountability, just to name a few. But there is one leadership quality that lies at the heart of effective leadership. That one quality is self-reflection.

As a Jesus follower, reflection upon the scripture, everyday life, and current events is a given. Being a person of reflection is who we are. So, why do we find it so difficult and painful?

Begin with Your Purpose

As a leader you know that everything begins with your purpose. Why do you do what you do? Related to your purpose, you then decide what you are going to do to fulfill your purpose and then you plan on how you are going to make it all come about. When you don’t take time to reflect regularly upon who you are and why you do what you do, you continually run the risk of either “blowing in the wind” without direction or bumping into tensions and failures that could have been avoided.   

The Power of Self-Reflection

Self-reflection is a humbling, yet powerful skill that helps you improve who you are as a person as well as your effectiveness as a leader. It is a practice that assists you in taking an honest look at yourself: your strengths, your weaknesses, and areas for improvement. It allows you the time and space to decide how you want to live and work in the days, weeks, months, even years ahead. It is not easy to admit you could have done something better, but it is in your own self-reflection that you can decide how you will live and lead differently from this moment forward.

To say it another way, self-reflection is taking time to think, contemplate, examine and review yourself as part of increasing your self-awareness.

An Illustration

Permit me to use a personal illustration. This week I am celebrating my 67th birthday. Over the years, I have developed the practice of reflecting upon my life and work as my birthday approaches. I believe God has created me to make a difference in the places I live, work, and associate with people. This past week, during my time of reflection, I asked myself, “Am I giving myself in the ways God has created me to give?”

In reflection of the scriptures, the stories of Holy Week were fresh in my mind. Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Simon Peter denying that he knew Jesus. Judas betraying Jesus and feeling guilty. Pilate washing his hands of responsibility. The soldiers and the crowd taunted Jesus and cried out for his death. Jesus hanging on a cross, crucified.  

Thinking about current events, I reflected upon the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The 53rd anniversary of his assassination was on Easter Sunday. I reflected on the life of George Floyd and upon the life of the police officer who is on trial for killing him. I reflected upon the multiple mass shooting events over the past two weeks, the acts of violence toward Asian Americans, the continued politicization of wearing masks in the midst of the COVID pandemic, and the children and teenagers being detained at the border.  

Pausing at a Question

More than once, I caught myself thinking, “Would I have treated Jesus the way the people treated Jesus in these stories? I caught myself being judgmental and blaming others for the current misjustice and treatment of people in our culture.   

So, I confess, I have basically kept my faith private. I have a lot of knowledge about Jesus and his radical message of love. I have an abundance of information about the current events in the world in which I live, but I express my faith in safe and sterile ways. To put it another way, I do a lot of talking but not a lot of walking regarding my faith as a Jesus follower. 

Another Look at the Cross

So, I took another look at Luke’s story of Jesus on the cross. In Luke 24:34, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This prayer was in keeping with the character and life of Jesus. He was praying for forgiveness for those who were violating him because they did not know what they were doing. In Luke, the primary problem is ignorance. “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” They have killed the Lord of glory in ignorance.

Forgiven for Ignorance?

I know it seems strange that anyone would have to be forgiven for ignorance. We usually don’t put forgiveness and ignorance together. But when you think of the different kinds of ignorance that move and motivate people, the ignorance that closes their eyes when they have every opportunity to see the truth, our hope is “Father, forgive them…”

When I think about it, evil could be called intentional ignorance. When we refuse to listen or to understand. When we remain silent and do nothing. When we turn our backs and say, “Well, it is terrible, but it is not my problem.” That is intentional ignorance.

The crowds walked by Jesus on the cross, their only words were insults, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” It sounds like Jesus forgave them for their ignorance. Could that work for us?

Father, Forgive Us…

When we are filled with prejudice and we target and kill innocent people because of cultural differences or the color of their skin… “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When we use our power, position, or privilege as harassment, to keep others in their place… “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When we know that women are paid less for the same work, not promoted with the same skills, overlooked for being different…” Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When children and adults, bystanders, are killed by gun violence in schools, in parks, in clubs, in churches… “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When medications are not available or too expensive because our health care is inadequate…” Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When any one of us remains silent when we know we should speak up and step out… “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

Can we be forgiven for our ignorance? “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

The Love of God

These words were spoken by a person whose only weapon was the love of God. Whose only crime was being different. Who raised suspicion because he challenged the systems of hatred, prejudice, and bigotry. Yet, in the midst of being put to death for extending love, even to his enemies, he called upon God to forgive the ignorance of his abusers and accusers. 

I have made peace with the fact that I may not see the full result of any ministry I have been graced to participate in. But I understand that I honor God by offering myself in living this way.  I don’t want to deny it or work against it.  I don’t want to turn away from the work God has for me to do. 

So, I am, again, committing myself to hold back evil, in all the forms it presents itself. I am committing to repair systems and structures, especially the church that has helped make me who I am. And I commit to be a healing agent for people who are broken and suffering. I am committing myself to be about the business of peacemaking. I will constantly be about the work of disrupting the façade of peace so the authentic peace of Christ can take root and grow. 

Please pray with me and for me as I grow into this stage of my life and ministry. Pray that I am who God intends for me to be at this point and time in history. Pray that I will make the difference God has created me to make.

Now, what about you? 

Self-reflection is not spending hours contemplating your navel. It is focusing upon what and who you value and deciding on what you are going to do about it.  It is not some intellectual exercise.  It is about being self-aware and becoming more who God created you to be. 

Four Questions for Self-Reflection

Here are four questions to ask yourself and to reflect upon:

  1. Am I being true to myself? It is easy to lose sight of what you value and why you are doing what you are doing. Your identity can become quickly lost in the paperwork, meetings, preparation, care, etc. These are all good and necessary aspects of being a leader. This question helps realign yourself with what’s going on around you. 
  2. Am I allowing the things I can’t control to stress me out? It is tough not to worry about the things of which you are responsible. Environments, factors and conditions outside your control all affect the eventual outcome of what you are trying to do. Live in the grace given in the moment. There will be grace for what you face tomorrow. So, place your energy on what you can influence. In other words, don’t use up so much mental energy in focusing on what we can’t influence. 
  3. Do I make time for those closest to me? What you do is important. But so are the people closest to you. They are your inspiration and your constant reminders of what you value most. By making time for those closest to you, you keep yourself in touch with everything that truly matters. 
  4. Am I achieving the goals I have set for myself? When you don’t know where you are going you usually end up there. This is one of the biggest shortcomings of leadership, you get so caught up in activity, which might be good, but it is not taking you where you want to go. Stopping and changing direction is not a sign of failure.  On the contrary, it is a sign of courageous leadership, no matter how far you’ve travelled in the other direction.

Remember

Your leadership starts with you. So, what one thing will you do this week that will help you reflect upon your life and work. What one step will you take to become more the leader God has created you to be?

Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, we talk about Accountability. If your eyes just rolled or your heart rate started to speed up, join us as we reframe accountability as a way to grow, succeed, and innovate in life, leadership and the local church. Check out Episode 172 of LeaderCast. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  

Have you ever thought of Holy Week as a practice of self-awareness? As human beings, it is our nature to develop our ideas and to mature in our relationships. Acquiring knowledge that changes our perspectives and learning from our mistakes enrich our lives and allow us to move forward. 

Holy Week provides the opportunity to reflect upon the places we are broken as well as experience new life, hope, and possibilities. The events of Holy Week give us space to meditate upon how fragile and sacred life is while preparing for healing and rebirth. It is a time we are invited and challenged to walk with Jesus as faith is renewed and hope is restored.   

Maundy Thursday

On Thursday, the day of Holy Week we call Maundy Thursday, we celebrate Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. This celebration invites us into the saving and healing work of God in Jesus.  As we participate, we are no longer bystanders to the love of God. 

We no longer look back with longing at the original events, but we become participants in God’s love for us and for the world. We are affirmed as beloved children of God and sent out to love one another as God in Christ has loved us. Through Holy Communion, the events of God’s love in that time and place are made present to us here and now. Keep that in mind as we continue to walk the path of self-awareness. 

Good Friday

On Friday, the day we call Good Friday, is the most dramatic and most challenging day of Holy Week. It is a day of prayer, fasting, and reflection. The focus of the day is upon the suffering, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.  On Good Friday, we encounter Jesus as a simple and fragile human being. There are no miracles, no sermons, no parables. 

There is no walking on water or turning water into wine. No one is healed and no demons are cast out. The blind, listening to the commotion as Jesus drags his cross through the streets, do not receive sight. On Good Friday, we find Jesus vulnerable and subject to great pain. 

Jesus Gives Us a Model of Self-Awareness

Whether you are a Jesus follower or not, Jesus gives us a model of self-awareness. He responded out of who he was in his relationship with God. He responded as a child of God.  Regardless of the humiliation and the physical abuse that Jesus endured, he did not retaliate. When Roman soldiers beat him, he did not curse them, cancel them, or fight back. He didn’t stir up his followers to riot on his behalf. 

Even after his friends abandoned him, including Peter, one of his closest friends, he didn’t cast blame or shame. He was generous by loving and accepting the people around him. In the midst of great loneliness, he prayed.  Standing before his accusers, he remained calm. Bleeding from the brutal assault to his body, he said, “Father forgive them…” As he hung on a cross, he didn’t think about himself, he turned his focus to his mother, brothers, and sisters, as well as one who was crucified with him. In his endurance, courage, compassion and death, Jesus not only offered us an example of grace under pressure, but he showed us what it means to be truly human.

The Uncomfortable Nature of Self-Awareness

It is uncomfortable to be reminded that we bear responsibility for the death of Jesus because of our personal failures and actions. But it is a hopeful reminder that the events of Holy Week bring us to the realization that we are claimed and loved as beloved children of God and are sent out to love one another as God in Christ has loved us. 

When I reflect upon the life and response of Jesus, my life changes. I think of this way. As a beloved child of God, I am no longer living on my own power, but God’s power is living within me. What a difference that makes in my self-awareness. 

That is what Paul was saying when he wrote to the church in Rome. “When you belong to God, you no longer live in your own power, but God’s power lives in you.” Romans 6:16-22 

Live Like Jesus

Here is the clue to self-awareness.  When you have offered your life to God in and through Jesus Christ, it is important that you live that way. Your old master no longer has authority over you. So, you don’t have to live like the old master. 

Imagine you are living in an apartment and you have a landlord who is making your life miserable. He charges an astronomical rent.  When you are unable to pay, he adds on penalties, which gets you deeper in debt. He makes all kinds of outlandish threats, insisting on coming into your apartment at inopportune times. He makes charges that you have not maintained the property to his standards. 

Then one day there is a knock at your door. You answer the door and there is a stranger standing there. The stranger introduces himself.  “I just bought this building. I am the new owner. I am sorry for all you have experienced with the previous owner. I want to tell you that you can live here for free for as long as you want.” 

Change in Management

Now how do you feel? You are elated in this change in management. Finally, you have been freed from the clutches of the previous owner. The heaviness of his demands is gone. 

Then one day, there is another knock at your door. When you answer the knock, you see your old landlord. He demands you pay him your overdue rent. So, how do you respond? Should you pay it because he demands it? No, of course not.  He is no longer the owner of the building. Should you fight him? No. He no longer has authority over you.  So, you tell him, “If you have a complaint, you can take it up with the new owner.” He is trying to call your bluff, but you know that your building is under new ownership. 

Under New Ownership

As a child of God, under new ownership, loved and accepted by God, whose power is within you, there are several things you know.

  • “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20).
  •  “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation.  The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” (II Corinthians 5:17).
  •  “You are from God…the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). 

So, when you offer your life to God in and through Jesus Christ, it is important that you live that way. The one thing to remember about self-awareness is you are a child of God, under new management. You live and respond out of your relationship to God.

Kneeling Next to You

Maybe you can think of it this way. In London, several years ago, a large prosperous downtown church had three satellite mission churches under its care. On the first Sunday of the New Year, all the members of the mission churches came to the city church for a combined Communion service. In those mission churches, which were in the lower income areas of the city, were some interesting individuals, burglars, drug dealers, etc. Most had given their lives to Christ, in and through the acceptance and compassion of the people in the mission churches. On that first Sunday of the year, they all knelt side by side at the Communion rail.

On one such occasion the pastor saw a former convict kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England. He was kneeling beside the very judge who had sent him to jail. The man had served several years for his crimes. After his release from jail, he offered his life to Christ and became a faithful worker on one of the mission churches. As Holy Communion was being served, neither the judge nor the convict was aware of the other.

The Rest of the Story

After the service, the judge and the pastor were talking.  In the midst of their conversation the judge asked his pastor, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?”

The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.”

Then the judge said, “Yes. What a miracle of grace.”

The pastor nodded in agreement. “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace.”

Then the judge said, “Pastor, to whom do you refer?”

The pastor said, “To the conversion of that convict of course.”

The judge said, “I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.”

The pastor, surprised, replied: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.”

The judge replied, “Yes. It did not cost that burglar much to get converted when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw Jesus as his Savior, he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. He knew how much he needed that help. But look at me. I was taught from early in my life to be polite and nice. My word was to be my bond. I was to say my prayers, go to church, take Communion, and so on. I went through Oxford, earned my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge.

“Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on a level with that burglar. It took much more grace to forgive me for all my pride and self-deception, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than that convict that I had sent to prison.”

Holy Week as a Practice of Self-Awareness

Well, Holy Week can be a practice in self-awareness. It is a time to come face-to-face to who you are and whose you are.

  1.  You are a beloved child of God. Your nature is as a daughter or son of God.
  2.  You belong to God. You are under new management.
  3.  You have been equipped, by God’s presence and power in you, to love others as you have been loved.  

Jesus understood who he was, what he came to earth to do, and how he was going to accomplish his mission.  He said, “The father and I are one” (John 10:30). “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:48). He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He had a strong and confident self-awareness.

Who Are You Created to Be?

So, this Holy Week, participate in Holy Communion, confront your brokenness, and experience, again, the love and acceptance of God in Jesus.  Reflect upon the beautiful child of God you have been created to be.

The one thing to remember about your self-awareness is you are under new management. It is my prayer that the people around you will be freed from their heaviness because of God’s love and care in your life. 

Final Reminders

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, we feature 15 of our guests sharing their wisdom regarding self-awareness. Check out Episode 171 of LeaderCast. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Have you ever seen the digital “Your Speed” signs alongside the road? The sign tells you how fast you are going as you drive past. Now, you have that information on your speedometer, but having it projected at you from a different angle allows you to receive the information in a unique way.  The sign is designed to help you alter your speed. By gathering information and presenting it in a relevant way, the assumption is that you will receive the information and respond with positive action.

Your Speed Signs

Most of us are more effective in life and leadership when we know where we stand and where we are going. It is the feedback along the way that helps us make the adjustments that assist us into living into who we are created to be. Feedback, even if it is information you already know, helps you alter your behavior in a positive way.

To fully develop a healthy self-awareness, it is important to understand how you are perceived by the people with whom you live, work, and associate on a daily basis. In a constructive and beneficial way, these people are “Your Speed” signs.

Your Response to Feedback

Bill George, in his book Discover Your Truth North, tells the story of Kroger CEO David Dillon. Dillon, in telling his experience regarding feedback, says, “Feedback helps you take the blinders off, face reality, and see yourself as you really are.” 

He admits that his natural reaction to feedback is defensiveness. He attributes this to how he copes with negative information.  Now, you and I know that it can be tough to hear negative things about ourselves. But Dillon makes a point to tell colleagues that he appreciates their input despite how it may make him feel. Just because something is uncomfortable, does not mean it’s wrong. It takes maturity to graciously accept feedback that you would rather not hear.

Receiving Feedback

To grow as an effective leader, you need others to help give you information from a different angle so you can receive it, reflect upon it, and respond to it in positive ways. To be truly self-aware you must know how your behavior affects others.

Now, how do you set up “Your Speed” signs? How do you solicit feedback and interpret it in a way that allows you to respond with positive action?

Mistakes We Make Around Feedback

One way to solicit information is to ask people with whom you work to give you anonymous written feedback. Although this will provide you with information upon which you can reflect and respond, it does two things that are not helpful.  

First, we tend to think that anonymity allows people to be more honest in their feedback. The reality is anonymity feeds the mistrust that creates a culture of fear. As a leader, you want to create a culture of trust through vulnerability and transparency. Anonymous information falls short of creating a culture of trust. 

Second, we tend to make anonymous information at the end of the process.  The purpose of the exercise is not to collect information but to help you become more the person and the leader you are created to be. 

The information is a means to an end, a tool to assist you in your self-awareness. The purpose is for you to receive feedback that helps you become more the person and the leader you are created to be.

Open and Honest Feedback

With that in mind, true feedback is best provided in open conversations with people who are honest in their offerings. The conversation is with trusted friends and colleagues who desire to support you and who want you to be the best human being as well the best leader you can be.   

So, a better way to solicit information is to ask three to five persons, who you trust, to help you. You want at least three people, preferably five, because you will receive more reliable feedback. 

It is one thing to receive feedback from one person, but it is another to receive the exact same feedback from three, four, or five different people. If a larger number of trusted friends and colleagues are telling you the same thing about your behavior, you are more likely to make a positive change.

Four Steps for Receiving Feedback

Here are four steps for getting feedback on how your behaviors are affecting others.

1. Ask for feedback.

This is your opportunity to gather information. Invite 3 to 5 people to assist you in becoming the best leader you can be.  These people are people who you trust, who have your best interest in mind, and who have a good understanding of you, your work style, and how you interact with others. They are people who care about you. Because of Your trust relationship, these people are people who will be honest with you.  

Tasha Eurich, in her book, Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More Than We Think, writes, “Feedback from one person is a perspective; feedback from two people is a pattern; but feedback from three or more people is likely to be as close to a fact as you can get.”

You can either have them gather as a group or you can interact with each person individually. Just remember, the people you are inviting to offer feedback are trusted friends, colleagues, and family members who want you to succeed. People you trust and who will be honest with you. 

2. Gather your information. 

This is your opportunity to receive feedback. At this point, it is best to focus on a few things rather than everything. So, ask the following questions, one at a time. Give people time to think and to respond.

  • What am I currently doing well that demonstrates my skills as a leader?
  • What are examples of growth you have observed in me since we began working together?
  • What is one thing, if I did it at an improved level, that would have a positive impact on my leadership? 

At this point, your responsibility is to listen. Listen with your mind and heart for understanding.  Listen to receive the information. Take notes for your time of reflection. Give yourself permission not to defend yourself or to interrupt those giving feedback to clarify what you are hearing.  Remember, these people have your best interest in mind. Presume positive intent and stay neutral as you gather and receive the feedback.

3. Receive, reflect, and respond.

First, receive the feedback with grace. This information is for you and your improvement. This is your opportunity to grow in your self-awareness. Keep in mind you have asked trusted friends and colleagues to assist you. Each person cares for you and has your best interest in mind.  

Second, reflect upon the feedback you have received. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I learning about myself?
  • How do others perceive my work style?
  • How do others perceive my interaction with the people around me?”

Third, respond to the feedback you have received. Keep in mind the following:

  • This is not a time to be defensive, to shut down, or to dismiss what you are learning.
  • Take notes and remember what you are feeling when you receive the feedback.
  • Name the emotions you are experiencing. Be specific. It is important to name your feelings.
  • Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to be the person I want to be?”

4. Thank the people who have assisted you in gathering your feedback. 

Gratitude is important in developing self-awareness.

  • Share with them how the feedback has been helpful.
  • Share how you will use the feedback. What are one or two steps you plan to take?
  • If you are not ready to share specific steps, make a commitment to get back to each person at a later time.  Be specific regarding date and time.
  • Give each person permission to hold you accountable to your next steps. 

Set up Your Speed Sign

Growing in self-awareness is not easy.  There are no quick fixes. In fact, developing a healthy self-awareness is a lifetime process. By taking the risk to become vulnerable, by gathering feedback from others, indicates your desire to enter the process and become the leader God has created you to be.

This week, set up “Your Speed” sign?  What one step will you take to receive the feedback you need to become the person and leader for this time in history? 

When you want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about self-awareness. This week we have a conversation with Barry Burns. Check out our conversation in Episode 170 of LeaderCast. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  

How well do you know yourself? I know that question sounds foolish, but your ability to know and understand your emotions and reactions might be the most important trait you have as a leader. 

Even though some people say that integrity, communication, or compassion, are the most important characteristics of leadership, studies show that people who have great self-awareness are better leaders.  

Knowing Yourself

Self-awareness allows you to know your strengths and weaknesses. It helps you understand what triggers negative emotions and what brings you joy. When you have a healthy self-awareness, you can reflect on why you feel a certain way and to control how your feelings can turn into reactions. 

You can empathize with the people around you and to find ways to reach your goals in the midst of difficult situations and circumstances. Knowing yourself strengthens your ability to be vulnerable, which allows you to develop stronger relationships with the people entrusted to your care, whether they be family, friends, or colleagues. 

Fine Tuning

When you fine-tune your self-awareness abilities, you are more adaptable, and you can lead with greater confidence. Psychologist and author Sherrie Campbell, in her book Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person, writes, “Self-awareness keeps us grounded, attuned and focused…When leaders are grounded, they are able to be efficient and deliberate in staying on task and being attuned to those around them. Leaders who have the ability to control their minds and emotions help to guide those around them to develop their own self-knowledge and success.”

Learning to be aware of yourself isn’t always easy but it is one skill that can help you become a much more effective leader. So, how well do you know yourself? How do you know that you are self-aware or at least growing in self-awareness? 

Six Ways to Know You’re Growing

You know you are growing in self-awareness when:

1. You can identify your emotions and name what you are feeling.

Emotions, especially when they are negative, have a tendency to take over your mind and body without you realizing it. You actually lose rational thinking, become defensive, and damage relationships. 

When you can identify your emotions, you can begin to question what you need at that moment. Part of identifying your emotions is being able to name what you are feeling. Knowing how to name them and talk about them, with both yourself and with others, is a key to developing self-awareness.

Every day I experience a range of emotions. Sometimes, when I’m feeling frustrated, I get overly critical of myself and my work. Sometimes, when I’m tired, I am less generous with my colleagues and the people entrusted to my care. 

In the past, I was less aware of these feelings and would fall into an unhealthy work rage. Neither my frustration nor my critical reaction helped me feel better or fixed the actual problem. But, by improving my self-awareness, I have begun to understand what I’m feeling and how to address the actual things that trigger my emotions. 

You can check your emotions at any moment during the day. Ask yourself:

  • What emotions am I experiencing at the moment? There are at least 54 different emotions. Learn to identify them with more than the general, sad, glad, or mad categories. 
  • Am I listening to my body? Is my heart beating faster? Is my stomach churning? Am I losing my voice? Why is my body reacting as it is?
  • What causes or triggers some of my negative emotions?

2. You can identify your emotional triggers.

Just as you can know your emotions, you can know what triggers your emotional response. Instead of repressing or denying your emotions, you learn to bend and flex with them, adapting to your situation and processing your emotions before communicating with others. 

We each have our own coping mechanisms that protect us from the hurt, disappointment, and failure that we fear. Unknowingly, we develop these mechanisms from childhood and significant experiences. Being able to recognize when these coping mechanisms begin to take over your thinking and acting is an impactful example of self-awareness. 

Have you ever shut down or disengaged in a meeting? Have you ever been in a conversation when you felt irritated, frustrated, or angry? Have you ever caught yourself saying, “I’m not angry. I just feel deeply about this?” Healthy self-awareness knows what triggers your disengagement, frustration, or anger. 

What are your most common coping mechanisms? When do you get the most defensive in life? What coping mechanisms did you develop as a child that no longer serve you?

3. You can define and live by your own values and beliefs.

Many times, the need to belong and to be liked is stronger than who you really are or what you value or believe. You feel so much pressure to fit in with the people around you that you set aside your own values and beliefs. You know you are self-aware when you can step back and ask yourself, “Am I being true to myself at this moment?”

It is difficult to ignore all the messages about what you should believe. But the more you develop your self-awareness and determine your core values, the more you can be the leader needed for this time. 

What are your core values? When have you tried to please others? When have you based your decision more on the expectations of others rather than your own? 

4. You can identify and affirm your strengths.

Sometimes it is intimidating to take a self-assessment or to be evaluated because you are afraid of what you might find out about yourself. Self-awareness is shown in knowing both your strengths and your shortcomings, owning them for yourself, and living into your strengths and getting help with your weaknesses. 

No one of us is perfect. Even the most successful person you know has a list of shortcomings that they had to overcome to achieve their success. Self-awareness is about identifying your strengths and your weaknesses but finding a way to live into your strengths.

By possessing this self-awareness, you can become a more effective leader. You find strategies and support for your weaknesses, while simultaneously letting your strengths flourish.

What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? How can you redesign your life or environment to emphasize your strengths?

5. You can celebrate what brings you joy.

With a healthy self-awareness, you can identify what brings you joy and make joy a priority in your life. Too often, you know what makes you happy, but you push it off because there are too many important things to do. 

The discipline to commit to what brings you joy is not always easy. So, possessing the self-awareness to realize what gives you joy is important. Give yourself the opportunity to live into and celebrate what brings you joy. 

What gives you joy? How often do you celebrate the joy in your everyday life? What do you put above your joy, and why?

6. You know what you need in your relationships.

It sounds simple, but it is actually complicated. Relationships are too important not to take into account regarding self-awareness. Too often we limit the potential for healthy and empowering relationships because we have either limited our understanding of relationships or we are afraid of vulnerability. When you don’t have a clear understanding of what you need, you end up in frustrating and unfulfilling situations. Healthy self-awareness helps you identify who you need to be for the people around you.  

Imagine if you knew exactly what you wanted from a friend, a colleague, a partner, or family member. If you know what you want or need, then you know how to communicate when you are struggling, lost, or sad in these relationships. 

What do you value most in a friendship? How often are you able to express what you need from the people in your life?

Your Turn

So, how well do you know yourself? Becoming self-aware is not as easy as flipping a switch or attending a seminar. It takes time, attention, reflection, and practice. But the more you pause and think about what you feel, want, and need, the more you will experience the life-changing benefits of self-awareness. 

Becoming self-aware is critical to your own leadership growth. Don’t let your lack of self-knowledge stagnate your influence. Know yourself.

Take Action

Take 5 minutes at the end of the day to reflect upon the situations and circumstances of the day. Reflect upon one or two of the following (no particular order):

  • The meetings you attended
  • The people with whom you had interaction
  • What emotions did you experience? 
  • Was anything said or done that triggered a negative response from you?
  • When did you have to stand on your values or beliefs? Did you give in?
  • When were you aware of your strengths or weaknesses? How did you respond? 
  • When did you experience joy?
  • How did you cultivate relationships today? 
  • Who do you need to contact to express appreciation for helping you become more who you created to be?
  • Who do you need to contact to ask forgiveness for your lack of self-awareness?

Remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 
Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about self-awareness. This week we have a conversation with Rae Lynn Schleif. She shares stories that will inspire and challenge your life and leadership. Check out Episode 169 – Self-Awareness in Different Seasons of Life and Ministry. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together

Every day you face situations, circumstances, and people you cannot control. As a leader, because you cannot control these things, it is important that you understand and learn to control yourself. Your leadership depends upon it. Even though a lot of your effectiveness is determined by factors you cannot control, you can still control how you respond to them. 

This is why self-awareness is so important to leadership. You can not only improve your life but become the leader you are created to be by practicing self-awareness in your everyday life and situations. 

Here are three practices that will help you become a more self-aware leader. 

1.Focus upon the positive when in a negative situation. 

This might seem simplistic, but it is more than positive thinking. When you are fully aware of the negative situation or circumstance in which you find yourself, you then have the opportunity to decide how you will respond or how you can change the way you want to react. 

Let’s think of it this way. Suppose you need help with an anger problem. You recognize that you do not like reacting before thinking and you don’t like the feelings you have after an expression of anger. You say to your trusted friend, “I have a quick temper, and it’s damaging my relationships.” 

Your friend says to you, “Show me your quick temper. Demonstrate it to me?”

What would you say? “Well, I can’t right now. It happens suddenly.” Or “I can’t right now, I don’t have the people around me who make me angry.” 

The question is “What is the problem?” If anger, uncontrollable anger was part of your true nature, it would be present all the time. Something that comes and goes is not a part of who you were created to be. Your emotions are not you, but they can gain control over you if you do not stop and reflect upon them and if you don’t begin to understand why you react the way you do.

Instead of focusing upon the negative, your anger, focus upon the people around you. Remember they are God’s children, just as you are God’s child. Each person has their own thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. Just as God, through Christ, loves you with your thoughts, feelings, and perspectives, God loves the people who irritate you or pull your chain, or you get the point. Reflect upon how God loves you and responds to you.

This little added sense of self-awareness will not magically create a smile. It won’t keep you from getting angry, but it does provide you with the opportunity to respond in a more healthy and Christlike way. You can decide that being angry is not going to control your response. Once you become conscious of your emotion, it no longer has control over you.

2. Recognize who you are and the effect you have on the people around you.

You cannot control 100% of your life, but you can control how you react to the stuff you can’t control. To better react or respond to external circumstances, you must know and understand your preferences, resources, and feelings. 

Let’s think of it this way. Suppose you need some advice with several situations you are facing. Some of them are personal and some of them are professional, but all are situations in which you need and want some help. 

So, you approach your trusted friend asking for advice. Your friend listens patiently. But when your friend tries to ask questions or offer some direction, you interrupt to interject your own thoughts, beliefs, solutions, not allowing your friend to finish many sentences. 

After a while, your friend offers you a cup of tea. When pouring the tea, your friend continues pouring after the cup is full, causing it to overflow.

You say, “Stop pouring. The cup is full.”

Your friend stops pouring and says, “Today, you are too full of your own opinions. You want my help, but you have no room in your own cup to receive my advice or direction.”

Too often, we hold unconscious beliefs and opinions that make us rigid and closed-minded to learning and to expanding our awareness of the people around us. Self-awareness is knowing your preferences, resources, and feelings and being open to learn new ways of looking at the situations and circumstances in which you are living and working.

Understanding who you are and how you affect others allows you to react differently to the people around you. It is with such understanding that you can decide whether something angers or irritates you.  Please know this is not always easy, but it has a big benefit to self-awareness. 

3. Learn your emotional triggers.

When you know what triggers your reactions you are better equipped to deal with negative emotions. 

This might be the most important aspect of self-awareness.

Let’s think of it this way. What do you do when you are angry, disappointed, or not taken seriously? Do you bottle up your emotions, keep them to yourself, pushing them deep inside, until you can’t hold them any longer? It is like holding a beach ball underwater. You can push it down beneath the surface and you can hold it there. But, without a lot of effort and energy, it usually forcefully pops back up to the surface. It is the same with suppressed emotions. The emotions surface at the most unlikely times and in inappropriate ways.

Have you ever reflected upon a reaction that was not appropriate? At the time, you might not have been fully aware of what was going on with your emotions. But afterward, you thought you could have handled the situation differently. You could have known what triggered your reaction and refocused your response.

It might seem silly, but you have had your feelings hurt. You feel bad about it. You want to reach out and react. Instead, you hold on to your hurt feelings and turn the event into something bigger and nastier than it really was.

If you are not self-aware, you might lash out and explode.  Your reaction only amplifies the negativity.  Emotions, especially when expressed negatively, tend to increase in heated situations.

When you know what triggers your emotions, you can learn to control your emotions.  When you are self-aware, you are able to stop your reaction and begin to respond in more appropriate ways.

When you start to rationally question your own emotions, you are much better prepared to get rid of the negativity inside:

  • Are you truly angry at the other person?
  • Are you reacting to your own insecurities and fears?
  • Why do you need to say hurtful things? 
  • What’s in it for you? 

Self-awareness helps you to ask these questions in difficult times. This can be very challenging, but by simply being aware of your emotions and what triggers your reaction, you can improve the quality of your life and your ability to lead with courage.

Who You Are Is How You Lead

At this point, you might feel like you are in a therapy session.  One reason you might feel this way is because it is so important to you as a person and as a leader. 

This is what I want you to do this week. Take 5 minutes at the end of the day to reflect upon the situations and circumstances of the day. Reflect upon one or two of the following (no particular order): 

  • The meetings you attended,
  • The people with whom you had interaction,
  • What you have said and done throughout the day.
  • Celebrate what has gone well.
  • Give God thanks for what you have learned.
  • What could have been done differently?
  • If I had been aware of my feelings, would I have said anything differently?
  • Have I offended anyone?
  •  Who do I need to contact to express appreciation for helping me become more who I am created to be?
  •  Who do I need to contact to ask forgiveness for my lack of self-awareness?

This exercise is a powerful way to develop a healthy self-awareness. As you develop the practice, you will add your own questions to better assist you in the process. Becoming more aware of who you are and how you respond or react will help inform your path towards self-awareness and growth.

I already know it is not an easy process. Sometimes it can be painful. But you will develop the most important quality needed in leaders today. Your positive impact will live on far after you have completed your work at this time in history. 

Remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 
Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about self-awareness. This week we have a conversation with Curnell Graham. He turns self-awareness inside out and invites you to focus on God-awareness. Check out Episode 168 – Self-Awareness as God-Awareness. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.