Perception is reality. That is a phrase we all have all heard, and are familiar with. What is less emphasized in the implications of this phrase is the assumption that someone else’s perception (of you likely) is different than your own self-perception. Why is that important? Imagine that you list out what you determine to be your top leadership competencies (strengths) that you bring to your organization, as well as your biggest weaknesses. Then your peers, superiors, and subordinates all list out what they imagine your strengths and weaknesses to be as well (such as in 360-degree feedback). What if your list does not at all match with, or is even similar to, anyone else’s assessments of you? Can you imagine how this may be limiting your leadership impact on your organization? Maybe you’re not as strong of a leader as you thought you were.
The congruence of your self-rating and others’ rating of you is what is known as self-awareness. The more self-aware you are, the higher your performance is as a leader. Numerous organizational psychology research studies have proven this fact. Essentially, self-awareness is accurately knowing your own inner state (identity and personality) and accurately recognizing your impact on others.
So, if self-awareness is critical for leaders and their performance, how do you become more self-aware? It is a learned skill, not a natural ability. It requires a number of factors to develop your own capacity to see yourself with objectivity and to take perspective on yourself “from a distance.”
The factors that develop the skill of self-awareness are:
- Experience. Professional experience includes critical events like promotion or major projects, role and job changes, and experiencing failure or professional setbacks. All forms of experience provide lessons. Receiving counseling throughout your experiences enhances your development of self-awareness via feedback (others’ perceptions of you).
- Socialization. Your background has considerable effect on your inner state and forms your norms, beliefs, values, orientations, and much of your behavior.
- Education. I differentiate education from socialization because I consider education more as self-development. Education can be achieved through a self-study of leadership theories, committing to self-assessments, and comparing them to others’ feedback on you. Critical to education are reflection techniques (journaling, AARs, etc.) and enlisting in coaching if possible.
This four-part series focuses on the education factor of developing self-awareness as a leader. The most commonly known method of self-development is professional reading, which does help improve your self-awareness. What is less common is conducting self-assessments. There are a number of resources available to better understand your intrinsic leadership styles through self-assessments. By completing several of these, you can follow up with deliberate reflection, coaching from a respected professional peer or superior, and help from others through 360-degree feedback to determine a level of congruence between your own assessments and others’ assessments of you. Ultimately, by becoming more self-aware, you become a more effective leader.
The next parts of this series, Part II & III, introduce eight leader assessment instruments from some of the major leadership theories that have resulted from the century-long study of leadership. Part IV expands on additional tools by addressing more options to better understand yourself as a leader. Though these assessments in Part IV are not necessarily intended for the purpose of leadership, they will make you more self-aware, and thus a better leader.
Critical to remember in reading this series is that these assessments are mere tools available to better learn tenets and principles of leadership, and how you inherently enact some of them. The goal is NOT to change your leadership approach solely based on others’ perception of you or results from an assessment. I do not expect readers to change their personalities; you have to be who you are at heart. Leadership is a concept as individual as we all are. There is no one right holistic approach to leadership. My intention for this series is to introduce readers to more efficient and effective approaches to leadership by presenting studied leadership theories (and associated assessments) in order to better understand who you are as a leader.