Bottom line: improved self-awareness directly leads to improved effectiveness as a leader. Research proves it. And I bet many of your own experiences prove it as well.
This concept of self-awareness is challenging, though. It’s complex, it’s hard to conceptualize, and often harder to operationalize in our own or others’ lives. But, it is essential in our growth and development as leaders.
In my experience and my learning, I’ve found that we can categorize self-awareness into three primary domains: personality, skills & abilities, values & motives. This model helps us better understand and simplify this complex concept, improve our learning and the language we use to discuss it, and ultimately more effectively operationalize it in our behaviors.
The intent is to ensure that we attend to all three domains of self-awareness. To improve our overall leader effectiveness and influence, we need to grow in all three; we can’t focus on just a select one or two. Our challenge is to engage in two primary ways across these domains:
- Collect data: Self-awareness is the degree of congruence between our own self-perception and the perception others have of us. The closer those are aligned, the more self-aware we are, which means the more effective we are as leaders. To do that, we need to “collect data” from others across these domains. I make a few recommendations below on different surveys we can use to collect that data. Beyond that, merely engaging on deliberate mentorship and peer coaching conversations on these topics can help us achieve that.
- Reflect: Have you ever paused to purposefully think about your personal beliefs on such things like your personality, certain skills, or even your values as a leader? We need to engage in careful reflection on our own self-perceptions across these domains, but even more on how that compares to what others see in us. I encourage you to explore reflection more in 3×5 Leadership’s 5-part Reflection Series if you have not already to learn more.
One basic reason that leading and influencing other human-beings is so hard is because we deal with numerous differing personalities, including our own. Are you extraverted or introverted; are you highly inclusive, desire to have high levels of control, and/or affectionate in your interactions with others?
Those around you, up and down your organizational chart, must adapt to your personality as a leader – that’s reality. And you must adapt to other personalities (like your boss’s). The more you are aware of your unique personality quirks, the more effective you can be as a leader in leveraging, compensating for, or even developing them.
Example surveys to help develop your personality self-awareness:
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator-style personality tests. These surveys, similar to the MBTI, categorize personalities into 16 types; you can take a free surveys HERE and HERE.
- Conceptualizing Leadership Questionnaire (this survey actually addresses all three domains in its results to include traits, skills, abilities, behaviors, and attitudes towards relationships and processes).
Skills & Abilities
This broad domain captures the essence of your leadership style(s). Skills & abilities can span a large spectrum including being a transformational leader (and if so, what type) vs. transactional one or determining if you’re a “visionary leader” vs. one focused more on detailed plans and data. It can include your abilities in coaching, mentoring, giving feedback, teaching, and more as a leader. It captures key aspects of your behaviors as a leader, which of course, are influenced by your personality (hence the need for improved self-awareness across all domains).
Understanding your inherent strengths and weaknesses within this domain is critical because this determines things like who you hire or surround yourself with in your inner-circle or team. If I’m a highly visionary leader as an organizational executive for example, I need to do what I can to surround myself with a detail-oriented staff, advisors, and managers.
Example surveys to help develop your skills & abilities self-awareness:
- Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ; focused on identifying your particular strengths within transformational and/or transactional leadership styles).
- Authentic Leadership Self-Assessment Questionnaire
Values & Motives
Finally, nothing else really matters if leaders don’t define what is truly important. Even more crucial is ensuring daily behaviors (skills & abilities domain) are aligned with our espoused values. Many organizations, to include the US Army, pride themselves on being a values-based organization. Organizations across all industries are increasingly placing other things as priorities beyond just monetary profit, which reveals a lot about their collective values and motives.
What drives you as a leader? What drives your organization each day? Defining these and embedding these in our leader and organizational identities is imperative to making our leadership and organization truly purposeful. These are the things that inspire us and our people toward excellence each day. And it must start by defining what is in fact the most important to us.
Example surveys to help develop your values & motives self-awareness:
- VIA Survey of Character Strength (Assesses your character along 24 items and ranks them #1-24. Go to link, hover over the questionnaires tab option, and select “Via Survey of Character Strength.” Register by making an account and then take the survey.).
- Servant Leadership Questionnaire
I enjoy learning more about self-awareness through reading and listening to podcasts. I encourage you to as well. Anytime I find an article, podcast, or book referencing leadership and self-awareness, I automatically add it to my to-read or to-listen list. This topic is that important for leaders.
Make self-awareness something you reflect on routinely, discuss it with trusted mentors and peers, and talk to your people about this topic so they can begin to develop their own self-awareness.
To close, the United States Military Academy espouses in its vision to be the world’s preeminent leader development institution. In their official “Leader Growth Model” (the model that defines how they deliberately develop leaders), they aim to develop “better, more self-aware leaders,” which is what is listed on the right-side of the equal sign in the model. If that is the developmental goal for leaders coming out of the “world’s preeminent leader development institution,” I think we can all agree that this is a pretty important topic. USMA is not a perfect organization, but I think it is absolutely on the right track with effective leadership and self-awareness.
Read more about self-awareness with a few other recommended resources:
- I started writing about my exploration on leadership and self-awareness two years ago with the Leader Awareness Series (4-parts), which offered some of the above recommended surveys and more. Check out that series if you have not yet.
- Forbes: Great Leadership Starts With Self-Awareness
- HBR: How Leaders Become Self-Aware
- Finally, I encourage you to simply conduct Google searches of “self-awareness and leadership.” There are lots of great resources out there.
The content and thoughts within this article are my personal views only. They do not represent the views of the U.S. Army or the United States Military Academy (USMA).
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