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I recently encountered a significant and potentially expensive technology problem that required a phone call with tech support. The specialist at the other end of the line was incredibly helpful and remarkably kind. At the close of our call, she asked me if I would be willing to stay on the line to complete a brief survey. Her request gave me an idea, so I made a counteroffer.

“If I complete your survey, will you complete mine?” At this point my teenage daughter rolled her eyes and left the room wearing her ‘My Dad is such a weirdo’ face.

The woman gave a little laugh and then asked, “What kind of survey are you asking me to complete?”

“Well,” I said, “I would like to know how you experienced me on our call today. How did I show up as your customer? What will you tell your friends and family about me as a result of this call?”

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, as well as their impact on others. It is the ongoing acknowledgment and validation of yourself, by yourself. This skill is crucial for effective leadership and positive relationships with others.

The concept of self-awareness has been discussed by philosophers and spiritual leaders for centuries. In fact, the nature of the ego and our responsibilities as its steward are among the most widely debated questions in at least half a dozen fields. An early example comes from the Book of Matthew: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

The moral of the metaphor, according to its author? Judge not, lest ye be judged. We must first be aware of our own flaws and shortcomings before attempting to help others with theirs. But this passage, I think, suggests a more nuanced truth. Each of us perceives, thinks, speaks, and acts according to our unique perspective. Sometimes, we see things others don’t. Other times, our vision might be totally blocked, and we don’t even know it.

One of the most notable advocates of self-awareness in recent times is Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence. He argues that self-awareness is the foundation of emotional literacy and is essential for effective leadership. If we don’t take stock of the desires, biases, and tendencies of our ego, we won’t be able to see things clearly. We’ll misjudge ourselves and others, and act with clouded vision.

Another contemporary perspective comes from celebrity psychologist Jordan Peterson, who emphasizes the importance of self-awareness in his lectures and writings. He suggests that individuals who lack self-awareness are at risk of making poor decisions and damaging relationships with others.

Our ego-centric perspective often causes us to exclude information that goes against our desires. Self-awareness keeps our egos in check and encourages empathy, thoughtfulness, and intentional action. But self-awareness doesn’t just rein us in; it also has the power to unleash our full potential.

Audre Lorde, the renowned Black writer, poet, and activist,  wrote extensively on self-awareness in her work on race, gender, and sexuality. In her essay, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” Lorde discusses the importance of self-awareness for women of color who face oppression and discrimination. She emphasizes the importance of recognizing and naming one’s experiences of oppression. By becoming aware of how discrimination has impacted them, the oppressed can make better sense of how they got to where they are, and take steps toward individual and systemic change. Once they acknowledge the relationship between themselves and the world around them, they are empowered to speak out against injustice and work toward a more equitable world.

So, how can you grow your own self-awareness as a leader? Here are two practical tips:

  1. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of being present and discerning in the moment, without judgment. It allows you to observe your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors without getting caught up in them. Mindfulness can help you develop a deeper understanding of your own patterns and reactions, which can lead to greater self-awareness. Brief sessions of daily meditation have been indispensable in my own journey toward mindful self-awareness.
  2. Seek feedback: Ask for honest feedback from those around you, whether it be your team members, family, friends, or the tech support specialist that helped you. It can be uncomfortable to hear criticism, but it can also be an opportunity for growth.

Self-awareness is a critical skill for effective leadership and positive relationships with others. Learning to see yourself in relation to those around you increases your capacity for empathy, clears your vision, and helps you understand why people are the way they are.

If you are interested in exploring this topic further or would like support in your journey, please feel free to connect with me.


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing Jeremiah! I enjoy getting these emails from Emergent.

    This came at a perfect time.

    I had issues with my work computer this morning. Ugh. Needed to call our Ecare I.T. Services department for assistance. I will admit, I always cringe when I have to call them. There is usually a language barrier when having a conversation with most of the associates. When they don’t understand what I’m saying, I feel my eyes rolling, I feel my voice getting stern and I feel my frustration. I’m never rude but if I feel all of the above, perhaps I’m coming across as rude although at the end of the call I’m always appreciative and thank the associate for their help. However, if I just remain patient and take a step back, perhaps they feel the same when I’m trying to explain to them my situation. I have to remember that they are trying to help but need to work with them so they understand what my issue is in order for them to successfully assist me with my problem. Something I need to work on. Smile and have a great day!

  2. Jeremiah your message on “self-Awareness” reminds me of my days in leadership training sessions when we would give 360 surveys to leaders and emerging leaders, their reactions varied greatly and are memorable. I’ll group them into three types:

    Type 1: Open minded and emerging leaders
    This type looked forward to seeing how they could improve their leadership skills

    Type2: Overwhelmed leaders
    This type thought it was an another task on their plates that they had to do

    Type 3: Command and control leader
    This type disagreed with the whole process of asking their subordinates, peers and their manager to provide input on their style.

    When the survey feedback came back this is when we saw real emotional reactions from these three types of leaders.

    Type 1 OPEN MINDED & EMERGING LEADERS – embraced what they read on the feedback document, asked for clarity on certain points and embraced the process of self-improvement now that they were more self-aware of how they were seen. Their was elements of joy as they received more positive feedback overall.

    Type 2 OVERWHELMED LEADERS – many leaders saw that the feedback was worth the effort they took to seek out the information, they did their planning, while some of this group still didn’t see how they had the time to try new approaches to their role as leader, yet did try.

    Type 3 COMMAND AND CONTROL LEADERS – these had the most varied reaction. Their self-awareness was meant with, “WOW! I didn’t realize people felt that way, I need to do something;” or , “OK some people don’t know how to work with me;” or who “said that about me, I need to straighten that person out.” And the most extreme reaction was to throw it in the trash, “I don’t need any of this stuff!”

    In the end the self-awareness did stick to most people from all three types. Many made adjustments to their leadership styles.
    The rewarding thing working with these leaders was over time (sometimes yrs. later) some would seek out their coach and instructor to tell them thank you and share what they did to be a better person in their job and personal life. Self-awareness is a winner!

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