Being an effective leader requires at least a fair amount of self-awareness. Self-awareness is being conscious of and able to articulate your own individual needs, motivations, and feelings. It also means that you are aware that how you experience the world is different from others.
Many leaders think they are self-aware but fewer actually are. Why is this? It’s complicated. From my experience working with hundreds of leaders with diverse backgrounds and expertise, few leaders receive honest feedback from their boss and team. And the higher up you are the less likely people are to tell you the truth about how they experience your leadership. Too much is at stake (including their job) so there is a strong bias to not share feedback. The c-level receives the least feedback. A cornerstone of building self-awareness is access to powerful feedback from those who know you well. This is why a majority of leaders benefit from a formal feedback process (e.g., qualitative interviews, validated personality profiles and multi-rater feedback).
Your success as a leader is measured by the success of myriad others. The higher up you are in the organization, the more people you have reporting to you, and the more this matters. As a leader when you speak and act, it impacts a lot of people. If what you say and do is congruent, everyone sees this and it nurtures trust and climate in a positive way. If what you say and do is incongruent, it diminishes trust and your team’s motivation. The more self-aware you are as a leader, the more likely your words and actions are aligned.
An example of how a lack of self-awareness presents is a leader I will call Sara. Sara tells everyone, “I never micromanage my team.” Sara “fully delegates” an important project to her team. When the project is almost done, she starts asking lots of questions and casts doubt on decisions her team has already made. The project gets derailed as the team realizes they have to go back to square one. Sara’s words don’t match her actions and that is usually the telltale sign of a lack of self-awareness. You can imagine the negative impact Sara’s behavior has on trust, engagement and productivity. It is monumentally ineffective.
Is building greater self-awareness worth it? Absolutely. Here’s why: an investment in your leadership effectiveness by building greater self-awareness impacts the effectiveness and achievement of your team. No matter where you start, you can learn to become more self-aware. Like anything worthwhile, it takes time and intention. I am convinced that it makes for a more skillful leader and creates a happier, less stressful life.
Living near and often working in Chicago, I always feel we do a good job embracing and celebrating our LGBT community. I feel proud of this. Sometimes I delude myself into thinking that we don’t need to talk about it anymore, that it is a no brainer, and that being LGBT is accepted as what it is, normal. Then I hear stories from clients about where they are from or about why they are not out in their workplace and I realize we still have miles to go. It makes me ask the question, “what more can we do?” The most simple, elegant answer is to make sure that we celebrate all the ways we are made, especially in the workplace.
Most straight folks I know talk about acceptance of their LBGT colleagues. That is a good start. But to really embrace and celebrate is different. Let me explain what I mean.
When I get to know clients I love hearing about their parents, significant others, their spouses, and their families. Often, when they talk about the people they love most, their whole being lights up. I have a client who is a West Point graduate and was a leader in the Air Force. He is a commanding, smart, “tough as nails”, and at times very intimidating man. But when he talks about his wife and kids, he brims with joy and it seems to immediately remind him the reason he works so hard in a difficult and demanding job. When clients talk about their kids I can see the love they have for them and it makes them happy to talk about them. Even when their kids are having problems and it is tough going at home, talking about them with colleagues seems to relieve the worry for many. These connections are not distractions, they are additive and they are part of what makes most of us who we are.
I think of all that comes from these families, the joy, worry, passion, angst, and love, as energy. Energy that gets us out of bed, gives us purpose, lights up a dreary workday, and periodically, on a bad day, reminds us of why we don’t quit our jobs. I also happen to believe that our families, whatever they look like, have the ability to make us more empathic, caring, inspired and motivated at work, especially when who we are and who we love is completely accepted and celebrated. We need all this energy to bring our best to work and life, and anything that diminishes it, or who we are, is not good.
Some clients do this well. They make a point of celebrating their employees through family friendly policies of all types, and being public about supporting LGBT employees. Celebration involves both words and actions. Celebration requires that leaders at all levels speak and act openly in support of their LGBT colleagues. It requires that if a disparaging term is used to describe a person who is LGBT in a quiet, one-on-one meeting, that no matter the discomfort, we openly share our concern and dislike about the other person’s use of the term. Celebration requires us to stand up, speak up and delight in all our amazing ability to love and be loved.
One of the Achilles heels of most clients continues to be how to deal with a low performing team member. It’s hard to understand when you evaluate the costs. It’s easier to understand when you factor in the emotional component. Though it can be complicated, the most prevalent reason I find that leaders allow it to persist is that it’s difficult, time consuming and emotionally challenging to coach an underperforming leader or team member. So they put off dealing with the problem to the point where they may sacrifice:
Dealing with low performance can be time consuming and requires skill. Putting off dealing with a performance issue makes it more challenging to resolve. Most importantly it is undermining the fact that something else might be going on and unless you address it, will most likely continue. Underperformance is often about poor job, culture or boss fit, or something larger going on in the employee’s life. If you are a leader, your job is to inspire and motivate high performance from everyone. Allowing underperformance is bad for your team, reputation, business and ultimately for the individual who is not being asked to contribute their best. In the end that is what we all want to do.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a bi-monthly post about the work of building better people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.