How well do you know yourself?

March 8, 2020 4:24 pm

Self-awareness is a cornerstone of great leadership, but it is hard to see yourself accurately.

A long history of ‘experience with ourselves’ makes us biased in how we see ourselves. Every ‘look in the mirror’ reflects how we have been in the past and how we want to be in the future. Even when you gain a sense of how you come across in most situations, it can change when the circumstances and requirements shift.

Working in a complex environment, where there is uncertainty, ambiguity or shifting demands, means we must re-evaluate our strengths and weakness within the context. For example, having the ability to attend the smallest of details is an asset when precision and absolute accuracy is needed but can ‘get in the way’ when the team needs to ‘blue sky’ responses to a new competitive threat. Similarly, the propensity to take a ‘big picture’ perspective, can create risk for the team if the critical voices that seem ‘nit-picky’ to the ‘big picture thinker’ are dismissed.

Our research and experience observing leadership teams in action shows that at times team members lack insight into how their behaviour impacts others. Moreover, even though unhelpful behaviour and habits can slow or derail the team progress, most of the time their intentions are positive. For example, most people don’t get up in the morning and decide “I want to narrow the thinking on our team”– but we sometimes do.

We inadvertently reduce the power of the team to think together sometimes for the best of reasons. For example, a team member who ‘talks over others’ or ‘dismisses alternative views’ may not be doing so deliberately. Over-reliance on their personal experience or over-enthusiasm for their ideas can cause people to treat other’s views carelessly. Or perhaps they just have never been told how this behaviour can discourage inclusion and diverse perspectives that are necessary when dealing with complexity.

Neuroscientists have observed that people with deep expertise can easily fall into the trap of not listening carefully to those with less experience because they are in the mindset to inform/teach others rather than learn. Sometimes this is okay, but research shows that experts can miss the mark when the circumstances are not the same as when their expertise was acquired.

Many people underestimate their strengths and potential to contribute because they see themselves or the circumstances from the past not in the present. Likewise, they don’t always recognise the uniqueness of their strengths.

One of the techniques we use to help team members gain greater self-awareness involves asking each person to carefully observe their teammates and then describe how they uniquely contribute to the performance of the team. The key is asking for ‘unique contributions’. Finding uniqueness forces people to pay attention to others and evaluate how they are similar and different from their peers.

What techniques do you use to ensure you are self-aware?

How are you managing?

Do you want to understand more about the neuroscience of self-awareness and build your capacity to lead yourself and others through unexpected challenges?

Learn more and register for our one-day workshop “Leading Change

Whether you manage projects, a team or yourself this session will help you:
• Gain insight into your habitual reactions to change and your impact on others.
• Know how to quickly and effectively bring your best thinking and problem solving to manage unexpected and unwanted challenges.
• Build resilience in yourself and the people you lead.

Connect with us

Dr Connie Henson, the author of BrainWise Leadership, provides consultation, keynotes and designs change leadership programs informed by the latest neuroscience and leadership research through Learning Quest.

Photo credit: Fares Hamuche and Andre Mouton on Unsplash

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