Before you jump into this article, pause for a moment and think of some of the corporate world’s best-known leaders. Who sprang to mind for you? Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayer, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Sheryl Sandberg – or even the leader of your own organization? These leaders, along with many others, have come to occupy an almost celebrity-like status, but it’s not because they share similar leadership traits. In fact, the opposite is true: we feel we know them well because they are so very authentically themselves.
We know that Mark Zuckerberg wears the same outfit every day so that he can direct his focus on bigger decisions, and we have followed Sheryl Sandberg’s journey through tragedy and onto Plan B. We recognize Richard Branson’s irrepressible nature and we know that Jeff Bezos’ laser-like focus on slick customer service is the root of Amazon’s success.
What these leaders have in common is that they seem to know exactly who they are: they’re highly self-aware, and that brings with it a certain level of confidence. The best leaders don’t feel the need to turn themselves into carbon copies of those who have gone before, because they choose to do the real work of a lifetime – becoming truly self-aware.
Self-awareness is non-negotiable for success
Every leadership journey has to start with self-awareness. Knowing who you are, what your management style is, what motivates you, how your team experience you, what your potential is, where your weaknesses are, and what kind of environment you create for your team each day, are all fundamental to becoming a leader who others will be inspired to follow. However, gaining a clear-eyed view of who you are as a leader is only the beginning of something special.
Leaders must continue to develop throughout their careers, in order to stay alert and agile to the changing corporate world. But development only works if you start with a long hard look in the mirror. When we begin to work with our clients, even the most long-term and in-depth Insights leadership programs start with leaders gaining a real strong sense of self. If we didn’t start with deepening self-awareness, any personal development that followed would simply be built on shifting sands.
Become the leader you want to be
Being a leader with a high level of self-awareness means that you’re more likely to be seen as effective in role (great news next time there’s a promotion up for grabs), but there’s more to gain than just climbing the career ladder. People who are self-aware are more responsive to change, make more effective teammates, can hold true to their purpose in times of turbulence, and gain a deeper understanding of those they lead even as their own self-understanding grows. Leaders who know themselves inside out can flex and adapt easily to the shifting needs of their team. For example, a leader who recognizes that some of their team members need to talk a task through before beginning, will put time aside for that. Or if someone on their team is motivated by public recognition, they’ll get called out at the next huddle for their recent great efforts. When a change is coming, a self-aware leader will be responsive to the varied reactions of their team, being sure to meet every single team member where they are in their change journey.
But at its most basic level, self-awareness is a gift that allows good leaders to let the traditional leadership mask drop and simply be themselves – just in a leadership role. That level of authenticity inspires better relationships, encourages bolder decision making, and engenders the idea that the best resource an organization has to depend on is its people – fallible, flawed, brilliant, brave, creative people.