In Change, Leaders

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – C.G. Jung

If I asked you to list capabilities that are critical for leaders to have here in the 21st century, what would you come up with? You might have something about technology, or continuous learning, or any number of other things. I think one that flies under the radar, but is crucial to successful leadership, is self-awareness.

As leaders, everything we say and do has an impact on our organization and everyone in it. Everything. When you’re a leader, you don’t get to make off-hand comments that everybody ignores. You don’t get to have days where you’re grumpy and everyone gives you the benefit of the doubt. That doesn’t mean you’re perfect, just that your imperfections & struggles are magnified.

With that in mind, here are a few random thoughts on self-awareness…

First, being aware of how the things you say and do impact those around you can prevent you from saying or doing something destructive in the first place. Personal example: About a year ago, someone told me that a comment I had made a number of times in meetings at our firm made several of employees feel extremely un-valued. I had no idea. Now I’m extremely aware of what I say whenever that particular topic comes up. I’m not perfect, but I haven’t made the same comment since.

Which brings up the second thing. Self-awareness is hard, because by definition, if you don’t have it, you probably won’t be aware of not having it. Who in your organization is willing to provide accountability for you? If that individual in our firm hadn’t mentioned how I was making some people feel, I’d still be making them feel that way. Who is your awareness support?

And that leads to the third thing. As a leader, you have a responsibility to be that awareness support for others. If you see others in leadership in your organization saying or doing destructive things without thinking, speak up. If you see another member of your leadership team saying or doing something that is hurtful or harmful, don’t just let it go. Most people are not intentionally destructive. We’re just human, so we say & do dumb things without always realizing it. Your willingness to speak up is a valuable gift, both to the person who stumbled and to the organization as a whole.

How self-aware are you? Do you think about the consequences of your words before you speak? Do you think about the consequences of your actions before you act? Who can you turn to for help? Don’t just assume everything you say & do is OK, and don’t assume you can’t do better. You can. And being aware of yourself is a good place to start.

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  • Chris Mason

    Great blog Matt, lessons for all leaders. It reinforced to me that no matter how hard you strive for perfection you will always say and do things that on reflection you regret. It is all a learning experience.

    • Matt Heemstra

      Thanks Chris. Your last sentence is critical – “…a learning experience.” When we make those mistakes we MUST learn from them. We can’t let our mistakes go to waste.

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