The Case for Self-Awareness in Business

Over the past two decades, The Change Style Indicator® has conducted research based on the responses of over 41,000 managers.  Through that work, they identified three leader archetypes: Originators, Conservers, and Pragmatists.  Originators tend to be quick decision-makers and aren’t afraid of confrontation or taking risks.  Conservers are much more rule-bound and conflict- and change-averse.  Pragmatists neither seek out nor avoid confrontation; they are more practical, flexible, and tend to focus on issues in relative order of their priority.

Self Awareness in BusinessMost managers who were surveyed landed in the Pragmatist category.  But in the outliers, the Originators and the Conservers, an interesting trend was discovered: they were more likely to be unaware of their behavior and how it impacts others.

What are the consequences of being unaware of yourself, of your behaviors and impact? Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. In business, an absence of self-awareness can be cataclysmic.  The self-aware leader takes conscious steps toward inner clarity, and has a reasonable grasp on his/her natural strengths and limitations. The self-aware leader respects transparency, both personally and professionally. Likewise, a leader with low self-awareness often hides weaknesses or lack of knowledge in an attempt to appear to know everything and have all the right answers.

This facade of perfection is typically apparent to other team members, and often results in a lack of trust and respect.  Without trust, a team’s chances of successful collaboration and genuine transformation are greatly diminished.  Conversely, a leader who is confident enough to recognize self-limitations and opportunities, and can relate honestly with team members inspires trust and helps nurture a more cohesive, collaborating team.

Self-awareness requires inner reflection and the solicitation of feedback.  Without feedback, true awareness is difficult. You are only considering one perspective, and a generous (typically biased) one at that.  When getting feedback, it is imperative to listen without making excuses or justifying behavior. Just take the information, accept the perspective, and give it appropriate consideration. If the feedback is particularly unsettling, give yourself some time to be able to objectively consider the points mentioned.  Not everything someone else says is accurate, or even fair. But hopefully, if there is enough trust present, it is at least an accurate representation of their perspective.

Every business recognizes the importance of analyzing past performance to build effective strategies for the future. The same logic holds true for individuals.  Without concentrated reflection and a search for true self-awareness, leaders become stagnant, ineffective, and eventually irrelevant.