25 Jun The key practices needed to be a highly self-aware leader
Self-aware leaders are more effective, confident, and respected. Research shows that they make sounder decisions, communicate well, build stronger relationships, and are more innovative. Having awareness of our authentic self from our own perspective and from the perspective of our peers is an essential leadership skill.
Tasha Eurich and her team from the US based Eurich Group have found key practices in highly effective self-aware leaders which can be adopted to improve both internal and external self-awareness.
The Key to Effective Internal Self-Awareness
A major part of internal self-awareness is asking ourselves “why” we behaved in a certain way in a situation. The research team found that “why” can be negative, leading to self-doubt, lower self-esteem and the individual is vague in their own awareness of the reasons for behaviour.
In comparison, they discovered that the highly self-aware leaders asked the question “what” far more than “why”. In their research, the word “why” appeared less than 150 times among those individuals, but the word “what” in questioning appeared thousands of times referring to specific behaviours, situations, and contexts. Eurich says: “‘What’ questions help us stay objective, future-focused, and empowered to act on our new insights.”
The Key to Effective External Self-Awareness
The team’s findings showed that a number of leaders, especially female leaders, struggle with a key part of self-awareness – meta-perception (predicting how others see them) – which affects their effectiveness in performance.
When asked how they believed their supervisor rated them in Emotional Intelligence, women scored 3 times lower than men, yet overall, they actually scored slightly higher than men in the ratings by supervisors.
Eurich highlights the issue in the Harvard Business Review: “when women underestimate how others view their contributions, they may unintentionally hold themselves back. If a female leader believes that others don’t value her, she could be more cautious about applying for a job, putting herself forward for a promotion, or asking for a raise.”
Women leaders were also less likely to receive feedback from male peers (some actually expressed they didn’t want to upset their female peers!) and received less specific feedback than male leaders on the whole.
The researchers found another significant positive difference in the male and female leaders who were highest in self-awareness. These individuals acquired regular feedback from “loving critics” – a small number (3-6) individuals who were trusted to give honest, realistic, constructive and specific feedback. These critics had the interests of the individuals at heart to develop and succeed, and included at least one individual above the level of the individual requesting feedback.
To be highly self-aware leaders, we must focus on both internal and external self-awareness, evaluate by asking specifically “what” instead of “why” and seek honest feedback from trusted “loving critics” so that we gain positive constructive insight and can empower ourselves to develop our confidence, skills and relationships to be more effective in our roles in future.