Years ago, a CEO I was working with said to me "You know, no one gets to be a CEO without an ego." What struck me about his comment was that I experienced him as one of the lowest ego CEOs I have ever worked with. He had the self-awareness to understand he had an ego, but obviously kept it in check. He was often genuinely self-deprecating and very well respected in his company, industry and indeed worldwide. He delivered great results to his shareholders and did it in the right way. Great organizations and teams that deliver consistent results are most often led by leaders with high self-awareness. Here are five signs you're on the road to being a self-aware leader.
1. You create a development culture.
No attempt at self, team or organizational improvement will succeed if the underlying culture isn't supportive of sustainable excellence. You have to create an environment where feedback is viewed as nothing more than data. It is evaluated and acted upon if necessary – rather than taken personally. Everyone understands feedback is given and received only for the purpose of making the individual leader, and overall team, more effective. Do you dread feedback and performance reviews or look forward to these opportunities? What would your people say about your reviews of them? The answer to these questions will let you know whether you have a development culture.
2. You collect and welcome valid information about your leadership.
The emphasis here is on the word valid. Many organizations, teams and corporations collect feedback in the form of 360 evaluations and the like. They end up with lots of charts and graphs but without nuanced understanding about their leadership and specific actions/behaviors that will make them more effective. In my experience, the best way for senior leaders to obtain valid information is through an interview based, external process. I once had a senior leader tell me they wouldn't think of being honest with an internally based 360 process. I believe internally based assessments can be helpful at more junior levels of organizations. However, senior leaders need to be assured of confidentiality in order to commit to the vulnerability necessary for honest feedback. Do you have trusted, external advisors?
3. You commit to specific actions and behavioral change.
After receiving valid feedback, self-aware leaders focus on 3-5 major actions and behaviors they commit to changing. They develop specific action steps allowing them to achieve these changes. They specify definite time lines for each of their action steps. It's also very helpful to engage an internal colleague to periodically provide feedback on these changes during important meetings and other performances.
4. You share your commitments with your team.
A leader sharing his/her development areas with their team and asking for ongoing feedback around development goals is extremely powerful. There are certainly times leaders need to be decisive and not worry about style or their impact on others. More often, the spirit of soliciting ongoing feedback by a leader results in greater collaboration, openness and superior results. Do you ask your team how you can improve and serve them best as a leader?
5. You assess your progress.
The quote "what gets measured gets done" has been attributed to several different authors. Regardless of the origin, the principle is true. After 6-12 months following original commitments to change, the external consultant should re-interview as many as possible of the original interviewees (teams and organizations change). This allows the self-aware leader to track progress and identify areas where they fell short and renewed effort is necessary.
You can be very successful in various quarters or years without self-awareness as a leader. But you can't expect your organization to deliver sustainable excellence without this quality. Sustainable excellence involves consistently delivering outstanding results over time. Becoming a self-aware leader takes work, but the rewards far outweigh the effort. Self-aware leaders are confident and decisive, yet also humble and grateful. They are quick to genuinely give praise to their team. They know what they know, and more importantly, what they don't know. As your self-awareness increases, the performance, morale and energy of your team and organization will exponentially increase. People want to follow self-aware leaders.