Leadership: why self-awareness and curiosity are your secret weapons during difficult times
As our ways of working have changed, so too have the qualities needed for effective leadership. In today’s challenging business environment, it’s critical that HR leaders have the capacity for self-reflection – and can encourage the same in those they lead.
Leadership in 2021 requires more humanity and adaptability than ever before. While we might all be weathering this storm together, we’re all in different boats. As HR leaders, we’ve had to be especially agile and resilient being change makers, leaders, sounding boards and partners to the business, all at once.
The more conscious you become of your behaviour, the more intentional your leadership will be.
What, then, have you learned about yourself during this time? The ancient Chinese philosopher Lau Tzo once wrote, ‘mastering others is a strength, mastering yourself is power’. Now is the time, then, for us to work on our self-awareness and curiosity.
What are the benefits?
Self-awareness and curiosity are skills that shouldn’t be underestimated in a leader’s toolkit. It is critical they are kept as sharp as possible in order to navigate the volume and speed of change that is being thrown your way. Getting curious about yourself and increasing your self-awareness will not only maximise performance, but most importantly help you sense check and align your values, happiness and fulfillment too.
Developing a better sense of yourself is also grounding. It helps you navigate difficult situations with less stress and negative emotion. The more conscious you become of your behaviour, the more intentional your leadership will be. In turn, the greater the ripple effect and impact will be on those you work with and support. It also plays a critical role in navigating and embracing change.
What is self-leadership?
Manz (1986) was the first to define modern self-leadership. He described it as ‘a journey to self-discovery and self-satisfaction, a method of self-influence – a source of controlling your own behaviours and fulfillment’.
In the book, Self Leadership, Andrew Bryant and Ana Kazan explain that self-leadership is necessary to think effectively, behave congruently and relate empathetically as a leader. All of these qualities make a great human being too. They explain self-leadership as a form of self-monitoring, making you more aware of the consequences of your behaviour.
Your thoughts become your behaviour
Our physical and mental reality is the sum of our beliefs, thoughts, emotions and energy that in turn creates a physical reality, yet 88 – 90% of these thoughts and beliefs are subconscious. Often, without us realising, they will feed into our outward behaviour.
Getting curious helps your subconscious become more conscious. It’s about listening to the clues, looking for the patterns, and seeking to understand yourself even more than you do already. Like potholes in the road, if you know they are there, you can navigate them with minimal disruption. If you don’t know they exist, you risk a puncture and taking longer to reach your destination.
The more you can question and listen to your thoughts and feelings – the more chance you have to take action on the trigger that takes you from a path of possibility to one of limitation.
Know and leverage your strengths
Strengths are not competencies per se. Instead, think of strengths as the underlying qualities that energise you and the things that you are great at (or have the potential to be great at). They are the actions on the to do list that you naturally gravitate to. By understanding more about your strengths, you unlock your passion and energy and it can enable you to achieve higher levels of performance, which are more aligned with your natural strengths and personality.
How can you increase your curiosity and self-awareness?
- Journaling regularly is helpful. You may prefer to do this in the evening as you reflect on the day, or prefer to do it in the morning, daytime or when the thought/feeling comes to mind. The simple action of writing helps show patterns. It enables you to see where a belief/thought is limiting and take steps to either look for alternative evidence to rewrite it or look for other potential solutions.
- Look out for times when you feel a change in your energy, emotions or physical self too. If you feel a little tense, look at what just happened in the moment or previously. Seek to understand the trigger that made you feel this way. When you know more about yourself, it will enable you to take action on the cause, rather than the symptom.
- Also look out for when your energy is high, when it is low. What are you doing? What have you been doing? What time of the day is it? Who are you with? This will teach you the work you most enjoy doing, the times of day you perform at your highest, the environment you work best in and the values and energy of those around you that bring out the best in you too.
- Whilst doing this, also look out for the risk areas. These are the holes in your boat, some of which will be above the water line and you simply need to be mindful of them, and those below the water line, that are critical in the role you do right now. Look for the clues – what drains you? What are you putting off? What do you feel unenthused about? Which of your strengths could become your Achilles heel by going into overdrive at the wrong time? Again, look for the clues.
- You could also utilise the numerous assessment tools that are available. There are too many for me to mention here, but a favourite of mine right now is a free tool called Human Design and as a Strengths Coach, I am also bias to Strengthscope as an assessment tool too.
- I also advocate seeking feedback from colleagues, peers and team members. You could do this formally through 360 tools, a one-to-one conversation or small focus groups. This should be done regularly. Again, if you are using Strengthscope this can assist this process further.
Getting curious with yourself is one thing but getting curious with others is another key string to your bow. If you can help others become more self-aware then you gain a greater opportunity to respond to what they most need to grow and develop. It also allows you to best support them to leverage their own strengths and address any risk areas too.
Please note that this inner work may stir up some deep-rooted limiting beliefs that you cannot resolve alone. I always recommend that where you need to, seek professional help to work through these.
Zig Ziglar described motivation as being like taking a shower – the effect is not permanent. Your personal and professional growth as a leader is much like the shower, in that you need to do it regularly. Self-leadership is a massive topic, but these initial steps will help you start to become more curious about yourself and take action towards having an even greater impact as you navigate change and ongoing challenges as a leader and partner.
Interested in this topic? Read Are you really awake? Why conscious leaders are key to unlocking wellbeing.