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How to improve self-awareness as a leader

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What’s one thing all successful organizations have in common? They understand their strengths and caution areas. They become more cohesive and efficient because they’re self-aware, not only as an entire entity or team, but beginning at the individual level.

Leaders who practice self-awareness set themselves up to become better managers, strategists, and teammates. Just as it helps to understand the behavioral patterns of those you work with, recognizing your own tendencies and stretches is vital. When you see behaviors manifesting in yourself, you can check those habits before you lean too heavily on them.

Increasing self-awareness is also a matter of professional development. You can view it on the same priority tier as attending workshops, reading books by industry leaders, or other forms of upskilling. It’s a practice that should be at the forefront of your leadership development.

Let’s walk through what that looks like on a few levels, so you can identify potential gaps in your self-awareness. By doing this, you’ll know which areas to focus your improvement efforts on.

Self-awareness in knowing yourself

Do you have a clear understanding of your emotions, and how you react to difficult situations? Do you understand the “triggers” and “stressors” in your life and have a plan for processing stress and disappointment? Stay curious and try to take regular steps to learn more about yourself. When you receive criticism, ask: “How can I learn from this experience?”

The more often you can apply this sort of introspective approach to your professional life, the more it will benefit your leadership—and your team.

Self-awareness in working with others

To effectively lead a team, you need to have a clear understanding of the emotions of the people around you, and how these people react in different environments. Think about the different behavioral styles of the people on your team, and how they might manifest, say, during time of remote work. Consider how these people might respond to crisis. What are their strongest drives? How might they lean on those drives?

Try to tailor the way you provide feedback to others based on their innate behavioral drives and needs. Likewise, regularly ask others to give you feedback about your actions, communication, and management style.

Self-awareness in communication

Try to be aware of the non-verbal cues (e.g., body language) you give. This can be complicated by remote work and video conferencing, but if you’re aware of your own tone of voice when you’re speaking to others in the workplace, that’s generally a good start.

Try to defer judgment and allow others to finish their thoughts before responding. Practice active listening when interacting with others. And depending on the group you’re communicating with, it may sometimes help to speak last. As a leader, your opinions may be weighed more heavily, and you don’t want to inadvertently sway others or dissuade them from speaking after you.

Self-awareness tools and processes

Use behavioral assessments and other self-awareness tools to identify your innate strengths, as well as areas for improvement. Leverage behavioral data to understand the best ways to motivate and manage direct reports.

When appropriate, complete 360-degree reviews in the interest of gathering honest feedback from co-workers (direct reports and managers alike). And when you make key decisions, try to write down what you expect will happen. Then, six, nine, or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations.

Self-awareness is a constant, ongoing practice. But by asking these questions of yourself, you’ll actively hold yourself accountable to the pursuit every day.

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David is a content writer and editor at PI. He loves Broadway and the Boston Celtics.

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