There is so much advice available on what it takes to be a great leader that it can feel overwhelming to consider yourself in relation to this apparently never-ending list of everything that you should be. We are told over and over again that to be an excellent leader you must be:

  • a great communicator who is not afraid of having difficult conversations,
  • a positive role model who inspires people to achieve great things,
  • dedicated and loyal, working as hard as, if not harder than, anyone in your team,
  • able to make difficult decisions quickly and with no negative impact on your team’s emotions,
  • resilient enough to navigate the ups and downs you’ll face while making it all look easy,
  • trusted by your colleagues and clients, and so much more!

It starts with you

Some of these traits and skills absolutely do have a part to play in great leadership, but there is something even more powerful that comes before any of this and it has the biggest impact on your leadership potential. That not-so-secret-ingredient is self-awareness. The most important relationship is the relationship we have with ourselves. After all, how are your colleagues and clients supposed to know and trust you if you don’t know and can’t trust yourself? According to Carl Jung, “There is no cure and no improving of the world that does not begin with the individual himself.” At UQ Coaching we agree; it starts with you, but it doesn’t end there.

At its most basic, self awareness can be understood as the conscious knowledge of one’s own character and feelings. It is the ability to perceive and understand the things that make you who you are as a unique individual including your personality, actions, values, beliefs, emotions and thoughts. These things are always there and always have an impact. Improving our self awareness allows us to know the substance and impact of these facets of ourselves, rather than continuing to act on them unconsciously.

And leads to greater impact

In a leadership context, self awareness is understanding how your personality traits, habits, abilities, beliefs and past experiences affect your interactions with the people around you in the workplace. It has a profound impact on our ability to lead well because it refines our ability to understand the people around us and how we affect them, it makes us more aware of our strengths and how to leverage them to get the best from ourselves and others, and it makes us more skilled at recognising and managing our emotional responses. All of these are essential steps in becoming better leaders, and more specifically, becoming the best unique leaders that only we can be.

Once you have achieved true understanding of who you are and why you do the things you do, you can use what you know to have greater impact. There is no one-size-fits-all template of great leadership, no single formula that we can master and apply to be successful. What made Nelson Mandela an excellent leader is very different to what made Jacinda Ahern or Steve Jobs great leaders. To be a great leader you must know yourself deeply and be comfortable with the reality of who you are now and why, instead of staying stuck believing in an idealised version of yourself that exists only in your imagination, or that might exist one day but is not who you are now.

It’s much more than naval gazing

There is a prevailing attitude of resistance to developing more self awareness by some who view it as a self indulgent or a navel gazing impulse. Excessive contemplation of a single issue or extreme inward focus at the expense of all else can be a dangerous habit, but that’s not what true self awareness is. Put simply, it’s the way to get the best from yourself, others and the circumstances you find yourselves in, something that all contemporary leaders need to be able to do. As the world around us continues to change at pace, we must be capable of keeping up with those changes, and the benefits we accumulate from getting to know our core selves allows us to do that well with maximum results and minimum stress.

What the research says

Tasha Eurich is an organisational psychologist, researcher, TEDx speaker, and New York Times bestselling author. In much of her work, including her book Insight, Tasha explores what self awareness really is and how to cultivate it. She explains that are internal and external aspects to self awareness. Internal here means knowing your values, strengths and weaknesses. External means knowing how other people perceive you and therefore react to you. The two elements are independent of each other and as leaders we need to be skilled in both. Developing both sets of skills, for self awareness is a skill that must be worked on and cultivated like any other, can help us be more fulfilled, more confident and more successful in life, and in work.

Eurich’s research shows that self awareness has countless proven benefits including stronger relationships, higher performance, and more effective leadership; all things that we want in our lives and careers. However, while 95% of people think that they are self-aware, only around 10% to 15% actually are. At UQ Coaching we are on a mission to change this and to help every current leader or leader of the future become more self aware. Everyone has both talent and potential, and self awareness is a powerful tool in unlocking and realising it.

Our Be More You online course and UQ Leaders group coaching programmes are specifically designed to help you become a better leader of self and others by becoming more self aware. Whether as a professional, parent, or a partner, these learning journeys will have a profound impact on your life by empowering you to lead from a place of core confidence. Using our pioneering UQ and Leadership S.T.O.R.Y learning models, we provide the framework for your journey of self discovery and leadership transformation.

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