The practice of self-awareness and self-reflection for those in leadership roles goes back thousands of years to the ancient philosophers and teachers. Yet, it seems that self-reflection is the manager’s least favourite pastime.
By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. – Confucius
In this guest post by Jacqui Spencer we learn why self-refection is the key to effective leadership. If we are to improve our leadership skills, then it is important that we are aware of our strengths and weaknesses, our values and behaviours, and the ways in which we attempt to influence others. In other words, self-awareness and self-reflection is about learning to understand our leadership style.
Think you need a leadership coach? Read this first.
I was working with a senior leader recently in an attempt to help him adjust to working with his new CEO. It was an interesting assignment as it had gone from me being engaged to help him and his leadership team with a new strategic framework to a one-on-one reflection exercise.
I was particularly intrigued by the level of impact this new CEO appeared to have had on a leader I had known for a couple of years. This confident, self-directed, successful leader was asking questions that were very much focused on trust, relationships, engagement. But not on how he and his leadership team could drive the department forward with a sound strategy for future growth or what co-creation and collaboration would look like.
It became clear that this shift to a new CEO was creating some anxiety at very senior levels — not because there had never been a new CEO before but because this new CEO was asking different kinds of questions and my client was perhaps not in full blown self-doubt mode but had definitely embarked on that journey.
I suggested that now was a good time for self-reflection; that is, before he starts to think about moving forward perhaps he should glance backwards. I suggested the simple exercise of writing himself a letter, addressed to his younger self, just as he was starting out on his career path. The letter should give his younger self advice on how to be a great leader based on what he knows today.
This was probably not the best match between client and proposed solution as he struggled a little to understand what I was after, so I moved on to another idea which was a better match.
However on returning home I decided to find my “leadership reflection” letter that I had written when I was in a leadership position. I found it in my home office and I sat down and read it.
To me this remains the best exercise I ever did on personal reflection not because it demonstrated the power of memories but because it made me appreciate what it was like to be me and how lucky I was.
Even a number of years later it still had the same effect on me and so my advice to those of you somewhere on a leadership journey is take time out and write yourself a letter and every now and again read it because, trust me, it will be better than any one-on-one session you will have with a paid consultation or coach.
Here is mine — when you read it I hope you see what I mean.
Focus on leaving a legacy from the very start of your career. It will make you take the time to talk to people and if you start out wanting to be remembered then you will lead that way.You will screw up – admit it as quickly as you can.
Pick a leadership tool that you can relate to and stick with so you can use it wisely. Myers Briggs was the one tool I picked because it was not about competency but about preference and that’s a key difference people that work for you need to understand. It will help you know how best to lead.
Hire the right people — surround yourself with people that you can nurture or learn from. Make sure you also have an irritant. They will make you think differently and whilst working with them will take your energy and test your patience, the value they bring will be worth it.
Tell stories — about yourself in particular. When you share your own opinions, thoughts, fears, choices, challenges, failures and decisions and talk or write about it people will begin to see who you are and what you stand for – it makes you genuine.
Develop the next generation of leaders — mentor, guide, spend time with them. It will be the greatest investment you make. Don’t talk about it or boast about it. Over time the people will talk about you and that will gradually build a reputation for you that is much more meaningful. Find someone yourself who will give you tough messages and guide you. Listen to them.
Don’t take yourself too seriously and make sure fun and humour is part of work. People like to laugh and it’s good for your wellbeing so never forget to bring fun into the work place.
Empower people — do NOT micro manage. Delegate significant responsibilities not just things you don’t want to do. It will stretch and develop people around you and they will respect the fact you have trusted them. They will make you proud.
Engage widely with all members of groups you lead — not just your own direct reports. Ask everyone to contribute their thoughts on topics where you are the final decision maker; always make that point clear up front. Avoid hierarchical leadership at all times but balance it with a leadership presence that engages people to WANT to work for you.
Seek feedback on how you are doing and what you have done — don’t wait for your boss to do it.
write mid-year and end of year messages aimed at everyone in your group and don’t mention achievements, milestones or goals. Talk about what made you proud, what you would like to have done differently and show your appreciation. When someone tells you someone else has done something good then reach out to them to add your gratitude. A simple email or phone call is worth a lot with people.
Be visible. Go on walkabouts, have coffee, stop and talk — wherever you are. It’s where you will truly find out what is going on and what people are thinking or what is an issue. Make sure you listen, act and feedback.
Don’t break a promise. Deliver on your commitments. Drive for extraordinary results. Showcase the work your group does and give airtime to others to get the credit.
Be passionate about what you believe and live by your values — don’t look upwards for instructions or downwards for gratitude.
Remember this is your life and work is a part of it — get the balance right.
You’re about to have a ball so enjoy! I wish I could do it all again …
Understanding our strengths, weaknesses, talents and behaviours will help us to respond effectively in a range of leadership situations. Without self-awareness we dismantle confidence and trust.
So, self-awareness is the key to being a more effective leader.
Are you ready to take the challenge and write yourself that letter?
And while you’re at it why not share your experience with us?
Creative Commons image courtesy Ixia Jouriana.