Become Self-Aware to Become an Authentic Leader

This is chapter 19 "Become Self-Aware to be an Authentic Leader" from my unpublished book: "Misused Power".

“Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability. Be transparent with your team, even when the truth may be unpopular or inconvenient.”

— Bill George

For the last 20 years I took on leadership and management positions where I led business units of people from all walks of lives, different experiences, and attitudes. Just like many in this life, I worked tirelessly to deliver results and received promotions due to my efforts and the skills that I brought to the table.

Needless to say, as a working parent, my life was crazy, busy, and hectic, but I would never wish for any of it to be different. Working in corporate America allowed me to learn how to navigate politics, deal with the insensitive, rude, and backstabbers. But most importantly, I realized what I was missing in leadership capacity.

This didn’t happen until I discovered the centuries old theory of mindfulness and consequently the power of self-awareness. When I got promoted and was given additional responsibilities, after the euphoria of the act of the promotion has passed, I discovered that the higher I went up the ladder, the lonelier I felt. I started to understand the meaning of the phrase, “It is lonely at the top.”

Deep down I felt like I was left alone to survive doing that specific job of a people manager. People’s lives depended on me. I was soaking in all the pain, working insanely long hours, and neglecting my family. I was looked at as the person who had to have all the answers at work when I didn’t. The stress levels were high, and my ability to be effective at influencing others was diminishing. I started paying closer attention to me. For the first time in my professional life, I managed to look at me as an outsider, gazing at a stranger who was lost and no longer able to effectively and positively impact others unless I reinvented myself. After leading for many years, I took the job of an individual contributor serving as an education consultant to the top CEOs who were members of the exclusive leadership network.

Seeing the other side of the coin, while observing the behaviors and habits of these influential individuals, was an eye-opening experience. I was able to observe my own shortcomings when I led others, as if I was looking in the mirror. I also was given the opportunity to be exposed to the best examples of authentic leadership. None of these discoveries would have happened unless I realized the importance of self-awareness.

What exactly is self-awareness?

There are several definitions of self-awareness. All are quite simple and straightforward. The first definition that came up on Google was, “Conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.”

Another definition goes deeply into the state of our minds. “Self-awareness is a psychological state in which people are aware of their traits, feelings, and behavior. Alternately, it can be defined as the realization of oneself as an individual entity" (Crisp & Turner, 2010). Leaders who are self-aware are able to recognize their strengths and weakness and draw on others’ strengths and creativity to create better results.

During my research, I came across yet another definition mentioned by Dan Gallagher, who was a Senior Vice President of Strategic Growth Initiatives at Comcast-Spectacor. In his TEDx talk in 2014 that was posted on YouTube he said, “Self-awareness is what drives your growth. Self-awareness is slowing yourself down to speed yourself up.” It is definitely an interesting and provoking way to look at it.

 

Ask yourself, do you feel completely overworked with no time to turn off your racing mind and concentrate on yourself? If the answer is yes, you are not alone.

 

Remember Alice in Wonderland? Lewis Carroll's wild White Rabbit says, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” I believe that the quote stands true not just for time management, but also for slowing down and discovering your own self.

Leaders who succeeded, went through the discovery of this important concept. Bill George, the author of Discover Your True North, wrote in the Huffington Post (2015), that “Authenticity has become the gold standard for leadership. No longer is leadership about developing charisma, emulating other leaders, or looking good externally. Instead, leadership is about inspiring and empowering those you lead.”

George continued to speak an undeniable truth, “All of us want to be led by real people, those we can relate to us as human beings, not title carriers pushing the orders down the ranks.”

It is important that managers see people who work for them as whole people and not the numbers, FTEs (full time equivalent), contractors, etc. We all have life outside of work; there is no logical way to deny this fact. A good leader who understands his own shortcomings is more open to see others as humans with real talents and issues. Self-awareness is our power tool!

According to Emory University’s Philippe Rochat, there are five levels of self-awareness which unfold in early development and potential prospects ranging from "Level 0" (having no self-awareness) advancing complexity to "Level 5" (explicit self-awareness). Here is what each of the levels encompassing according to Dr. Rochat’s research, but I will touch in more details on Level 0 and Level 5.

Level 0: Con