You Can’t Be Aware by Yourself
“It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.” – Thomas Sowell
Being aware of ourselves is one of the biggest challenges leaders face. Everyone is watching you all the time and you need to recognize what they’re seeing. You need to be intentional about the messages you’re sending, and you can’t do that if you don’t know what some of those messages are.
The problem with self-awareness, of course, is that if you don’t have it, you won’t realize you don’t have it. And just about the time you think you’ve got it mastered, you find out you’ve got blind spots you didn’t know about. Worst of all, you usually find that out in a very public and painful way.
I don’t think there’s any way to ever ensure that you are completely self-aware, and it’s probably not even possible. That’s why I don’t think you can take any leader seriously who talks about self-awareness if that leader isn’t regularly asking someone they trust for feedback. Not in a pathetic, please tell me how good I’m doing kind of way, but in an authentic, I want to get better kind of way.
That’s easier said than done. As leaders, it can be a real challenge to find someone who will be honest with us. Too many people tell us what we want to hear because they think that’s what will work out best for them. They’re afraid of some sort of consequence for sharing unpleasant truths (at least to your face), or they think there will be a reward for praising you.
All of that baggage is why building relationships to the level that encourages that kind of honest feedback is so critical for leaders. You have to engage with your people enough that they feel comfortable letting you know what you need to know about yourself. You can’t complain about not getting honest feedback when you haven’t created an environment that encourages it.
Certainly none of us are perfect. We will have flaws and some of them we won’t recognize, and no matter what we do there will be people we lead who don’t think they can be honest with us. But, we have to do whatever we can to construct an organization where communication and feedback for the leaders is the rule, not the exception.
It’s not easy, and if you’re not uncomfortable you’re probably doing it wrong. But when you signed up to be a leader, you signed up to be uncomfortable. Get to work.