Increasing your self-awareness to excel in your leadership

Nelson MandelaWhen a leader lacks self-awareness, not only he doesn’t know his true self, strengths, and potential but also unaware of his blind spots and vulnerabilities that are obvious to others. These blind spots and vulnerabilities of self-unaware leaders prevent teams, organizations, and societies from reaching their heights, experience growth, harmony, synergy, and productivity.

The question is why individual leaders and organizations aren’t putting self-awareness the attention it deserves? The reasons differ from person to person, organization to organization, and community to community. Let me offer a couple of my thoughts. It could be because they think that self-awareness isn’t that important compared to other tones of urgent things they must do on a daily basis. It could be because they think self-awareness is a personal thing, not something to address in the workplace. It could because they don’t know its significance at all.

Whatever the case may be, I’m here to build a case for self-awareness with the hope that some leaders and organizations may put it under the radar. And if they find self-awareness worthy of their attention and investment, they may do something about individual and collective self-awareness. As I wrote in my book The 9 Cardinal Building Blocks for continued success in leadership: “No community, organization, or nation can arise above the collective self-awareness of its members. When you have many self-awakened individual members, your collective awareness increases. The more enlightened members you have, the more corporate success and productivity you may enjoy, and the more competitive you may become.”

You may say, “I’ve enough self-aware”. Well, it is not enough to have one-time self-awareness. It’s a continuous process if your desire is to continue succeed in your leadership. Failure to expand one’s self-awareness denies those who have already succeeded from thriving and staying there for a very long period of time. The author of ‘Derailed’ Tim Irwin attributed lack of self-awareness for the derailment of former Home Depot CEO Nardelli. He wrote, “He [Nardelli] may have lacked self-awareness- a common denominator of those who derailed”. If you have experienced or watched train derailments, it’s messy and ugly. Unless you increase your self-awareness, you too will experience derailments, if not now, in the future.

In this post, I’d like to share with you notes from my book where I narrated the leadership stories of three great leaders and how they fared against the 9 Cardinal Building Blocks. The two stories below show you how Steve Jobs and Nelson Mandela were great self-awakened leaders. No wonder why they transformed the world, impacted their generation, and beyond. You too can do the same in the area of your passion but that journey should begin with self-awareness:

I. Steve Jobs:

…Steve Jobs was a self-awakened leader. His quest for self-awareness began after he left college. He himself admitted in his Stanford commencement speech in 2005 that he had no idea about what he wanted to do with his life while he was at Reed College. But that soon changed, and Steve went to India in search of the truth…. Not only he found what he loved to do, he was a great artist and architect who articulated and coined the missions and visions of his companies. When you closely look at his three companies- Apple, NeXT, and Pixar, you can immediately recognize that he invested ample time to make it easy for people who were working, and partnering with him to understand for what these companies stood for. He also carefully chose his and his companies’ brands… Steve also strived to raise the self-awareness of his team. He tried to lift their perspectives about the job they were doing together. He inspired his team by touching their heart. You cannot touch hearts without invoking emotion. Emotions cannot be invoked before altering the governing thoughts. Our thoughts are based on our beliefs. Steve knew that and he was altering the belief system of his team, which was necessary to accomplish the mission of Apple. He was telling them “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?” “It’s more fun to be a pirate than join the Navy.”

Steve JobsII. Nelson Mandela:

…Since he understood himself well, Mandela unleashed the unlimited potential that resided within him. Early in life, he believed in himself and the potential he carried. Because of that, he didn’t play small. Mandela was quoted as saying, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”… As much as it was unfortunate, Mandela’s true self-awakening occurred while he was in prison. Before that, in his own words, he didn’t have a clear picture of who he was. This led him to arrogance: “In my younger days, I was arrogant—jail helped me to get rid of it. I did nothing but make enemies because of my arrogance.” Spending time in jail gave him plenty of time to think, reflect, and introspect… Mandela demonstrated a holistic self-awareness. He:

  • Was well aware of his roots and constantly reminded himself of this fact.
  • Understood the importance of living in harmony with other people who weren’t from his race and clan.
  • Knew what to do with his life while he was still young. He discovered his mission in life as soon as he was graduated from Fort Hare in 1943.
  • Had the awareness about where he was going. He didn’t have the illusion about his future.
  • Self-critiqued himself. In one of his letters to Winnie Mandela dated on June 20 1970, Mandela wrote, “I must be frank and tell you that when I look back at some of my writings and speeches I am appalled by their pedantry, artificiality and lack of originality. The urge to impress and advertise is clearly noticeable.”…

The above excerpt is taken from the last part of my Book entitled “The 9 Cardinal Building Blocks: For continued success in leadership”, which is available on Amazon.

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