The Leadership Advantage: Self Awareness

By BRIAN TOWNLEY Reality Intelligence featured trainer

“If we are growing, we are always going to be outside of our comfort zone.” – John Maxwell

Power of Perception

Perception is a belief, feeling, appearance, opinion or observation that may or may not constitute reality. However, perception is the only reality we have when it comes to leadership. No matter how you view yourself, your reputation as a leader is defined by those with whom you work and interact.

A leader who knows the importance of leading themselves before they attempt to lead others has learned the art of self-control and the power of perception. If he or she are perceived as always needing to be right and having all the answers, then the fine line between leading and dictating could easily be crossed.

True leaders change lives and inspire others to achieve their goals. However, I believe for leaders to do this more effectively, they must take an honest look at themselves.

Leaders are most effective when they take the steps necessary to improve their own lives. But what holds some back from taking a look in the mirror and analyzing how the core values they teach align with their own characteristics and actions. The truth is people would become more effective if they practiced more willpower. With more self-control, we would stop procrastinating, adopt healthier eating habits, exercise regularly, save for retirement, and achieve many worthy goals.

The same is true when it comes to being a better leader and an example of living by one’s own beliefs. It’s about learning to successfully lead ourselves before we can lead others.

Perceptions and Why They Are So Powerful

Perceptions are so powerful, because once you have accepted your flaws no one can use them against you. However, self-discovery can be uncomfortable because they can invoke the idea that “I’m not good enough.”

This type of mindset can block already diminished performance levels from elevating. With a limited amount of energy to expend throughout the day, negative emotions can easily become energy vampires, which can dramatically affect productivity, as well as the profitability of a company.

I learned this early on in my career when I was asked to develop a data processing center even though I had absolutely no experience with computers. It was 1995, and computer systems were just taking over the workplace.

The project entailed converting from an old data processing system to a new system, a major undertaking and I was asked to manage the project, which meant coming into the office by 7 a.m. every morning and working late nights, some of which stretched far past midnight.

After keeping this pace for about three months, I woke up early one morning and thought I couldn’t do it anymore without some assistance. I went to the CEO and told him I didn’t think I could continue in that capacity. He said that if I wanted a career, then I needed to understand that true leaders have to make sacrifices. This was the price I was going to have to pay. So I reflected on that and decided to give my notice.

I went to my boss to inform him of my decision, and he said, “I just wish you would have told me this was going on.” I was thinking that he should have known. He said that if I would just hold on he would get me some help, which he did. My end date came and went, and it was never mentioned again.

Sometimes supervisors can get so caught up in their own world they don’t realize that some employees need to be better equipped in order to succeed. Situations can be corrected before they get to a volatile stage and a valued member of the team decides to take the exit route.

I also share this story to remind leaders to remember what it’s like to be the employee. My boss was a very busy man. He had faith in me and assumed that everything was under control because I hadn’t communicated my challenges to him. I expected him to notice and essentially read my mind.

As an employee, things would have been different if I had gone to him and voiced my concerns instead of allowing tensions to mount based on a perception he did not care. After all, I had a responsibility as well to manage myself and my emotions and communicate my discomforts.

This situation resulted in a training point I have used for more than 20 years and that is until a person is willing to see the perception of others, they will never have the ability to change. In other words, someone’s perception may or may not be accurate, however, without the ability to be secure enough to understand the core of these opinions a leader will never have the ability to change misconceptions. That can be a slightly uncomfortable and even painful process for some. Working to change perception is not easy to do, but is the mark of a true leader.

Over time, evolving leaders can better understand why it feels so uneasy to step into that scary territory of “What do others think about me?” It can make a person squirm in his or her seat just thinking about it. It’s natural to want to come up with reasons why it doesn’t matter what others think. It’s easier to think, “We are who we are, and everyone else can like it or leave it.” But in reality, those perceptions can be very powerful in helping us to find ways in which we, as effective leaders, can improve ourselves, others and situations.

That vulnerability can put leaders in a sensitive place. However, taking that risk is worth it considering it also offers the opportunity to become stronger and wiser in the process.

When leading by example, individuals must have the courage to face this discomfort and recognize it as an opportunity to grow. After all, the best fruit is always out on a limb. We must be willing to take that risk and climb the tree.

A great mentor once taught me that “another person’s disapproval is not nearly as difficult as my own disapproval.” In fact, he taught me that another’s negative perception of me might have been hurtful because on some level I believed it to be true. Our feelings of self- negation come from ourselves. But, when someone isn’t ready to see this reality, because this awareness comes with discomfort, he or she will often project the blame and believe someone else is the cause of it.

Therefore, many people may be leery of asking others about their perception of them because it’s risky. However, both positive and constructive feedback and developing such self-awareness is central to leadership and can keep individuals in balance.