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As a Leadership Coach and Faculty Member for The Coaches Training Institute, the idea of self-awareness is often on my mind and in the work I do. Many would say that self-awareness underpins large aspects of the coaching profession and other related fields like Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman) and creating effective, influential presence. Self-awareness allows us to be more conscious of how we either react to the world or create with what the world throws at us.

Of late, it’s been one of the brightest lights on the dashboard I look at most days. One example for why that light is shining bright is this. I recently lead a leadership development program where one of the participants was from out of town. As we were ramping up for the second day and checking in on learning and where participants were at, he started to complain about the local city’s traffic jams in the rush hour. This leader had demonstrated in earlier parts of the program that he did have self-awareness yet in this moment, he didn’t seem to get that his “complaining” (one version of what he was doing) was having him appear whiny and “better than” all those who lived locally. In this, he was disengaging, even offending, and putting others out. My co-leader raised his impact on others as a learning point for him and the entire group. In that reflection, the participant realized that when he speaks in such a tone, his intent is to point to a problem so that a larger group can offer a solution (e.g. “is there a better way I can get to the office from my hotel?”) However, next to nobody was willing to help him when all he was doing was complaining. He resolved to, in future, turn complaints into a request for help so that his contribution could be seen as more creative than reactive. #makecomplaintsrequests

Self-awareness is also top of mind for another global client. This organization, that is training a dedicated compliment of their executive population to be certified internal coaches in the global business, has been tracking a number of metrics which measure the success of these coaches through and post-certification in this program. At the early stages of this research, the number one factor that seems to indicate a recently certified executive’s coaching success is their level of self-awareness coming into the program. It is not prior coaching experience or even number of hours practicing as a coach. And it is not their level of self-awareness coming out of the program (as in they’ve learned to be more self-aware, which no doubt is true), but rather their level coming into the program. So self-awareness really matters in this aspect of leadership.

I am currently working with upwards of 10 organizations, many international, multi-billion dollar companies, that are training their leaders to be more effective coaches. This matters for many reasons (complexity of industry, many generations in the same workspace, geographic dispersion, etc.) not the least of which is a leader’s ability to discern when a moment of leadership is best served by a hierarchical approach (e.g. “do this!”), a teaching approach (e.g. “show me how you do this and I’ll help you”) or a coaching approach (e.g. “what’s the approach your considering? What’s the impact you want? How can I support you?”). So before we get to any skills of coaching or coaching processes, leaders have to know themselves well enough to be aware of default behaviours (e.g. telling or always teaching) and conscious enough to make choices in the moment as to which style to deploy. This starts with self-awareness. Without it, we keep doing what we’re doing and often hoping for a different result.

Bottom-line, self-awareness matters. A lot.

So, how self-aware are you? Here are some ideas to have you assess and tap into your self-awareness:

  • Notice your habitual morning routine. What has the routine be important? What happens when it gets hijacked? How do you handle that?
  • Notice your default thinking when you’re about to meet or speak with someone who annoys or frustrates you. What are the thoughts you have prior to meeting or picking up the phone? How do those thoughts impact your approach, tone, ability to listen? What’s the likely outcome if you don’t change?
  • What are the situations or who are the people that make your blood boil? What is it about those situations? What is important to you (e.g. your values) that are being ignored that triggers you? How does it help knowing those values?

My take is that self-awareness is Ground Zero in our leadership, and even in our lives. To grow, adapt, learn, lead and love, we need to know who we are at our best and our worst. As we develop the capacity to leverage our self-awareness and make choices that move us towards our goals, dreams and desired future, we move away from a reactive or default future we can unintentionally create when we don’t access our own inner wisdom.