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Why Self-Awareness Matters and Six Questions to Get You Started

by Liz Cooney, Learning Specialist, Tero International

Have you ever found yourself thinking about a previous interaction and asking yourself, "Why did I say that?" or "Why did I do that?" Many of us are spending time reflecting on our lives and relationships right now. Apparently a collective crisis can do that to a person. Taking a moment to deepen your own self-awareness can be beneficial for both personal and professional reasons.

Before this pandemic hit, a friend of mine recently started a new job and was experiencing moments of self-doubt. She feared the company made a mistake in hiring her because she wasn't familiar with the specific systems and responsibilities required of her position. The onboarding process had seriously lacked in the training department, so she was left to figure out most the job by herself. Or so she thought.

As we talked, I asked her why she thought the company did hire her. What was it about her personality and her past experiences that made her a good fit? She described to me her strengths and interests that matched the job, the way she "clicked" with the leaders during the interview, and the ideas she had for the future of this department she was now leading.

Then I asked her how does she typically learn new things or take on a new project? What is it that makes her successful to do such tasks? After thinking for a moment, she recalled an example from earlier in her life that boiled down to one thing: clear expectations. She needed detailed expectations for what was required and also the why behind those requirements. With that amount of clarity, she knew she can tackle anything. I followed up with asking her what happens when she doesn't have those clear expectations communicated to her? She laughed and said, "Catastrophizing. Doom and gloom." Which was exactly what was happening when she called me.

With this new self-awareness, she compiled a list of questions and needed information to request from her supervisor. She realized that her reactions were simply patterned behavior for her personality. Once she became knowledgeable of this, she felt validated and was able to move forward. She wasn't alone in figuring out this new job, she just didn't know what she needed.

It is not an easy thing to do but if each of us can know ourselves better, we become better leaders, bosses, parents, partners, and friends. So, how do we get there? What does it take to have a higher level of self-awareness? It requires serious reflection and honesty with ourselves. It requires being vulnerable and humble about our imperfections. And it requires keeping an open mind to learning about why we do things the way we do.

In their book The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner give us a great list of questions get us started on the path to self-awareness.

Kouzes and Barry recommend spending time each day to reflect on your experiences. The research shows this practice can help improve our future performances. So here's your homework: Set a timer for 10 minutes at the end of each day to reflect on what you learned about yourself. How did you make decisions? How did you communicate with others? What obstacles did you face and how did you react or respond? Think about your answers to these questions or even consider writing them down and tracking them in a notebook.

As one of Kouzes and Barry's case study participants described, "leadership comes from the heart and from a place of being genuine, being vulnerable, and bringing your whole self." Whether you are working right now or not, dedicate the time to knowing the why behind everything you do. When life returns to a more normal state, you will be ready to show up with a higher level of self-awareness and lead others with purpose and clarity.

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