In 2010, Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations conducted a study about the importance of self-awareness as a trait for leaders. They found that a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of success. I am not surprised by this.
Over the years I have met a few professionals who, when I hear them speak, I think “Yes! I agree completely!” Their philosophies match my own perfectly. However, then I find that their methods of following through on their ideas are actually demoralizing to staff, controlling, or insensitive. Their actions do not match the inspiration and enthusiasm of their words. Maybe they mistake aggression for assertiveness and are actually just a jerk with good ideas, or maybe they have no idea how they are coming across to others. That is, they mean well but have no self-awareness.
When hiring leaders, we should ask the candidates about how they accomplish their work, rather than just be impressed by the laundry list of important projects they have completed. We should also be sure that when we call their professional references, we ask about the candidates’ self-awareness. Not just “What are their strengths and weaknesses?”, but “How do they improve themselves?” and “How do they gain feedback?”. The important part here is how they gather feedback.
You can also use personality tests like Myers-Briggs or StrengthsFinder as part of the hiring process for positions of leadership. Are you hiring a personality type that complements those already on staff, and among those whom they will work most closely? Are you hiring a personality type that is compatible with the goals of the institution?
Leaders, to you I suggest putting yourself in your co-workers’ shoes. If your boss had this decision to make, this procedure to put in place, or this project to complete, how would you want to receive the information? What would make you feel included and empowered? Look at the last few big projects you completed. How do you think your co-workers would describe your effectiveness? Be honest, and take into consideration the areas you know to be your weaknesses.
If anyone has other good ideas about self-awareness and leadership, I’d love to hear them in the comments!