The Trouble with Self Awareness

Tango susanamilla

The trouble with self-awareness is that we aren’t aware that we don’t have it!

Self awareness remains one of the key components of effective, excellent leadership. Since leaders deal in relationships all the dynamics applying to good relationships apply to leadership.

At least three energy loci – for lack of a better word – operate in any relationship. One for each party plus the energy that exists between them.

In a more human and less engineering metaphor, relationships, and leadership, is a dance. The quality of each partner affects the movement.

Part of the challenge is that so many movements contribute to the scene.

1. Spiritual gifts, passion, talents

2. Personality – communication patterns, intimacy style, ways of dealing with conflict and authority

3. Family of origin patterns and dynamics

4. Boundaries – Do we, at a pre-reflective level, comply, avoid, control, or choose nonresponse as our response?

5. Addictions – Are we prone to addictions or compulsions? Is there a root? How do we respond when such appear?

6. Leaders are not immune from feelings; indeed the best not only are aware of their feelings but are able to communicate them in inclusive and non-destructive ways. In the church, key feelings that leaders usually confront include ​depression (multiple kinds), anger, ​grief & loss,​fear, bitterness (often accompanied by its cousins disappointment, resentment, cynicism and a bruised sense of entitlement) and ​joy.

7. Expectations exist in any relationship, expectations of ​yourself, ​others and ​your expectations of others (see family of origin above 🙂 )

8. Personal well-being – Popular culture  has now moved to embrace the classical Christian view that well-being is multi-dimensional involving the physical, mental, spiritual realities.

9. Yearnings – Often can be clues to spiritual gifts and passions and so can be gifts  from God. Other times, as Heifetz notes, leaders need to “manage their hungers.”

10. And, if there was an all inclusive option, self regard and self-awareness are often most visible in those quick names we call ourselves – stupid, inadequate, pretender, anointed, called, reluctant, overwhelmed, inadequate, …

Since the dance continually twirls all of these are constantly interact and so the task of self-awareness becomes ongoing. “I can’t believe I said/did/did not do that” can occur at any time.

(thanks to Reggie McNeal and the VST Studio for their role in the development of this list.)

  1. Eventually I’ll stop commenting on everything you post! 😉 … But in the meantime:

    I could agree more that self-awareness is foundational. Unfortunately, it is not sufficient by itself.

    Other-awareness is also foundational – having a finely tuned capacity for non-judgemental, non-reactive, perception / reception of the other.

    I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to have excellent other-awareness without excellent self-awareness, so self-awareness is primary. But it is impotent without other-awareness.

  2. Thanks David for the comment. One of the things it provokes in me is the realization just how interactive many of the traits are that we would name as critical for effective leadership. Related to the other awareness is an openness to learn.
    I had an interesting conversation today. The focus was upon those leaders who enter conversations not really (in their heart) thinking that they might come aware different from those who truly are open to having their perceptions deepened.
    I wonder if it is true that you cannot really enjoy such open, fierce conversations (using Susan Scott’s term) if you are not both self and other aware?

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