Why is self-awareness such an important component of leadership?

That’s one of the questions we’ll tackle in this week’s seminar at Running Start, where I serve as Board Co-Chair and where we are working to develop young women’s leadership potential.

A few years ago, I studied at Harvard Business School as part of an executive education program called “Authentic Leadership Development.” At its core, becoming an authentic leader requires understanding who you are and what’s most important to you, and where you derive meaning that will sustain you even when you experience inevitable setbacks or periods of chaos in your job, career and life. A key to reaching self-awareness includes doing the hard work to really understand your personal narrative, but also, and perhaps most importantly, requires reaching out to others for feedback on how they see you so that you can see yourself from their perspective. We all have blind spots, especially related to how others see us. The best way to shine some light on those blind spots is to get honest, objective, constructive feedback. But, it goes beyond just receiving feedback. No amount of feedback will help us if we are not prepared to listen. And frankly, tough feedback can be pretty difficult to hear. So, we’ll talk about how to avoid defensiveness, and how best to prepare for tough conversations that we may not want to hear, but that we need to hear.

One of the tips we’ll discuss in class involves approaching feedback with an open mind and a willingness to grow and improve, rather than with a closed mindset that often accompanies the pursuit of perfection. Feedback is much harder to hear when you aspire to perfection. When perfection is your standard, feedback will make you feel particularly dejected and defeated. But, if you establish a mindset focused on personal growth and improvement, it can change how you hear the feedback, even when it’s negative. Another great tip we’ll discuss: prepare a few lines in advance of receiving feedback that will enable you to respond more constructively and also help you get even more detailed feedback. You might say: “Tell me more about how I could adjust my actions/speaking style/presentation” etc… or ask “Have you ever had this challenge? How did you handle it? Do you have any specific suggestions for what I might do to address this?” Another helpful tip is to always keep a running checklist of your skills. Robert Kaplan writes about this in his terrific book “What You’re Really Meant To Do.” By having a list of your skills and accomplishments, as well as a list of things to work on, that can also help create a more productive conversation by setting a benchmark for areas where you and the person giving you feedback believe you should work to improve. The more specific the feedback and the more open your are to receiving it the more productive and useful it will be.

There is no single approach to leadership development that works for everyone, but developing a stronger sense of self and the awareness of how we are perceived can be particularly useful regardless of where our aspirations take us.  #

Building Strong Women Leaders Through Self-Awareness & Smart Tools

Later today I’m excited to launch a special four-part seminar entitled “Understanding, Building and Owning Your Leadership Potential.” The seminar, developed for Running Start’s “Star Fellows” program, is designed for college-age women to help them increase self-awareness and to learn about tools to build and sustain confidence. The young women in the program are talented, aspiring, young, political leaders who are receiving on-the-job training with current women Members of Congress. We hope to deepen their perspective and awareness around additional themes that are also critical to their leadership journey.Everyone stumbles, especially when taking calculated and necessary career risks. This is true in business, politics, or whatever path you pursue. When you take the time to develop a few tools to help you bounce back, it can speed recovery time and help you grow and flourish so that you are better equipped to tackle the next (likely even bigger) challenge!

Studies have shown that women can often have a tougher time recovering from a misstep or failure. That is due in part to how we “frame” or think about what happened, how we talk to ourselves about the experience, and how quickly we allow ourselves to move on. In the seminar, we’ll talk about the inherent tendency to “ruminate or overthink” these experiences, and what to do to stop that cycle. We’ll also talk about ways to create sustainable approaches to help us maintain our sources of energy, while also learning how to evaluate our talents and leverage them by learning to tell our stories so that we can articulate the value we bring to our organizations and teams. 

We’ll also talk about how to avoid perfectionistic tendencies, where self-doubt and confidence come from, and how to accept and use feedback. And, we’ll look at communication style and how to avoid bad habits like excessive apologizing.

The topics and the tools we’ll be discussing in the seminar are near and dear to my heart. Like so many women, I’ve struggled with many of these tendencies, but my career journey has led me to great experts, amazing leaders, and mentors who have helped me develop awareness and to grow. I’ve found that greater awareness coupled with smart tools are often the most important keys needed to unlock our potential and help us soar in whatever path we chose. Like others have done for me, I look forward to great discussion and the opportunity to share what works. ###