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.  #

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