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.  #

My Job as an American, a Mom, and a Republican woman

The following first appeared on US News & World Report and is reprinted here with permission. 

By Laura Cox Kaplan

Waking up to the election returns in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, my emotions ran the spectrum and, as a Republican, I felt very conflicted. Going into this election, I didn’t support either party’s nominee — both of whom I found flawed in different, but significant ways.

And while I’m relieved that this ugly campaign has come to and end, I worry about the underlying and deeply felt angst in the country that was exacerbated by hateful, divisive rhetoric – rhetoric that too frequently showed the very worst of candidates, their supporters, and our political process.

As I try to make sense of all of this in my own mind and heart, I am acutely aware of my personal responsibility not only as an American, but as the mother of two young children – a son and a daughter. My children are just old enough to understand the concepts of winning and losing, but they lack the capacity to fully comprehend what a national election means. As a parent, I recognize that the context I provide for my children now is critical to how they will view the world, and to who they will become as citizens of the world.

Here is how I am seeking to guide my children as we move forward as a nation:

  • it is my job to help them understand and deal with the pain that comes with losing, as well as the critical importance of showing empathy for others when the loss may not be your own.
  • it is my responsibility to tell my children that bullying in any context is wrong and should be called out.
  • it is my responsibility to tell my children that sometimes we have to agree to disagree, but should challenge ourselves to find common ground and areas of agreement.
  • it is my responsibility to tell my children that they need to reach out to and develop relationships with those who are different from them – racially, culturally, and socio economically – to increase their understanding of the world.
  • it is my responsibility to tell my children (especially my very disappointed daughter) that there will be women presidents in the future (and that one of them could be her!)
  • it is my responsibility to tell my children that racism, sexism and so many of the other –isms we saw and heard in this campaign are wrong.
  • It is my responsibility to show my children that we must not belittle or dismiss others’ passions, anger, or concerns, but rather work hard to understand where that passion, anger and concern comes from.
  • and, perhaps most difficult, my job is also to make amends when I don’t live up to the standards I have set for myself and show my children what apologizing and making things right looks like.

In short, my job is to be a positive force for healing within my own family and community, and to show my children – as best I can both through my words and my actions — how we should treat others. In the end, it is an important responsibility of every parent and caregiver, to try to set an example that helps the next generation live more positively and compassionately than the last.

There is one more area that for me is particularly important: I will also show my children that it is important to invest of yourself in public service and in causes that are important, including helping others to succeed. For me, that includes my own efforts to support and help develop a stronger and more robust pipeline of young women leaders who will one day serve and run for elected office. I am confident that we will one day see a woman in the White House, and, in the words of the Democratic nominee, I also hope it will be soon. Until then, I remain committed to helping young women find their voice and their potential, and to encouraging them – through groups like Running Start – to consider the importance and the impact they can have through public service.  #