Even with a long résumé of successes and qualifications – success climbing organizational ladders, enviable technical expertise, a track record of visionary innovation – every leader has something they can't seem to master. Perhaps it's an inability to finally push signature initiatives over the finish line. Perhaps your organization’s teams cannot consistently pull together and collaborate at top efficiency. Maybe it's a tendency to lose your cool in, or avoid altogether, stressful interactions with employees.
No matter what you have accomplished as a leader, these lingering pain points can limit your organization’s accomplishments. What could be the cause? Most people have subtle, unexamined motivations or beliefs that can sabotage successful relationships and derail success as a leader. In other words, you're probably up against barriers in yourself you don't even know are there.
Unlocking those stubborn areas where you fall just short requires a deep, honest, objective examination and acceptance of your core self. That examination can reveal otherwise hidden root causes of your thoughts and behaviors – and the root causes of the results you are getting from the organization you lead. Improved self-awareness could be the key to reaching the pinnacle of success as a leader.
The increasing importance of self-awareness
Deep self-awareness is important for health and success at any point in a career. It becomes progressively more crucial for rising leaders – it can even be the deciding factor in reaching the highest levels of achievement.
A leader needs to know the underlying causes of her or his leadership shortcomings and how to correct them. You may have shown a knack for strategic thinking, building relationships or even inspiring focus on purpose – these might be part of the reason you’ve advanced this far. But the criteria is no longer “has a knack” or “has great potential.” It is now “must deliver substantial results.” You might have advanced this far without deep self-awareness. But you likely cannot reach the highest level of achievement without it.
As you progress through your career and rise through the ranks of organizations, things change. The duties that make up your day-to-day work evolve. The expectations of you and your teams grow.
Leaders must shift their thinking away from tactical and toward strategic, their motivations away from a drive for achievement and toward a focus on purpose, and perhaps most importantly, their people skills from a task-management to a relationship-building orientation.
Each of these shifts requires the rising leader to acquire new sets of competencies and knowledge. The shifts challenge the leader to step out of her or his comfort zone and be subjected to more scrutiny and chances of failure. Mismanaging the shifts spells failure or stagnation for you, and worse, for your organization and its people.
Better self-awareness helps leaders navigate these shifts by uncovering patterns that perpetuate ingrained thoughts and behaviors. Understanding those patterns enables the leader to adapt and change in response to new challenges. Self-awareness can help you meet new demands by pushing your performance beyond what you assumed to be your limits.
To appreciate the vital importance of self-awareness, it helps to consider unawareness and its consequences.
Self-limiting beliefs are fundamental, often unconscious, beliefs about your abilities that stunt your achievement. We all have a set of beliefs about what we do well, what we can achieve and where our abilities fall short. Many of these beliefs can be accurate. Some, however, were picked up during particularly formative years, perhaps early in childhood, and are not necessarily true. It could be a parent believed you would never achieve the highest levels of success, and you internalized that belief. You may have been particularly hurt by a failure early in life and have since avoided challenges that could end in such failure.
You likely never even think about and examine these beliefs. Self-limiting beliefs, however, subtly color perceptions, thoughts and behaviors. The net effect of these subtle influences is consistent patterns of thought, judgment, decision-making and behaviors. For example, you might have gotten in the habit of avoiding those career moments that challenge you to rise to a new level. You might have missed out on hundreds of opportunities to advance in your career because you’ve avoided all but “sure things.” Or the behavior pattern can be interpersonal – peers, managers and employees could have a negative perception of your character you cannot see or understand. You might avoid collaborating with that colleague who could accelerate an important project but might outshine you in the process. You might lose your composure in a pressurized situation, raising questions in executives’ minds about your potential and losing the faith of your teams.
In short, self-limiting beliefs can close off pathways to grow and achieve. They can blind you, and your organization, to opportunities to succeed.
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