by Fiona Murden, author of “Defining You: How to profile yourself and unlock your full potential“
Do you really know who you are? 95% of us think we do. Advising leaders for the past 18 years I’ve been lucky enough to learn a lot about what works, what doesn’t and why. There are hundreds if not thousands of words of wisdom for people looking to succeed in life, particularly those aiming to reach the dizzy heights of leadership. Many are helpful, most well-intentioned but they can leave you wondering where to focus your efforts. If I had to pick one, what would it be? Without fail the most common attribute I’ve seen in exceptional leaders, entrepreneurs and trail blazers is good self-insight.
But if 95% of us are self-aware, then why are we not surrounded by great leaders? Well, whilst Psychologist Tasha Eurich found most of us think that we’re self-aware, she also found that the reality is that only 10% to 15% actual know who we really are.
Having good self-awareness isn’t a case of simply doing a personality test or going on a development course. Despite this many of us are guilty of thinking that ‘we know ourselves’ better than we do because we’ve ticked that box. The fact that you are reading this likely means you are curious about development than most, but you may not be as conscious about yourself as you could be.
So, what does good self-awareness actually mean? As much as it’s not about one training course, neither is it about continuous judgement and self-examination. It’s about knowing ourselves and then continually feeding that knowledge. Observing and being curious about our reaction to different situations: what makes us excited, what drains us, what energises us, what bores us, when, how, where? It’s also about how others perceive us, information which quickly gets out of date without frequent feedback. To be truly nimble in the world of leadership we need remain continually aware of our impact on the world and subtly adapt to different people and situations. This doesn’t mean losing authenticity or changing who we are. The core of our personality and values largely remain stable throughout life but we have to balance staying firmly anchored in what we represent with flexing to the world around us.
How do you do this?
1. Know your story.
This is about reflecting on the highs and lows of life and how that’s impacted you. Having a greater awareness of your personal narrative helps make sense of who you are and provides the framework for the ‘internal chatter’ that guides you on a daily basis.
2. Know what makes you, you?
What are your preferences, your values, what are the most core aspects of your personality? What are your strengths, what makes your heart sing? Where do you thrive?
3. Define where you want to get to, what’s your purpose?
The first part of this is a lot easier than the second. Although knowing your purpose is the ultimate for both success and psychological health, it’s not an easy one to put your finger on. You do however need to know where you are headed in the short to medium term in order to sail your boat in the right direction and weather the storms of life. You also need to make sure that where you’re headed overall aligns with what is really true to who you are.
4. Know your areas for development…
… in light of where you want to go and get help. You can’t go it alone, you need feedback from those around you in order to really understand where you shine, what may be getting in your way, what you need to work on, what your blind spots are and what your impact is on those around you.
5. Know your optimum.
Once you have a greater handle on who are you and where you are headed you need to keep listening to your body and your mind.
To ensure you remain in your stretch zone; growing but not taking yourself too far into what is known as the injury zone. By understanding this you can listen to your body and mind to know when you can push yourself a bit harder and when it’s time to take a rest. As for physical health, going too far into your injury zone can damage your health and most certainly prevent you from operating at peak performance. Taking a rest or going at a slower pace can be the hardest part for those striving to reach the top of their game, but without knowing when to and what best revives you personally, you risk burnout.
Enlist others help – both in helping identify when you may be slipping into your injury zone (it’s very hard once we cross the line to see this for ourselves) and to support you on your journey.
Keep checking in – on yourself, with others, on your goals and be sure to ‘observe’ rather than ‘judge or over analyse’. The latter can be bad for your emotional health whereas the latter is hugely powerful.
Fiona Murden is a Chartered Psychologist, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, best-selling author and stimulating public speaker who has spent the past eighteen years working with leaders of multi-national companies. She is also founder and MD of Aroka Ltd which she has run globally for the past 11 years. She is author of “Defining You: How to profile yourself and unlock your full potential“.