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Self-Awareness-A Key to Authentic Leadership & How to Achieve it

“Without self-awareness, it is easy to get caught up in chasing celebrity and the external symbols of success” Bill George – Discover Your True North

People managers cite low self-awareness as a key challenge they face with direct reports who, in their ambition, chase positions of greater responsibility without the awareness of their development needs and their blind spots. Often, by not addressing this, experienced leaders find themselves frustrated and facing possible career stagnation.

Authentic leaders with a healthy respect for title, money, recognition etc balance these external validations with a curiosity of their own intrinsic drivers (purpose, values) and triggers. This curiosity magnifies self-awareness, which in turn identifies opportunities for self-development.

As the saying goes – “what got you here won’t get you there”. Through self-awareness we gain access to new ways in which we can continue evolve ourselves and our leadership.

Here are some challenges to self-awareness and ways to address them.

1. When a manager doesn’t give comprehensive feedback

This happens for multiple reasons. Many people managers, whether due to lack of attention, time, skill or commitment, do not assess or communicate development needs effectively. Effective developmental feedback is objective and gives specific examples of situations when you could have been more effective, and how. Here is a great opportunity for you to define how well you gain feedback to expand your self-awareness – not just from your boss but your team and peers as well. Some ways for you to receive meaningful feedback are through a 360 assessment, requesting specific examples from your manager of when your development areas impacted your performance, being involved in a leadership assimilation exercise with your team 3-6 months from starting a new role, or even a simple email requesting your team and peers to rate you on a scale of 1-5 on key leadership behaviors. You can also gain additional insights by working with mentor. The idea is for you to take greater ownership of your self-awareness and development.

2. When it is difficult for you to receive candid feedback

If you are lucky enough to have a great manager who takes an authentic interest in you and is able to give you a clear picture on what you are doing well and what you could do differently, this is a real gift. For some individuals, particularly those striving to perfection, feedback may be heard but not “listened” to – either due to low self-acceptance, inaccurate self-perception, or simply not realizing that no change in behavior can mean no further career progression in the current organization. The questions to ask yourself are: How does maintaining the current status quo serve your purpose? What is holding you back from total self-acceptance? What becomes possible if you allow things to change?

3. When you are open to receiving feedback but do not have the tools to change your behavior

If you are of the few individuals who are lucky enough to receive meaningful feedback and are open to seeing it as the gift that it is then you are surely well on the way to greater levels of self-awareness. Your next step is to change your observable behavior, otherwise known as Self-Regulation. At this point you can set up a meaningful development plan to track your progress every quarter, check in with your stakeholders and measure your progress or work with a coach to empower you to master evolving behaviors. And so, your development journey continues - creating a positive impact on your leadership, your business performance, and your team’s engagement and productivity.

Through greater self-awareness success becomes about more than a specific point of external validation, it becomes about our evolution as leaders. It is from this place that leaders find they are no longer stagnating.

Afsheen Ismail-Wey is the Founder of The Phoenix Coaching Co. and an award-winning, certified Leadership Coach. After working with multinational organizations, namely Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods) and Abbott Laboratories, in the Talent and Development arena, Afsheen started her own coaching company in 2015 coaching leaders and teams in multinational organizations. She is an active member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) and has served on the ICF UAE Board. Afsheen currently calls Switzerland home, has lived and worked in 7 countries in the last 20 years and coached clients across North America, Europe, Asia and the MEA.

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