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My candid thoughts about teams and leadership. 

Are You a Leader Who Reflects?

I was reminded this week of a FarSide cartoon where a dog is high above a crowd, crossing a tightrope on a unicycle while juggling. The caption reads, “High above the hushed crowd, Rex tried to remain focused. Still, he could not shake one nagging thought: He was an old dog and this is a new trick.”

Leaders are characterized by understanding and changing the world or the marketplace in which they operate. They are constantly trying “new tricks” of the trade. However, more often than not, they don’t take the time to first understand and change themselves.

Korn Ferry analysts David Zes and Dana Landis write in their research white paper, A Better Return on Self-Awareness, that “public companies with a higher rate of return (ROR) also employ professionals who exhibit higher levels of self-awareness.” It suggests that self-awareness is the most crucial development breakthrough for accelerating personal leadership and authenticity.

I would suggest these benefits of self-awareness.

  • Knowing your strengths allows you to assert them in appropriate circumstances.

  • Knowing your vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and distressing emotions enables you to check them and prevent yourself from asserting them in inappropriate or harmful ways.

  • Self-awareness increases your credibility with others. [Have you ever worked with someone who was completely unaware that they didn’t know what they were doing?]

  • Self-awareness allows you to be more in touch with reality and gain people’s trust and respect.

Self-awareness is only the first step. In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow proposed a theory called the “Four Stages of Learning.” This theory is still used today to explain how people learn and to help leaders develop skills that will allow them to be more effective. 

  • Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence: You don’t know what you don’t know

  • Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence: You become aware of what you don’t know

  • Stage 3: Conscious Competence: You work at developing skills to address what you now know

  • Stage 4: Unconscious Competence: You use the skills without even thinking about it

Consider the former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Before Peyton ever picked up a football, he didn’t know what he didn’t know (stage 1). At some point, someone (probably his dad) gave him a football and he became aware that he didn’t know how to throw the football (stage 2). Then, Peyton began to work with his father and coaches to learn how to throw the football (stage 3). Finally, throwing the football became as natural as breathing (stage 4). 

What are you doing today to identify what you don’t know? A good place to start is to look at your current responsibilities and identify an area in which you are not being efficient or you are not satisfied. It might be a work process, a personal relationship or a specific skill. Seek out colleagues and professionals who are known leaders in that field. Read about the topic. Begin to apply techniques that help you develop the skill. Put it in practice. Don’t be defeated by a few failures or setbacks. Persevere in developing the skill. Before you know it, you will be unconsciously competent in a new skill.

What’s on your mind today?