Self Awareness: the first step in your leadership journey

What is Self Awareness?

Self awareness is the ability to observe yourself as you go about your day-to-day life. It’s the invaluable knack of dispassionately monitoring your own mental, emotional and physical states as you interact with the world around you.

It has transformative potential for everyone – especially those who need to lead others. It’s so important because by examining your thoughts, as they happen, you can influence how you perceive the world. This makes self awareness the first step, not only in your leadership journey, but also in creating your own reality – rather than allowing life to create it for you.

Developing self awareness is vitally-important for anyone who wants to manage their own life. And by managing and leading yourself more consciously, you’re able to more effectively inspire others.

The Dance Floor of Life

Most people spend their lives firmly on the dance floor of life. Modern jobs and domesticity, like a packed, heaving dance floor, are absorbing places to be. You’re encouraged to move in time to music that’s often cued up by other people and external events. The alarm clock goes off in the morning like a starting gun propelling you into frenetic activity. Sometimes you’re dancing alone, wrapped up in a particular issue. At other times, you’re fully engaged (sometimes too engaged!) with those around you.  Either way, there’s little time or opportunity to observe how well you are dancing, or living.

When you have a “good day” it feels exciting, positive, even uplifting. But too often “bad days” provoke anxiety and stress, as well as strong emotions you struggle to master (or even fully understand). Self awareness helps you to more fully relish the good days, and to eliminate the angst of the bad days. It’s the ability to step off the dance floor; to walk to the balcony overlooking the throng, to observe your life.

To use self awareness effectively you need to be aware of the distorting lense of your own mental models. These mental models – the beliefs and prejudices you’ve adopted, learned and created throughout your life – are themselves unexamined. So, if you fail to take them into account you cannot understand how they are helping, or hindering, you.

Self awareness is not just thinking about life; it’s thinking about how we think about life!

Mentally getting off the dance floor is the only way to truly understand what’s going on in your life – and to do something about it. It can happen in two ways. The first more traditional route is to reflect on your life issues in the few quiet times you can find: train journeys, the shower or while at the gym.

The more powerful pathway off the dance floor is far less understood. It’s a type of minute-to-minute self awareness. This requires the ability to do two things at the same time; to be on the dance floor living life to the full; and to be simultaneously observing life from the balcony. This is what I call Simultaneous Self Awareness – and its implications for your life are truly astounding.

Observation changes things

The power and importance of Simultaneous Self Awareness is derived from a simple truth. By observing the running commentary that takes place in our heads about the people and events around us we can take control of our existence, or at the very least influence it.

In other words, if I can observe a thought pattern, belief or mental model I have the power to alter it. If I am not aware of it, I can’t.

For example, if you have been asked to give a big presentation at work you’ll no doubt immediately start to think about it. For some people the thoughts will be empowering. Sarah might think: “This will be exciting and a bit nerve wracking but I’m sure it will go really well – there’s so much I have to say! My boss must think a lot of me to give me this big opportunity.”

For others in the same situation the mental chatter and emotional state will be very different, and very negative. Dave might think: “This is my worst nightmare. I’m bound to screw this up; how embarrassing will that be? My boss clearly wants me to trip up and make a fool of myself.”

The astounding thing about working with people to help them reach peak performance is the “reality” of the situation is not always connected to the negative or positive thoughts. The boss could be the same for both Sarah and Dave; the potential presenting skills identical. The only difference is the self-generated mental models: the beliefs of how the presentation request came about from the boss, and the imagination of how the presentation will go in the future. You can guess for yourself who will deliver a good presentation, and who will not!

The important point is self awareness is a powerful friend to both Sarah and Dave. For Sarah, it offers a way to acknowledge and build on her enthusiasm to deliver a truly outstanding performance. For Dave, it offers a chance to re-examine his disempowering thoughts – work out why he feels that way – and to try to change his mind set to one that’s more likely to achieve a good result.

Self Awareness over time

Self awareness has been referenced as a powerful approach since the dawn of human civilisation. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tse wrote around the 6th century BC:  “He who understands others is learned, He who understands himself is wise.” A few centuries later Buddha wrote: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make our world.” And, in the First Century AD the Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote: “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

Self awareness continues to be the cornerstone of modern leadership thinking – all 360º feedback exercises, executive coaching and leadership development programmes have self awareness as a key objective because it’s crucial for developing an authentic and effective leadership style.

Simultaneous Self Awareness can be used every minute of every day to allow you to observe and change your limiting beliefs and linked emotions. It allows you to be aware of the effect your own thoughts are having on you, as well as the imbedded beliefs behind many of the unacknowledged decisions you take every day.

By simply observing your thoughts and emotions you have more power over their direction. As you practice it daily you realise your “reality” is something you create for yourself every day. And if you are creating our own reality – how you perceive the world – self awareness offers a powerful route to change the world, and yourself, for the better.

Copyright © 2012 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved