Self Awareness for Developing Women Leaders

Self Awareness Is The Key To Not Stubbing Your Toe As A Woman Leader

By Audrey McGuckin, CEO, WOTW - 

Self awareness. It’s a buzz word of sorts these days. But it’s true, being self aware makes you a better human.  And when it comes to leadership, self awareness is also a hallmark of a great leader. In fact, research shows that executives who are more self aware are more successful in their roles.  

I get it. Self awareness is hard. It’s tough to look at yourself honestly and hear things about yourself that you may not like. But as I like to say, feedback is the breakfast of leaders. Self awareness is the fuel for the rest of your day. 

So how does a lack of self awareness cause women leaders to stub their toe? Lack of self awareness is actually the #1 way most leaders stub their toes. Not being fully aware of your strengths and weaknesses is a huge detriment to your business and your career. You can become complacent and arrogant. You can miss weak signals. You are so wrapped up in you own agenda and thinking you’re on the right track that you bump your toe on the career sofa. 

The great news is that self awareness is a skill that can be learned. To be self aware you need to first have real clarity on who you are, why you exist, and what your strengths and weaknesses are. If you have self awareness on who you are it will help you navigate the path to where you need to get to go.

Recently I worked with a large organization where the woman in charge was not self aware at all. When approached to do a development program she promptly responded that she didn’t need to be developed. Fast forward six months, and that arrogance led to her not getting promoted. Why? She wasn’t self aware enough to pay attention to the ways in which she needed to develop herself. Her lack of seeing what was right in front of her, caused someone else to be chosen for the job. 

Self awareness is really about knowing yourself, knowing your strengths, as well as where you have gaps, weaknesses, and blind spots. It’s about the entire picture of who you bring to work each day and where you can improve or shore up resources. How you appear to your team and how you shop up for others. It’s a complete look at your true self.

At the beginning of our WOTW program, self awareness is always our starting point. Why? It’s important to leverage your entire life story and your profile as a leader. 

A recent  example is a CEO we were working with. When he first approached us he thought he was doing everything right for his business and that the problems were his team. When we engaged with this team to  gather their  insights, the perspective we shared back with him, caused him great pause. It was tough feedback for him, yet it was a moment of truth when he realized the problem might be him. Receiving the feedback gave him much more clarity and deeper self awareness into what he needed to do as a leader. He realized it started with him. After months of development, his team is now in alignment and doing well.

Typically our self awareness process starts with Predictive Index, which we find to be one of the most powerful tools for understanding your core strengths and weaknesses. It shows how you are naturally wired and how that shows up for you at work. You can then compare your PI readings with team members to show how best you can work together. At Women On Their Way, we leverage Predictive Index for self awareness and for team awareness and it has allowed us to really understand our group dynamics and how we can motivate each other to success. 

For one of the women in my Navigator program, she’s really good at telling stories; however, she didn't have clarity on that. Once she understood that was her passion and combined that with her goal of working with meaningful companies, she developed a roster of clients who fit her personal and professional goals. For another woman, after reflecting on where she stubs her toe, she realized she may not always say what needs to be said in the moment. Once she gathered that awareness she would remind herself to speak up when needed. That small shift not only led her to be a better leader but in she empowered herself in her day-to-day life. 

How do you get self awareness?

The number one skill for self awareness is having a mindset for feedback that’s open and curious. When you have that mindset of openness, curiosity and commitment, you can have deep reflections. 

Another step is to ask for feedback. Ask for specific feedback (I have several blog posts on how to do that). Then take the feedback and really reflect on it. Decide which pieces of feedback you’re going to use to propel you to improve and which pieces you don’t necessarily want to change about yourself. 

You might get feedback that you’re a terrible designer but you actually don’t like the graphic design task in your multi-faceted role. Self awareness can lead you to either take a design class or hire a good designer to fill in that gap. It helps you to improve yourself by asking for what you need. 

Another great way to build self awareness is to participate in 360 leadership feedback. This is a process where not just your superiors but your peers, direct reports and sometimes even customers, evaluate you. You receive an analysis on how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you. It can be tough feedback--but then again, you can’t be self aware without hearing the real truth. 

Imagine if a CEO goes to a new company and after six weeks in the job they conduct a 360 leadership process in their new role. We’ve done this and I can say that it can cut the time it takes a CEO to implement changes and build consensus in half. Seriously, a new CEO typically waits 6 months to get feedback. However, a 360 leadership process can bring that feedback in at month 3 for a quick turn around.  Why? Because when a leader has self awareness they know how to show up for the people on their team. 

Next, we ask women leaders to outline their life stories. Why? Because when you remember the good and bad moments in your life that lead you to where you are today, you can leverage those moments for growth. You can see that everything in your life has played a role in developing you as a leader.

Feedback is great, but how do you self reflect?

Once you get the feedback, you have to decide what you want to change. You need to build in some space to decide what and how you want to change. For example, if you get feedback that you need to be more bold in a meeting but you don’t actually want to be bold, consider how you might  be bold in other ways. You might decide you’re not going to be be bold at all but then you have to realize there are implications for that. You have to know there are consequences for not changing and it could mean not getting a promotion or not having your team on your side. Spend the time deciding what and why you want to change then move forward. 

So the next time someone wants to give you hard feedback, take the time to listen and build your self awareness. And if you stub your toe and need to figure out why, reach out to me. I’m committed to your growth and to helping you figure out why. 

Interested in developing your self awareness? Email us at [email protected]

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