After any meal, we’ve all had to ask, “Do I have food stuck in my teeth?” It’s a common problem that can happen to most of us… and when it does happen, we’re frequently unaware of that horrifyingly large broccoli morsel that’s now front-and-center of our smile! J
We have to ask others, because we just don’t know what they can see that we, ourselves, cannot. It’s also important to ask, because other people rarely bring it to your attention (even though it would prevent you from feeling SO embarrassed!)
I use this analogy, because it’s common….just as common as leaders believing that their perceptions of themselves and their organizations are spot on. The truth is accurate awareness can be hard to capture, and it takes work.
We all do and say things that affect those around us. Hopefully, we’re authentic and consistent, so we’re easy to “figure out.” But there always seem to be things that we do that we’re not even aware of. They may not even be intentional, but things can spin out of control from just one simple misunderstanding.
Do you recall the sitcom, “Three’s Company” with John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt? I loved that show. I laughed at every episode. If you look back, you’ll notice a common theme. Almost every single episode was a result of someone projecting an image, saying something or doing something that was not what they intended. They had no idea that someone misunderstood, and it turned into a comedy of errors. That’s fun to watch on a sitcom, but it’s not what you want happening with your business.
Why is awareness so important for leaders?
Awareness allows us to lead with our strengths and empower others’ strengths. It’s so important to know when to lead and when to follow. You can engage and motivate people by leveraging them where you need them most AND where they are most skilled. This brings out the best in everyone and produces greater results. Self awareness, as well as team awareness is critical to implement this strengths-based approach.
Awareness allows us to address issues. As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But guess what? If you don’t even know it’s broken, then you don’t know to fix it! Think about taking golf lessons. One of the first things commonly done nowadays is to video the client’s swing. Why? Because people, although controlling their body, may not realize how their unintentionally moving throughout their swing! They may not even accept it until they see it….and video doesn’t lie. We have to be aware (or be made aware!) to change behaviors or offer the right support.
Awareness leads to continual improvement. Similar to the point made above, if we’re aware (and accurate in that awareness) then we know what to address for improvement and further development. Don’t just assume you have the most accurate assessment of yourself, your organization or your clients – ask them!! By asking for honest, direct feedback from others (and letting them know it’s safe to do this!) you’ll better understand others’ perspectives, improve your performance and better meet their needs. Tools such as 360 degree assessments and “Voice of the Customer” surveys can be valuable in gaining this insight.
Awareness strengthens relationships. As you become more aware of yourself, your actions and words and how those are received, it allows you to make choices that will better serve your team. In addition, with more awareness of one another, your team is also enabled to be more understanding of (and even appreciate!) each others’ perspectives and styles. This could lead to breakthroughs in team-building, employee morale and motivation.
If you want to be the most effective leader, be sure that you have a keen awareness of your style and how it’s received by others. Ask your employees – at all levels – about their opinions and feedback on the organization. What do they love? What would they change? Find out from your clients why they work with you, how your serve them better than competitors and what more could you be doing for them? The answers to these questions will help you and your organization create the best strategies for success!
As a leader, what’s one thing you can do this week to test if your self-assessment is accurate? How can you ensure honest feedback? Also consider, how can you provide feedback to someone else (the truth with love) to help them improve? Please don’t let them sit there with broccoli in their teeth!!
Erin Schreyer is President of Sagestone Partners, a leadership and talent management coaching firm in Cincinnati, OH. Erin is passionate about helping leaders to maximize their effectiveness, to make the most positive impact on their people and to successfully grow their business. She is also the Founder and Executive Director of Authentic Leadership Cincinnati, a non-profit organization formed to develop, encourage and support values-infused and people-focused leadership. Erin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.