Self awareness is our capacity to stand apart from ourselves and examine our thinking, our motives, our history, our scripts, our actions, and our habits and tendencies.     

Stephen Covey

A client once asked me how he can develop self-awareness.  His vulnerability in recognising the need to develop this skill was both courageous and imperative in his leadership journey.

Often leaders are asked to focus on how they lead others but the real leadership journey needs to begin with how we lead ourselves and to do this, we need to be aware of our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and actions.

We often overestimate our ability to be self-aware, and in an organisational context, it is often confused with self-assessment, which is our own perception of how good we are at particular tasks or situations and our preferences for certain activities, situations and work environments.

Self-awareness, on the other hand, takes this a step further by becoming intimately aware of our inner selves. This includes our own thoughts, emotions and feelings, also understanding who we are, what drives or motivates us to behave as we do and how we impact others.

To be self-aware means ‘being’ in the present moment. It’s understanding our thought patterns so that we can consciously choose how we focus our minds in the tumultuous midst of our regular thoughts.  

Great leaders have this in abundance. They have this deep sense of knowing who they are, read situations appropriately, can alter their behaviour and respond in a way which will move the organisation forward positively and more efficiently.

But, this often comes from much self-reflection over a period, which is why I encourage my clients to use a reflective model to practice “being”.  

We spend most of our lives oscillating with varying frequencies between thinking and doing, but sometimes we need to hit the stop button and reflect on where our career, business and life is heading.

Our society places much emphasis on productivity and achievement, and this can mistakenly be linked to “doing more”.  

Being is about learning from the past and planning for the future so that you can take mindful and conscious actions in the present to build the future you desire.  The business equivalent of being is strategy development.

Isn’t it interesting that we take time every year to work on our business but not our ourselves or our careers?  

Tools to Begin Building Self-Awareness

  • A mindfulness meditation practice.  While the initial benefits of mindfulness practice are relaxation and well being, the actual purpose of this practice is becoming aware of our thought patterns.  The more we practice, the more we observe how we think.
  • A regular yoga practice – when we still the body, quieten the breath and focus the mind, reaching a quiet place within which helps us to see more clearly.  The ancient yogis figured out that physical postures with breath and focus produce a powerful tool for mindfulness.  This is a great place to start for those who are unable to sit still for meditation.
  • Structure time into the schedule at least quarterly to reflect and learn from the past, plan for the future and live in the present.
  • Seek and receive feedback from trusted others.  Choose feedback partners carefully making sure they have walked the path you wish to, have the qualities you admire and will hold you in compassion while leading you towards your goals (not their agenda).  Compassion should not be mistaken for niceness.  Compassion requires courage to provide constructive feedback in service to the other person’s goals.

How do you build in reflection time for your self-development and career progression?  What tools do you use and how useful do you find them?