Join John Ullmen for an in-depth discussion in this video Increase self-awareness, part of Executive Leadership.
- My friend Joy Chen, former deputy mayor of Los Angeles, got unexpected insight from a mentor near the end of her MBA program. She had been preparing for a career in real estate investment, but her mentor said, she was a B plus at that skill, surrounded by others who were As. Deep down, she knew it was true. She did fine, though she worked very hard at subjects that came much more easily to others in the program. But, she hadn't confronted that career implication so bluntly. Was all that time, money, and effort for nothing? Was her entire career a waste? He said, "No, it's good news for you to hear this now.
"Real estate is a B plus strength for you. "You need to use your A strengths and I know your best one. "You can connect genuinely with anyone. "A CEO, a homeless person, people from different "countries and political parties, anyone. "Joy, you're connector. "You really want to learn about people "and you do it better than anyone I know". It was a revelation for her. Joy really did love learning about people and connecting with them, and seeing the new value that results for everyone when she does. And she did it all the time.
She just didn't realize how important it was for her. What happened for Joy was a defining moment. And we all have them. It's one of several important ways that the best executives increase self awareness to increase their potential as leaders and unleash the potential in others. Defining moments are times in your life in which you gain special insight into your authentic identity as a leader. Or, you might call it your purpose, your core values, or your mission. It's when you get a glimpse into the true you.
Down to the core. What can't be negotiated away, or made untrue, or undone, because it's so central to who you are. Defining moments come in different forms. It might be words from a friend or a struggle you endured. Failure that you recovered from. A triumphant achievement. A turning point when suddenly you see things differently. Like it was for joy. As an adult, you've had defining moments already and you'll have more. I encourage you to reflect on your top three defining moments to this point in your life.
When did they happen? Who was involved? What did you learn about yourself? And most importantly, what does it mean for the future you most want to have as a person and a leader? Defining moments often give you insight into your key leadership strengths. And that's the second self awareness factor to focus on. What are your top skills, abilities, or characteristics? Reflect on them, and also get insights from different people who see you in action. We often miss some strengths because they feel natural and normal.
Like Joy, who shifted careers and formed a highly successful international business. Distinguish your A strengths from your B plus strengths and grow your As. You should also clarify your weaknesses. I define a weakness as something that, even if you invest a lot of time and energy to improve, you won't improve much. Everyone has them. Study the greatest leaders throughout history in all walks of life and you'll find tremendous strengths and glaring weaknesses. But, they know their weaknesses and they build relationships with people that have those qualities as strengths.
They'd partner with them, have them as trusted advisers, and delegate to them. Invest in your strengths. And relationship build your weaknesses. You should also reflect on the types of situations that trigger you to reflexively respond with fight, flight, or freeze. You get disproportionately angry, that's fight. Submissive, that's flight. Or paralyzed, that's freeze. All of which, could hurt your results and your reputation. Identify those situations, which are unique to us.
And then replace fight, flight, or freeze with purpose, determination, and adding value. Direct your thoughts towards the highest priority positive purpose, relevant to that meeting or discussion. Direct your feelings toward determination and your actions, toward adding value. Every since Socrates, "Know thy self" has been a challenging, but excellent piece of advice for leaders. And the reason to know yourself is to be yourself. Your best self. As Oscar Wilde said, "Be yourself, everyone else is taken".
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- The four disciplines of executive leadership
- Thinking strategically
- Creating shared purpose
- Inspiring confidence—even under pressure
- Motivating and communicating
- Establishing priorities and focus
- Leading change
- Developing yourself