In Hamlet, Polonius prepares his son, Laertes for travel with the following advice – “This above all: To thine own self be true.” Unless leaders can first be true to themselves, they cannot be true to others. Great leaders follow Polonius’ advice, although it is no easy task. To be true to yourself, means to know yourself. To know yourself you must be self-aware. Self-awareness means understanding ourselves – and understanding how we are perceived by others.
Why is self-awareness important? Because without self-awareness we can get caught up in behaviors that are inconsistent with our own values and beliefs. Without self-awareness, we may not have the courage to say “no” to the unimportant things in life so that we can focus on the truly important. Without self-awareness, leaders may fear appearing vulnerable. Without self-awareness, leaders can’t understand how their characteristics and behaviors are impacting other people. Self-awareness is the ability to understand ourselves and our characteristics, and utilize our characteristics in ways that serve us best.
In her book, Lawyer, Know Thyself, Susan Daicoff explains that some of the very characteristics that make lawyers successful in the courtroom can lead to problems in a more collaborative environment.
“For example, being a predominantly rational, objective, competitive and argumentative sort of person may allow one to function well as an advocate during the workday, but be quite destructive to one’s interpersonal relationships. It may bleed over into being hostile, argumentative, and aggressive in all situations, which could hamper one’s ability to relate well with others, and thus impair one’s ability to garner social and collegial support.”
In other words, when you’re leading your next staff meeting, remember, it’s not an adversarial contest. If you lack self-awareness, you may not realize that the characteristics that serve you well in the courtroom, may not serve you well at all in your work as the leader of your firm – or your family.
Ironically, you may notice certain characteristics in your colleagues, yet not be aware of them in yourself. All too often, behavior we dislike in others is the very behavior we sometimes exhibit. And while we may refuse to recognize our own problem behaviors, they may be very obvious to those around us.
“If we can stop, listen, and think about what others are seeing in us, we have a great opportunity. We can compare the self that we want to be with the self that we are presenting to the world. We can then begin to make real changes that are needed to close the gap between our stated values and our actual behavior.”
From What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith