The Self-Aware Leader

One of the most important qualities of a high-performing, healthy leader is self-awareness.

The longer I’ve been in ministry, the more I’ve learned about the importance of self-awareness. We humans have a profound propensity to self-deception. In other words, we fool ourselves.

In truth, facing our weaknesses, our sins, our short-comings, our failures, and our unintended impact is incredibly difficult. In fact, writing that sentence stresses me out! It’s no wonder Brené Brown has become such a hit with her teachings on shame. The natural reaction for so many of us to our dark sides is crushing shame (that’s a whole other blog post).

Taking the journey of self-awareness is an important journey for leaders.

Peter Scazzero, in his book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, takes Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning and modifies it for learning and change in character formation, and the first stage he talks about is the stage of awareness. (p. 44)

It is difficult to change something we are unaware of. Ask yourself how many leaders you know who exhibit a glaring personality fault or character flaw that everyone around them seems to see, but they appear to be unaware of? Is it possible that those around you and I would be able to answer that question about us?

Here are a few suggestions for becoming a more self-aware leader:

1. Dig deeply into your identity in Christ, the love of the Father, and the power of his goodness in you.

Too often, a strong theology of sin can backfire and turn into self-loathing. We forget that Genesis 1&2 precede Genesis 3, and we talk a lot more about original sin than we do about original goodness. God is good, and you were created in his image

2. Seek truth about yourself from people you trust.

In his book, Integrity(see chapters 7 & 8) Henry Cloud connects real results in life to facing reality and the truth – especially about ourselves. He reminds us of Jim Collin’s statement to “confront the brutal facts” in our organizations and reminds us that “high achievers face reality and deal with it.” This includes our character.

“People who have an orientation to the truth seek it out,” he says. They seek truth not only about the external world, but rather, feedback about themselves.

One of my favorite quotes in this book is:

If you want to know your comfort level in this matter, think of going to the people you work with or are in a close personal relationship with and give them 100% permission to be totally honest with you in their answer the question, ‘What is it like to be on the other end of me?'”

This is a question we often ask in our organization of one another, and though it’s sometimes (often?) difficult, it also allows us to face the truth about ourselves, bring it before God and others in confession, and seek to lead in a healthier manner.

3. Regularly see a good therapist.

Something that I have found incredibly helpful is to pay attention to my inner emotions and reactions, the comments and insights of others, and confusion about relational situations.

I write them down in a journal, and then I take them to my therapist. He knows me well, and is helping me to understand my family of origin, current family system, organizational family system, pain and hurts from the past, insecurities, and the unintended impact of my personality traits.

That work is, and has, helped me to be more aware of myself, of others, of situational systems, and of the voice of the Holy Spirit in the moment when I’m leading or interacting with others.

Particularly, paying attention to these things during low stress and low anxiety times allows us to access or switch to healthy patterns of thinking and behavior during stressful, high anxiety moments.

Don’t wait to get a therapist until you need one!

4. Lay it all before the Father.

Listen to God during times of shame, anxiety, and when facing the broken, ugly parts of ourselves is key to not only self-love, but also to effective leadership.

Confession and honesty before God about our failures, short-comings, and sins is essential cleansing work. Hearing the endearing, powerful, embracing words of love from the Father, even in the midst of our worst moments is essential to our healing, rebuilding, and renewal.

Character does not come by accident, but is built by the consistent work of the Holy Spirit in the humble, open heart that seeks transformation.

“God can used cracked pots to carry valuable treasure (2 Cor 4:7). But unless we’re intentional, no one will talk to us about these blind spots, these areas where we are inconsistent with the Spirit of Christ and his ministry.” -Terry Linhart, The Self-Aware Leader, p. 11

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