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A Must Have Leadership Quality

Written by Chuck Olson

It was not my best moment. Far from it.

Back in the day, I joined a basketball league at the local gym. One night a week, guys from the community would lace up, stretch out, and team up for a weekly shot at fading glory. While I hate to admit it, during one of the games, in frustration, I slammed my fist against the wall behind the basket. To this day, I can still hear the embarrassing echo reverberate throughout the concrete box.

That less-than-shining-moment served as a wake-up call. I was forced to ask, “Where did THAT come from?!” And while the question was hard, the answer was even harder. Long story short, I was beginning the journey of understanding how my identity was tied into how I performed—inside or outside the gym.

Welcome to SELF-AWARENESS 101.

For a moment, I’d like to look at the intersecting point of self-awareness and leadership. Behavioral scientist and author Daniel Goleman argues that a leader’s effectiveness goes beyond raw intelligence or technical expertise. He contends (convincingly) that leading well is largely about one’s emotional intelligence—the ability to assess and monitor your emotions and the emotions of those around you.

In this construct, one essential slice of emotional intelligence is self-awareness.

Here’s my working definition of self-awareness: The capacity to have an accurate read on what is going on in my life internally and how that reality affects my world externally. It’s like connecting dots. For me, it was becoming aware of how much of my identity was wrapped up in my performance and how that inward struggle was compromising my ability to relate well with others. (Who wants to spend time with someone who feels like he has something to prove by being overly competitive?).

Self-awareness is the capacity to have an accurate read on what is going on in my life internally and how that reality affects my world externally.

Get the picture?

As leaders, the greater our self-awareness, the greater our potential of creating a positive work environment. Instead of repelling people, we attract them. Instead of offending people, we bless them. And instead of acting impulsively or carelessly out of unresolved issues in our lives, confusing and compounding the matter at hand, we bring a whole, healthy, and present self to the table, creating a moment that is ripe with possibilities and good outcomes.

Think about it. When you are working through a tough situation and doing so with a person who is self-aware, you know you are in a safe place. And you know that good things are about to happen because all energies and resources are being channeled to the issue on the table and won’t be derailed by someone’s unseen (and unreconciled) personal agenda.

So let me put the ball in your court with two questions: First, on a 10-point scale, how would you rate your self-awareness? And second, how do you want to get better?

To the second question, I propose this thought: If you want to be better, the inarguable starting block for deepening your self-awareness is a candid confession that you DON’T see yourself clearly.

We all have blind spots. We all need help to see what we cannot see.

We all need help to see what we cannot see.

If an academic degree was offered to tackle the topic of self-awareness, I think two would fall into the REQUIRED FOR GRADUATION category. Here’s how the college catalog might read:

  • Course #1 = Soul Work: In this class you will be reminded that nothing compares to the soul-searching work God can do in your life if you devote the attention to it. Scripture overflows with the deep and the loving and the exacting activity of the Holy Spirit. Any movement towards greater self-awareness must include extended times where we invite God to do His revealing work in our hearts.


  • Course #2 = The Buddy System: In this class you will be reminded that nothing compares to having a wise and caring friend (or circle of friends) to whom you have given uncompromising permission to speak words of truth—boldly and clearly—into your life. We all need someone who will take the time to review the game film of our lives, pointing out the often-overlooked (and at times, the chosen-to-ignore) subtleties of life and leadership.

So for the sake of those you lead, never audit a class on self-awareness. Sit in the front row. And be sure to take good notes.

But most of all, put those notes into practice.


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Chuck Olson

As founder and president of Lead With Your Life, Dr. Chuck Olson is passionate about inspiring, resourcing and equipping Kingdom leaders to lead from the inside out.  To lead, not with the external shell of positions, achievements or titles, but from an internal commitment to a deep, abiding and transparent relationship with Jesus. Serving as a pastor and leadership coach for over forty years, Chuck has a track record of building these truths deep into the lives of both ministry and marketplace leaders.

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