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The Self-Aware Leader

Written by Chuck Olson

August 2013 – Playing catch with a football is one thing. But doing it on the field of the renowned Rose Bowl is quite another!

That’s right, ON the Rose Bowl field—known to those of us who faithfully follow the college football post-season bowl games as “The Granddaddy of Them All” (can’t you hear Keith Jackson in your head?!). For 100 years, the game has served as center stage for millions of eyes fixed on their Vizio LED backlit 60″ high-def smart TV on New Year’s Day.

The occasion was a wedding rehearsal dinner for the daughter of some great friends who, because of their leadership with the Rose Bowl, had access to this world-class venue.

After a fabulous meal compliments of Wolfgang Puck, the stadium lights began to power up and before you knew it a few footballs appeared (someone came prepared!). Within minutes, every weekend warrior within sight was transported back to their former days of athletic glory! Kids. Teenagers. Parents. Grandparents. It was quite a sight. And a ton of fun.

After a few warm-up tosses, I signaled to my friend to hit me on a down-and-out pattern. As I turned to catch the ball, I saw that he had thrown the ball as if I were a Hall of Fame wide-out! I had to downshift a gear or two to catch up with it. Bad idea. As I accelerated (which is pretty much an overstatement), I came to a sudden (and painful) awareness that there was a gap—make that a WIDE gap—between my high-school-football-days MIND and my 55-year-old BODY. Long story short, I pulled a hamstring and was put on the DL for a number of weeks!

While awareness of your physical capacity is important, as a leader, awareness of how you come across in your leadership role is of the highest importance. Failure here will cost you much more than sitting on sidelines, in your street clothes, for a game or two.

When it is all said and done, to be effective in life and leadership requires a sizeable chunk of self-awareness—the capacity to know who you are and to understand the impact you have on those around you. And to do so in real time.

While the topic of self-awareness contains a wide range of implications and applications, for a moment I want to drill down on the ability to self-audit your impact in leadership settings.

To chase this down a bit, let’s look at a common occurrence known as the weekly staff meeting. Have you ever been in a team meeting where the leader has no idea? No idea about how aloof he is? No idea about the personal crisis you are facing? No idea about how she is coming across? No idea about how self-promoting his comments are? No idea that her account of recognizing the efforts of her team is significantly overdrawn? No idea that he treats you as simply a hired hand?

Sadly, the key here is “no idea”. No clue. Limited self-awareness. Blind spots—big ones.

But the reality is that every leader has blind spots. We are all works in progress. None of us perform perfectly day in and day out. The issue, then, is whether or not we are engaged in the ongoing process of addressing our blind spots.

So how do you go about ramping up your self-awareness? How do you make those moments of “no idea” the rare exception?

I’ve got a couple thoughts for your consideration.

First, through the years of leading team meetings, I have found it very helpful from time to time to take the last 10 minutes to do a ‘meeting post-mortem’. At the front-end of the meeting, I will set the stage by letting everyone know that we will devote the last few minutes to an appraisal of the effectiveness of our meeting, calling out what went well and what could be improved. In doing this, I have found that you quickly open the door to some very candid comments if you, as the leader, trigger the discussion by acknowledging your misses—things you would do differently next time.

And second, ask a trusted colleague to give you some unvarnished feedback. This could be from someone who sits in the team meeting as a regular participant or it could be from someone you have invited in for this purpose. Recently, I was asked to participate in a team meeting of someone whom I had been working with in a formal coaching relationship. I got a front-row seat to see him in action. Later that day in our time of debrief, I was able to affirm a number of things that he did well. But I was also able to address some blind spots, particularly about a counterproductive, albeit unintended, ‘tone’ that he was setting and some choice of words that was defeating for the team.

So what’s your strategy for enhancing your self-awareness—for embracing the blind spots of your leadership?

I hope you have one.

And so do those who look to you for leadership.


How do you go about enhancing you self-awareness?

Join the conversation. Post your comments below.

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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