20 years ago, a survey was published to understand the secrets of business success in the UK. Researchers interviewed a number of high achieving CEOs - all men - to discover what they had in common apart from gender. Were they agile communicators? Acute strategic visionaries? Persuasively charming and charismatic? No. Not at all. Eventually after much thought, the researchers reached their conclusion: each knew their limitations.
The greatest asset to a leader is self-knowledge. Knowing your strengths, values, motivations, behaviour and especially limitations means you make better decisions. Indeed a recent study in 2010 by Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations found a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success. “Executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in areas in which the leader lacks acumen.”
Self knowledge takes effort and courage. It's a readiness to take responsibility - essentially, to grow up. No longer do you see yourself as a dependent employee who's at the mercy of others' decisions. You have embarked on a trajectory into leadership. You take ownership. You think strategically. You ask, "How can I improve on this? How can add my contribution to the organisation?"
In a McKinsey article on Leadership in the 21st century, “Change leader, change thyself”, Boaz and Fox state that no real change happens in an organisation without it.
"Learning to lead yourself requires you to question some core assumptions about yourself and the way things work.........This integration of looking both inward and outward is the most powerful formula we know for creating long-term, high-impact organizational change."
According to Harvard Business Review, there are 3 key qualities to foster self awareness as a leader:
- Test and know yourself better: Take aptitude tests, find out your Myers Briggs personality type, recognise your leadership style - take the Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test to find out which core trait drives your decisions and your attitude. This is what is most important for increasing the probability for success. Do all you can to understand your motives, values and drivers.
- Watch yourself and learn: Peter Drucker advocates what he calls feedback analysis. He suggests that when you take a key decision, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the results with what you expected. Many successful people such as Warren Buffet do this. Buffet also includes in his note to self why he has taken the decision. This gives qualitative and quantitative results - you focus on the what and also the why of the historic decision.
- Be aware of others: Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses makes you more likely to be sensitive to the differences in others. You recruit a more dynamic and effective team. Successful teams are diverse and complementary. Collaborative teams who have a common goal and a supportive learning environment become powerful business builders.