It can be scary looking under the bonnet of your car…you don’t know what you might find, and what you don’t know can’t hurt you, right? Well maybe, until the car breaks down in the middle of the freeway necessitating an expensive tow, an engine reconstruction and a whole lot of inconvenient Uber rides while the car gets fixed. If only you’d paid more attention to what’s going on under the bonnet!
Looking under the bonnet can be a bit like developing greater self-awareness – the process of uncovering more of yourself and learning how you show up with others. And just like with the car, we can actively avoid taking a look inside ourselves for fear of what we might uncover, but in doing so, we run the risk of some disastrous personal and professional consequences.
What are we afraid of?
We avoid looking under the bonnet of our car because we can’t afford the cost of the work that might be needed, because it’s inconvenient having the car off the road while it’s serviced, or because we’re afraid the mechanic might uncover more than we bargained for. These concerns are equally relevant when we consider looking inside ourselves. There might be a financial cost of raising our self-awareness if we’re using a coach or attending a leadership development program; we might worry about what we might uncover; we might lose some efficiency or effectiveness while we’re doing the hard work of examining and shifting our ingrained patterns of thinking or behaviour; or we might worry about whether the expected benefits of the work will be worth the investment of time, money and effort. And at the end of the day, what we don’t know can’t hurt us, right?
What are the risks if we don’t?
Is blissful ignorance the way to go? If we don’t take a look under the bonnet of the car from time to time, we won’t notice when parts are getting worn, and we’ll miss opportunities for fine tuning the engine that might give us better vehicle performance. And when we never take the time to look inside ourselves, we can miss the warning signs that things are deteriorating. We might miss the fact that we’re becoming reactive, negative, disengaged, inefficient or burnt-out. And we miss the opportunity to fine tune our own internal operating systems which inherently affect the way we show up with others, the way we perform and the way we lead. Self-awareness is the foundation for any shift in mindset or behaviour and is recognised as an essential component of effective and authentic leadership.
How do we do it?
Building self-awareness is like exercise – you need to make a commitment to the process, make time for it, and practice. Build habits of self-reflection, find opportunities to get feedback, and stay curious about your own behaviour, what’s driving it, and its impact on others.
- Listen to your internal narrative – this has such a strong influence on our external behaviour
- Notice your reactive behaviours – are there certain scenarios that tip you into being aggressive, controlling, arrogant, passive, distant, critical, complicit.or other habitual ways of operating that limit leadership effectiveness
- Recognise situations that trigger an over-reaction in you – one that in hindsight, or from another’s perspective, is completely disproportionate to the circumstance
- After a meeting or a significant interaction, think about what you said and did, how you intended it to be received, and how it might have been perceived differently
- Find ways to ask for feedback – don’t wait for the annual performance appraisal to find out how others experience you. Start with people you trust, whether they be superiors, peers, reports or people in other life domains – ask them to share how they see your strengths, and where they notice a behaviour that they perceive might be limiting your effectiveness
- Take a formal 360 assessment (using a reputable tool and process) to learn about how others experience you, and how this might differ to your own self-perception, then work with a coach to unpack what this might mean for you
- Journal your self-reflection, look for patterns, trends, insights and opportunities
- Stay curious – try to suspend your judgement about what you notice through self-reflection and replace with curiosity and permission to grown and learn.
When we make the effort to service our car, we’re ensuring we get optimum performance of our vehicle over time. When leaders make the effort to shine a light on the underlying thinking patterns that drive their behaviour, they gain access to an untapped reservoir of new choices, possibilities and potential for more authentic, sustainable and effective leadership.