September 27th, 2017 by Ida Banek

How to Hack the Code of Self-Awareness?

Over the past year or so, self-awareness has become a hot topic in the world of corporate HR and career coaching. Numerous books and articles have been published on the subject and while the author’s all agree that self-awareness is a prerequisite for developing leadership skills, they differ greatly in their assessment of what it actually means and how it can be developed.

So is it simply another fad or is self-awareness really something businesses should foster in order to develop future leaders?

While the current obsession does seem like just another bandwagon that people are eager to jump onto and will jump off just as quickly when the ride gets a bit bumpy, it has been my experience that the most successful individuals (and indeed, corporations) know who they are, what they want and how they affect the world around them. In other words, they are self-aware.

In his legendary book “Working with Emotional Intelligence”, Daniel Goleman points to self-awareness as the cornerstone of Emotional Intelligence. He also points out that, while IQ in the general population has risen steadily over the last hundred years, emotional intelligence (EI) is clearly on the decline. This evidence has serious implications for businesses as every wave of new entrants to the workplace is increasingly ill-equipped emotionally to handle the day to day demands of their jobs and demonstrate mature self-management.

So the short answer to my question is: yes, self-awareness is critically important in today’s world of shifting organizational structures and work paradigms.  Therefore, individuals and companies who ignore the importance of fostering self-awareness do so at their own peril.

Since we have a clear diagnose – what is the cure?  

Organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich in her new book “Insight”, states that almost nobody is self-aware. This statement sounds exaggerated, but it is actually confirmed by studies which consistently show that we all have blind spots when judging our own abilities. The good news, however, is that EI (unlike IQ) does not appear to be fixed after our teenage years and we can develop it at any age. 

Still, one thing to remember is that there are no shortcuts to self-awareness. It is not something that can be achieved overnight with the aid of pop psychology quizzes or meditation techniques. It is a continual process of development which according to Eurich has 3 main steps: 

  • The first step is a journey of self-discovery with the aim of understanding how our past experiences shape our present attitudes and aspirations and how these in turn condition our behavioral patterns and reactions. To avoid overkill with self-analysis, I strongly suggest taking a professional assessment. There are various inventories available and since nowadays majority of them are digital, the time investment is minimal.
  • The second step is to establish the habit of daily reflection. The key here is to focus on asking “what” questions rather than obsessing over the “why”.  Again, there are no quick fixes to developing the skill of self-reflection but at the start of the process conversations with career counselors and trusted advisers can provide a good framework for further development.
  • And last but not least, we should actively encourage truthful opinions on how we come across to others even if those truths are uncomfortable.

It is this last point that can cause the most difficulties in the formal work environment. In my experience talented, high performing employees that are on the fast lane to leadership roles always hear how brilliant they are. People generally avoid offering critiques, especially at work. And our bosses, at the end of the day, are people as well. So they are not comfortable providing us with constructive, critical feedback which actually opens our eyes to aspects of our behavior and its impact on other people we are not aware of. That’s why the most efficient way to accelerate employees’ development, especially development of emerging talent is simply to seek external coaching support.  These professionals are skilled and equipped with tools to measure how and why we behave in a certain way; they can hold mirrors up so we can realize what our blind spots are and support us in our development efforts.

Independent and unbiased support to hack the code of self-awareness is probably the best gift we can provide to any employee. The sooner in a career it comes, the bigger return on investment it will bring.

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