It is through self-awareness that successful leaders are created – leaders who are dedicated to developing themselves and those around them.
So often, uber-achievers fall into the trap of thinking that the harder they work, the more they’ll get ahead – and the quicker they’ll move into that coveted leadership role. But research shows that hard work takes you only so far. Increasingly, business schools and corporate coaches are emphasising the importance of developing ‘self awareness’ as the singular secret for leadership success.
An Executive Coach with nearly 30 years’ experience in the corporate world (and a client list of heavyweights – from Nedbank and Deloitte & Touche to Vodacom and the Spar Group – that reads like a who’s who of South African big business), Sharon Jansen is emphatic: self-awareness is crucial to leadership… and it can be heightened through coaching.
Jansen is passionate about the field of relationships and sees skill in this arena as critical to success in all walks of life. ‘Successful leaders are those who have a healthy relationship with themselves and are dedicated to developing themselves and those around them,’ she says.
The leadership role
When it comes to a leadership role, awareness has two main focus areas, Jansen explains: ‘The first is “self-leadership”, which refers to personal vision and individual values and focuses on areas like self-observation and self-regulation. Self-management comes with increased self-awareness and the ability to self-correct and self-generate. The successful integration of self-management with technical expertise is a powerful formula for leaders. Clarity of personal vision, motivation and persistence are all contained within this domain of self-management.’
The second focus area Jansen refers to is ‘an awareness of one’s impact on others and a mindfulness of this impact when interacting with others, on all levels – an ability that is linked to the development of practices like authenticity and humility.’
According to Jansen, the higher up you go in companies, the more you’re dealing with psychological and relational issues. Successful leadership requires astuteness about others: their emotional and strategic personal drivers; their self-interest, overt and covert, she says. ‘These relationship competencies rest on a foundation of self-knowledge and self-awareness. You can’t know the truth about another without first knowing it about yourself.’
The importance of awareness
Jansen believes that awareness is the key skill leaders require to leverage previously untapped potential in both themselves and in their teams. ‘The journey from cognitive blindness – “I don’t even know that I don’t know” – to an awareness of ignorance – “I know that I don’t know” – is the first step on the lifetime road to self-mastery,’ she says.
While most good managers have strong technical skills, the social skills to manage relationships, and the self-motivation to succeed, exceptional leaders, explains Jansen, demonstrate what Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence describes as ‘awareness’ – that is, the ability to read the room (social awareness) and the ability to read your effect on the people in the room (self-awareness). ‘Self-awareness is the base requirement for the development of emotional intelligence,’ she insists.
‘Coaching that is focused on the development of essential leadership skills and qualities will usually start out with establishing the level of this self-awareness on the part of the coachee,’ Jansen explains. ‘This is done through 360-degree feedback assessment that enables the client to understand how others experience their impact. Coaching in the domain of self-management, on the other hand, builds skills such as self-observation, self-knowledge, self-consistency and self-regulation, to name a few. All of this goes toward creating the key leadership qualities of vision, passion, integrity, humility, curiosity and authenticity.’
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