leadership development

The One Thing Leaders Miss

Daniel Montgomery Reality

DANIEL MONTGOMERY
Founder & CEO
Leadership Reality

Have you ever watched a singer go down in flames on American Idol?

How does that happen? How do these poor people make it all the way to the TV screen entirely unaware of their glaring lack of vocal talent? Did no one ever tell them?

I’ve had a similar feeling as I’ve consulted with companies. 

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not talking about professional competence. The people I’ve met and worked with are some of the most brilliant operators you’ll ever meet. Unlike those contestants on Idol, they consistently demonstrate why they belong in the spotlight.

But, just like those early washouts, these leaders walk out onto that stage with a paper-thin sense of who they are and why that matters to the audience before them. For all their operational brilliance, they’re completely unaware.

Typical Examples

In working with businesses, I’ve met countless managers, leaders and executives who are overworked and overwhelmed. They’re afraid to slow down and face the reality.   

In consulting, I’ve met my fair share of overwhelmed overworked and leaders. These managers and executives bear the immense burden of leadership on their backs, but they’ve never stopped to consider whether they’ve got their pack on straight. They seldom realize just how a little readjustment might enable them to reach new heights.

I wonder if any of these leaders sound familiar to you:

  • The manager who’s constantly grinding out solutions, but never empowers his staff to join him in the process.
  • The executive whose bottlenecks every project with her anxiety and indecision but would rather write it off as “patience” than deal with her own baggage.
  • The suits in the C-suite who haven’t yet realized that, to run a large organization, you can’t just think like a middle manager writ large. 

In each of these cases, leaders suffer from an acute lack of self-awareness. What they need—really, what we all need—is to slow down, figure out where they are, and then press forward. It’s amazing how a little time for curiosity, deliberation, and vulnerability can usher in a breakthrough to more and better work.

Leader, Know Thyself

The Bible has a lot to say about introspection and self-awareness.

In the Psalms, you see it in places like Ps 139:23-24, where David asks God to search his heart and mind so that he can learn how he should live. Lamentations 3:40 tells us to “test and examine our ways.” Paul says much the same in 2 Cor 13:5.

Form church history, one of our best examples is St. Augustine’s Confessions. This brilliant journey of self-examination and prayer quite literally gave rise to a genre of memoir writing that had never taken hold before it.

The Business Value of Self-Awareness

This isn’t a bunch of moralism or psycho-babble. I’m not preaching, and you’re not sitting on a therapist’s couch. You’re a leader, and you need something that’s actionable.

Biblically speaking, self-awareness begets competent action out of a heart that’s been trained to know itself and its place in the broader scheme of things. There’s always a pragmatic dimension here that, I believe, translates directly into the business sphere. 

Plenty of research bears out this fundamental idea. In a study of 6,977 professionals in 486 publically traded companies, Korn Ferry researchers discovered a strong correlation between financial performance and employee self-awareness.

In 2015, the Harvard Business Review brought this down to the team level with a study of its own. In it, they learned that teams with high awareness consistently outperform their less aware peers in decision-making, coordination, and conflict management.

A Threefold Strategy for Cultivating Self-Awareness

As the leader, it’s your job to set the pace. Your employees’ self-awareness will never exceed your own. So, if you want to reap the benefits of a highly aware, highly productive team, you need to look first at yourself.

If you want to reap the benefits of a highly aware, highly productive team, you need to look first at yourself -Daniel Montgomery #leadershipreality Click To Tweet

For this short blog post, I want to help you do that with a broad strategy you can begin to implement today and tailor to fit your context tomorrow.

  1. Assessment
    Formal assessment isn’t necessary to self-awareness, but like a well-calibrated microscope, it can help you to see things you could never see on your own.There are some great, lightweight tools out there you can use like the DISC profile or Enneagram. For leaders who want to get more serious about developing their self-awareness, I recommend either the Leadership Practice Inventory or Flippen Profile.
  2. Application
    Assessment, by itself, leaves you in the realm of abstraction. You might learn from Enneagram that you’re a Type 1 Reformer, but unless you draw a straight line between knowledge and everyday practice, that insight will be functionally meaningless to you. 

    Take the extra step of applying that assessment to your work life. If you need help, our term is certified in helping leaders make sense of your assessment data and feedback individually and as a group. 

  3. Accountability
    We all need a perspective from the outside, a competent advisor to make us face up to the truth. That said, find someone you know and trust. Hand them a blank assessment and have them complete it on your behalf. Then, compare your results. 

    Are you who they think you are? If not, how do explain the disconnect? Who’s wrong? Develop a plan to reconcile the disparity and ask your advisor to keep you honest. 

Conclusion

Getting to know ourselves is one of humanity’s enduring projects. 

As Protestant Reformer John Calvin said, the more we come to know ourselves, the better we know the God who made us. I’d add that the deeper we go in that journey, the more competent we become to live in God’s world and on His terms.

Why shouldn’t we see something like that in the business world? 

Leader, know thyself. As you grow in that self-awareness, you’ll be amazed to see your employees come to know themselves as well. More concretely, you’ll see the bottom-line effects of a self-aware workforce.

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