Not surprisingly, Emergenetics' philosophy is in line with the tenets of authentic leadership. Collaboration, communication, and culture are proven components of business success, and we drive those things home in our workshops. But no discussion of culture or leadership or teamwork would be of any value to our clients if they did not base it on a firm understanding of self-awareness.

Self-awareness is a cornerstone of authentic leadership, if not also a prerequisite. Without that baseline understanding of oneself it's impossible for a leader to possess a realistic understanding of his or her surroundings.

If you look closely, lack of self-awareness is easy to spot. Look at any fictional boss that's lampooned on TV, or at any boss from your past that wasn't effective. Those leaders don't recognize their own strengths and challenges, so they can't see how they are affecting others or the organization. It's no surprise that this unawareness opens the door to miscommunication, misplaced assumptions and the erosion of a leader's credibility.

Knowing yourself means having a full understanding of your own thinking and behavior preferences - whether you're assertive or flexible, a process thinker or a dreamer. It's important to know these things because they make a huge difference in how you work, how you lead and how you relate to others.

Self-awareness also means being in touch with your own values. Knowing what's important to you and the organization allows you to stay consistent from employee to employee, project to project. And when you know yourself, you are primed and ready to understand others preferences, personalities and values in the same way.

If you'll pardon me for a moment, think of the bull that destroyed the china shop and basically ruined things for all the other self-aware bulls. That bull clearly didn't understand his own size, or his tendency to be excited by shiny things, or the value of the inventory or how ransacking the shop would affect the owner. He really had no business being in a china shop at all.

But what about a bull who owns a high-end catering business and needs to shop for and acquire more china to meet the growing demands of his clientele? He is self-aware, so he understands everything the first bull did not. He knows that there's a risk that he could easily break something when he's in the shop, so he's extra careful. In fact, when he can, he delegates shopping duty to smaller, less excitable members of his team.

Self-awareness also leaves no room for defensiveness. So, "Boss, you always break stuff when you visit the china shop" is met with "You're right. I need to be more careful" instead of "That was just that one time, and the aisles in that shop were way too narrow anyway." Criticism is met with self-esteem, which is refreshing to those you lead, not to mention contagious.

I'm loud, assertive and just a touch clumsy, and I admit without self-awareness I can be a bull in a china shop. So this metaphor is convenient for me. But I do think it can be carried out further and further and adapted to any leader in any situation.

You can't be an authentic leader without self-awareness, but it's possible to be self-aware and still not be authentic. I'll give you my take on how that could possibly be, next time.

Published on: Jun 29, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.