Leaders that can come to grips with their own blind spots and tune into toxic, unspoken rules are skilled leaders indeed. Both of these things fit into the broader camp of self-awareness--one of the hallmarks of what companies known for leadership consider a rising star.
As for the opposite, yeah not so much. In my experience, there's nothing more frustrating than working with a non-self-aware leader. (Other than working with martyrs who insist on hauling their hacking, nose-running, germ-spewing-like-they've-got-the-Bubonic-Plague selves to work.)
Don't be that guy/girl. Here are five crucial things the most self-aware leaders are dialed into.
1. They know what they don't know.
One of the most painful forms of non-self-aware leaders to deal with are those that believe they know plenty about everything so need little help on anything. They don't understand that projecting omnipotence doesn't draw others to them, it repels them. And so this form of lack of self-awareness festers as the arrogant leader works more and more in isolation, and further and further from effectiveness.
Be like the most self-aware leaders. Admit, embrace, and even celebrate what you don't know. Surround yourself with complementary talents, not mini-me's. This is absolutely crucial if you're an entrepreneur in particular because you're literally fooling no one but yourself if you think you know everything and plow forward without getting help and support.
Being aware of what I don't know/am not good at and enlisting help (even if paying for it) has been one of the biggest reasons for my early success as an entrepreneur.
2. They know what their communications are communicating.
Whether it's email, in team meetings, or town halls, the self-aware leader works hard at understanding the impression they are leaving via their communications. They know what Maya Angelou taught, that people won't remember what you said, but they'll always remember how you made them feel.
So, put great effort into thinking through each of your communications to consider how the receiver will receive it. Don't drone on, consider what's important to your audience (perhaps the most important thing I keep in mind as a keynote speaker), and weave passion, emotion, and insight into your oratory. This includes paying attention to your body language and the non-verbal signals you're sending.
3. They're aware that they live in a fishbowl.
Self-aware leaders know that all their actions are being watched, like they were a fish in a fishbowl.
So remember that what you do and how you show up in front of your organization has a reverberating impact.
It's not just the big, obvious things either, like key decisions you make, critical meetings you head-up, or annual meetings you emcee. It's the little things that reverberate even more, like whether or not you treat everyone with respect, if you're patient and kind, or if you're a good listener.
I've personally experienced that the smaller and quieter the act, the louder the reverberation. Be aware that every engagement with the troops is an opportunity for a win.
4. They know that nothing's more transparent than when someone's not being transparent.
The least self-aware leaders think they're getting away with bending the truth, withholding information, or operating with a hidden agenda. We human beings are pretty savvy and have a sixth-sense way of picking up on these falsehoods.
Default to transparency. You might have short periods of getting away with the alternative but it will catch up with you. And it's incredibly difficult to recover and regain trust in the midst of being exposed as being non-transparent. Personally, I still haven't forgotten such transgressions even from those leaders I worked for the longest ago in my career.
5. They know not to feed cliques.
Leaders weak on self-awareness play favorites and build visible, privileged "inner circles". They are tone-deaf to the fact that the cliques they encourage or are part of show up to the rest of the organization as if there are clearly "have's" and "have-not's". For those not in the "in-crowd", it creates resentment, frustration, and withdrawal. Toxic for a culture.
As a self-aware leader, know how critical it is for you to send signals of equality and diversity. Show that everyone has a chance to contribute and be appreciated in equal measure--and not solely people just like you. And be cognizant of political players trying to curry your favor by playing at office politics. I found very little more annoying than these ploys and tried to make it known I wasn't having it.
So be aware there's plenty you can do to dramatically increase your self-awareness. By tuning into these 5 things, you'll tune up your leadership prowess.