Whether you're leading 2 or 2000 people I can assure you of one immutable truth about leadership that you need to always keep in mind; all eyes are upon you.
I'm not telling you this to pump up your ego; your ego is probably just fine. After all, you got to where you are because you believe in yourself, you're confident in your vision and in your abilities, and you have some capacity to attract others to your cause. But here is the thing about ego, it's rarely objective. Like the meme of a dress that recently went viral--dividing the Internet in two about what colors it was--perception is everything. We see what we want to see, particularly when it comes to seeing ourselves. That's especially true for leaders because leadership comes with a built-in force field that often prevents others from telling you what they really think, and, let's face it, it's pretty easy to become full of yourself when it's your sandbox everyone else is playing in.
"Self-awareness requires accepting some pretty serious and often deep-rooted flaws and then doing something about them."
So, where do you go to find an objective perspective on how you're actions and words are being interpreted by others? In working with hundreds of leaders over the last three decades I've found that there are four critical steps that great leaders follow. I've been down this path myself and I can tell you it's not always pretty. Self-awareness requires accepting some pretty serious and often deep-rooted flaws and then doing something about them. By the way, the former is the easy part, it's the latter that requires heavy lifting!
Own Your Actions
Accept that your every action, gesture, and word is translated by those around you into a meaningful message. Far too many leaders do not want to believe that. What I hear from leaders I coach is, "But that's just who I am." Great, but don't confuse who you think you are with how you're being perceived. The way we see ourselves can be incredibly disconnected from how others perceive us. See Bullet two to find out how to identify and bridge the gap between the two.
Do a 360 Evaluation
One of the most powerful tools for self-awareness is the 360 evaluation. 360-evals originated in the 1950s. The idea is incredibly simple. People who work with or for you anonymously answer a set of questions about your behavior, efficacy, communication skills, and ability to lead. I've done these for years internally and with clients. The results are nothing short of mind bending. The most common feedback is along the lines of, "What? That's the way people see me!" They immediately want to defend themselves. But if you were getting market feedback on your product you'd take these sorts of results very seriously and make some changes. The same is true of a 360 eval. Some of the most amazing growth I've encountered, for myself, my associates, and clients has come out of 360-evals.
Get a Coach
The 360-eval is just start of the process. Interpreting the results and doing something about them is the hard work, and this is where coaching plays a critical role. Having been on the receiving and the delivering end of coaching I've seen how critical it is to have someone there on a regular basis to help keep your objectivity intact. A coach is not a motivator. Their role isn't to pump you up and give you pep talks. A good coach provides honest critical feedback and helps you identify a path to growth. Hint: put in place coaching milestones for progress and success on a monthly basis and then measure your coach against them. If you can't measure the impact get another coach.
Measure Your Ask/Tell Ratio
Much of your time is spent telling others what needs to be done because you see the big picture. Nothing wrong with that, but are you asking in equal measure? One of my clients, Judith Glaser, has done some incredible work in the field of conversational intelligence and the impact that language and conversation have on the chemical pathways that establish or undermine trust in a leader. One of her cornerstone frameworks is a chart that plots a leader's "telling" against their "asking." If the two are not in balance then the message a leader is sending out is, "I don't want you to invest your creative energy in this process. Just do it." This absolves the employee of responsibility in the matter. (i.e. Do what you're told and you won't get in trouble. Do what you think is right and you'r rolling the dice.) I'm pretty sure that's not the message you want to send. Try to keep track of how often you tell versus ask during the course of the next week to see what your ratio looks like.
Can I promise that you'll be a great leader if you take these four steps? Seriously? It's never that easy. But what I will promise is that you'll start to see yourself in a different light--a much more objective one.