Self-Awareness is Pointless (Unless You Use It)
What do LinkedIn, Dropbox, Pret A Manger, Audible, Danone, Philips, Merck, Heineken, Shell, Astra Zeneca, Indeed, Nike, 3M, and Energizer have in common?
Leadership Development — but not in the way you might think. Nearly every company has some form of leadership and employee development programs. However, there are two critical elements of an effective development program smart organizations recognize, but other businesses often fail to implement.
1. They know that for people to perform at their best, they need to develop self-awareness. Practically speaking, this means understanding their communication style, personality type, strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots.
2. They realize that self-awareness only fulfills its real purpose when used actively and intentionally:
- in the spirit of service
- to honor and respect differences
- to flex and adapt situationally
- to create a climate of inclusion, trust, and engagement
Understanding ourselves but not utilizing it is like buying a new car and leaving it in the driveway.
Effective self-awareness programs integrate these two principles. Organizations like those mentioned above and hundreds more include this approach in their leadership development programs.
I know this because my colleagues and I have worked with all these companies.
True Story: Avoiding Disaster
How self-awareness in action saved a company millions.
The CFO of a well-known small tech company wakes up and checks his morning email. He reads a message from the CEO.
How are you? Please transfer 1.5 M from account A to account to B right away.
As John gets ready to do the transfer, he re-reads the note and thinks something isn’t right. Miriam doesn’t say things like, “How are you?” when she writes an email.
When he calls her moments later, he discovers that she hadn’t sent anything at all. Their email system was hacked. 1.5 million dollars saved.
Miriam credited the self-awareness training program in avoiding this disaster. The executive team had just completed training where they learned about each other’s personality style, specific communication likes and dislikes, how to read verbal and non-verbal personality clues, and how to flex and adapt their style to others.
As humans, we often default to familiar, comfortable styles of communicating. We can easily operate unconsciously on autopilot and assume that one approach works. It does not.
For example, a straightforward and impersonal style will likely not work well when communicating with a person who has a more personal and warm manner. Meanwhile, someone who prefers crisp, clear communication may struggle with a very casual, conceptual approach.
I know a senior leader who talks a lot. The first time she met a new manager, she ignored him for the first 15 minutes, distracted by an interruption. Then she spent the remaining 25 minutes talking about herself. She asked no questions and learned nothing about him.
He left, disappointed, uninspired, struck by her lack of respect and warmth.
She was on autopilot. Opportunity lost.
It’s the Emotional Impact That Lasts
Bestselling author and psychologist Daniel Goleman says, “Leadership failures are often related to the lack of critical emotional competencies, and a wide range of emotional intelligence competencies distinguished top performers from average ones.”
Successful communication results from the integration of two dimensions: the technical and the human. Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School describes them as competence and warmth. She writes, “To exert influence, you must balance competence with warmth,” and goes on to say that a growing body of research indicates that “warmth is the conduit of influence.”
Someone generates warmth by demonstrating awareness of our emotions, being considerate of our situation, and respecting our communication style. When they show their interest in us, not just themselves, we feel more connected to them.
In business or sports, any team understands each other, and the importance of connection performs better and is more resilient. Connection builds trust and engagement — critical elements that contribute to a culture of high performance.
Connection With Others Begins by Understanding That:
- We all see the world differently.
- One communication style does not always work with everyone.
- We have the ability, if we choose, to flex and adapt our style.
Developing greater self-awareness helps us understand that we are all wired differently. We learn that everyone’s core personality drives behavior. And we realize that by making small adjustments, we can be more purposeful in our interactions. Those adjustments are conscious choices that create more intentional and desirable results.
Behavior = Core Personality + Choices
Our behavior is a function of our core personality and the choices we make. For example, I have a competitive, outspoken personality. I welcome a healthy difference of opinion, and I’m not afraid to argue for what I believe.
When I am self-aware, and at my best, I think carefully about approaching a potentially tricky situation. I remind myself to listen with openness, express my point of view calmly and clearly, and be ready to problem-solve. Without that awareness, I can be overbearing, argumentative, and close-minded.
Here is a visual that explains the relationship between the way we think, our behavior, and the results we create.
Our values, attitudes, beliefs, and preferences drive our behavior. Our behavior, visible to others, produces results.
Effectiveness begins at the “Be” level. When we understand “what’s below the waterline,” we open the door to increased self-awareness, and we generate the ability to make more intentional, purposeful choices.
If we want to change the results, we need to change the way we think, our “Being.”
Two Critical Issues in Self-Awareness Training
Practical self-awareness training must address two points:
- Is the information easy to remember? Is it intuitive? Will the user be able to recall and apply the key learnings daily?
- Does the program help the user to recognize the style of others? Will it teach the user how to flex and adapt their style to others?
The Insights Discovery Profile
One proven way for people to become more self-aware and purposeful is through the Insights Discovery Profile. Hundreds of successful companies throughout the world, including those listed above, use Insights to help them address various business issues.
The framework is informative, easy to remember, and helps us to understand ourselves and others. Color — intuitive and easy to recall — is used to summarize each person’s unique personality. Within minutes, users can apply key learnings. They pick up clues regarding others’ styles and learn how to work with different personality types.
The colors refer to our preferred characteristics — our most natural way to be. Every person has all four color “energies” within them. (We use the word “energy” to refer to the type of effort invested in doing our work.) It is the combination of these energies that creates each unique personality.
After completing an online assessment, each person receives an individual unique report. They learn about the meaning of their reports in a workshop or one-to-one coaching. The model is based on renowned psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung's work, and the assessment has been taken by over 5 million people worldwide.
The Model Explained
Fiery Red energy is associated with persistence, drive, and tough-mindedness. A leader with dominant Fiery Red energy will have a strong determination that influences those around them. They are concerned with getting things done and will be very direct in their communication style.
Sunshine Yellow energy is associated with passion and enthusiasm. A leader with dominant Sunshine Yellow energy typically encourages participation and involvement. They can inspire others with a compelling vision of what is possible.
Earth Green Energy is associated with harmony and democracy. A leader with dominant Earth Green energy will defend what they value with quiet determination and persistence. They will seek to ensure that all individual perspectives are heard and considered.
Cool Blue energy is associated with logical analysis. A leader with dominant Cool Blue energy will think things through before committing to action. They like information to be accurate and complete before proceeding.
What Color Energy Do You Lead With?
For more information, please get in touch with me here.
Don Johnson is a former business and sales leader turned executive coach, leadership development consultant, and mindfulness warrior. He is the founder of the Integria Group, a boutique consulting firm offering transformative coaching, conscious leadership, and team building solutions.