But who can discern their own errors? Forgive me my hidden faults. (Ps. 19:12)
Leaders who are not self-aware are the stuff of comedies like The Office. In the real world it’s more like a tragedy. Working for a leader who lacks self-awareness can be frustrating and sometimes frightening.
The irony of leaders with low self-awareness is that they think they have it in abundance! They ask for feedback, say their door is always open, and pride themselves on their approachability. Meanwhile, anyone who works with them knows better. That’s how blind spots work. But how can we avoid becoming the leaders we roll our enlightened eyes at?
Lest we point the finger at others, let’s consider how well we know ourselves. There are two simple categories to examine.
Internal opportunities ‒ inside all of us are some very useful emotions. Frustration, annoyance, anger, impatience ‒ any negative emotion caused by others is an alert. We should stop to consider why we have those feelings, and what it says about us. Coupled with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, these sorts of feelings can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves, our communication, and our leadership.
External opportunities ‒ others have feedback whether they share it or not. Many leaders love to give feedback, and some even ask for it. But very few really want it if it hits too hard. It takes real humility to hear negative comments about ourselves, or our leadership. It can feel like an attack on our identity and self-worth. But the leader who values self-awareness will show the courage to listen without defending or explaining himself, or worse, retaliating against the one who gave the feedback. If God wants us to hear something hard about ourselves, sometimes He will make it sting to make it stick.
Above all, self-awareness is voluntary. The information we gain can only be applied by us ‒ no one can force us to use what we learn about ourselves. But for the willing and the courageous, any chance to be crafted into a better leader will be welcome.