The Self-Awareness Disconnect in Leaders (and what you can do about it)

“Leadership is less about what we do – and more about who we are”

-Rasmus Hougaard, Potential Project

We believe that the strengths and growth areas of all organizations start at the top, with the executive team. Deeply understanding your strengths and growth areas as a leader, and as a human being in general, is vitally important because they directly relate to the wellbeing of your employees and the organization. This process of understanding begins with heightened self-awareness. As Rasmus Houggard stated in his article about his leadership interview with the Dalai Lama,  

“The mind creates our behavior. Our behavior shapes the people we lead and the people we lead create the cultures of our organization and thereby determine its performance.”

In Annie Mckee’s book, Resonant Leadership, she states that true professional growth without personal growth is impossible.   A lot of people climb to the top without doing a lot of personal introspection or growth. While they may have learned how to manage relationships, they probably never truly learned to empathize or read people fully or accurately. They may be able to decipher motives and needs, but only enough to get things done. When it comes to self-management, a lot of leaders learn to cover up a bad mood but don’t have a clue about how to deal with deeper and potentially damaging emotions such as insecurity or fear. Self-awareness has never been something you were encouraged to do in business until recently, which is kind of crazy to think about. However, we have found that in order to truly lead people, you need to be aware of your self and the behaviors that help you or hurt you.  

“When leaders are aware of both themselves and employees’ needs, values that resonate emerge and steer everyone in a unified direction–the hallmark of a “connected” corporate culture. If leaders aren’t aware of themselves and others, groups with different values form and clash. A “disconnected” culture arises, and groups compete to promote the culture that best serves their interests. “

Entrepreneurs Organization

The Disconnect in the Data

Although our experience and other research supports the benefit of self-awareness for leadership, many studies show that there is quite a big disconnect between the leader’s perspective of themself and their employee’s perspective of them. In a recent study, McKinsey & Company found that 77% of leaders evaluate themselves as being motivational and good at engaging their people. However, a study by Gallup found that 82% of employees find their leaders uninspiring. 

These numbers are shocking, and illuminate the real disconnect that’s occurring between self and peer perception.

The results of another survey published in Chief Executive further explores this disconnect. Current CEOs from within their readership ranked the top skills they thought were needed for effective leadership in descending order of importance:

1.  Adaptability to change  60%
2.  Strategic thinking 55%
3.  Integrity 48%
4.  Very good communicator40%
5.  Being trustworthy and open 38%
6.  Vision   35%
7.  Develops and fosters diverse teams  33%
8.  Delegation 28%
9.  A positive mind-set 26%
10. High self-awareness  26%

According to this study, only 26% percent of CEOs rank self-awareness as a top 10 skill! What’s funny about this is that self-awareness should actually come before all of the traits listed. How will you know you’re adaptable to change if you’re not aware of your own natural tendencies, or how do you measure that you’re a good communicator without being aware of yourself? 

Although this may seem obvious to some people, the vast majority of CEOs either take self-awareness as a given, or do not see it as an essential skill. Why would there be such a disconnect? One theory is that a CEO, or anyone in a leadership position, rarely receives honest feedback. They don’t truly know what people think about them, or how their behaviors are impacting their employees and the organization because people are always trying to satisfy them and are afraid of what would happen to their standing if they expressed their opinions. This can lead to a completely disconnected culture where the CEO is in an imaginary bubble of greatness, while the rest of the staff secretly wishes he would be replaced. This is never a good scenario.

Bridging the Disconnect

Looking at this data, it’s easy to see how this disconnect could lead to detrimental issues within an organization. So what’s the solution to bridging the gap? First and fundamentally, it’s a willingness to grow. Becoming more self-aware may not be comfortable at first, particularly when confronting and managing your growth areas, but by stepping out of of your comfort zone a little and being willing to work on those areas will come great reward, both personally and professionally. Everyone has certain strengths and growth areas that can either work in their favor or hurt them in situations, but becoming aware of what these areas are is crucial. By using a Behavioral Assessment like our BE Success Survey, you can determine what your core motivators and natural behaviors are and learn to better lead yourself, your team and your entire organization, utilizing our tools and coaches along the way. Additionally, in order to avoid a skewed self-perception, our Level Up Executive Coaching Process utilizes peer assessments so that your peers can provide you with insightful feedback for growth.

Are you ready to become a more self-aware leader and start better leading your people and organization? Our tools and coaches provide this heightened awareness, and at the same time provide a path to sustainable, measurable improvements.  If you’d like to get started on this path, check out our Level Up Executive Coaching Process

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