To succeed as a leader you need self-awareness

To succeed as a leader you need self-knowledge and emotional intelligence

This article explores the importance of self-knowledge in helping leaders succeed.

What makes leaders fail? Why do so many people with such good intentions fail to achieve their potential? Why do so many make decisions which even they would regard as poor? The recent events in British politics are one example, but this is the same all over the world, in government and in organizations. The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) estimates that 50–70% of executives fail within 18 months.

Are you in a leadership position, or aspire to be? What do you think of the importance of self-knowledge to help you be a successful leader?

‘Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom’ — Aristotle

Consider two examples.

Integrity is the most important quality of leadership.

Having an intention to live with integrity is an important first step, but is not enough. Leaders work under pressure, making many decisions a day. When making a decision we think we are making an informed choice. Our hidden self-interest is always operating in the background though, and it pushes us to do things that are primarily in our own interest, and not in the interest of the country or organization or department we lead. We can justify any decision to ourselves — our mind is very resourceful in that regard. In doing so we may not consider all the consequences of our actions. We may think it does not matter to tell a small lie, or do someone a favour because they have done something for us in the past, or break a rule because it’s a minor infringement and no one will find out, or accept a favour because everyone is doing that, or make a decision that suits our agenda rather than what is best for the country or organization, and so on. We may fool ourselves into thinking that people will not see through our real motives. Leaders live under intense scrutiny and most things eventually come out. Once people think you lack integrity and cannot be trusted on the small decisions, they assume you cannot be trusted on the big decisions either. Leadership is by consent in most cases, and once you have lost that trust, your days as a leader are limited. Self-interest is part of being human and labelling it as wrong blocks further exploration.

Understanding and being watchful of your self-interest operating in the background needs self-knowledge, and allows you to live with integrity.

Leaders are often forgiven for making mistakes — that is just human, but a perceived lack of integrity, even on small issues, results in a lack of trust, and once that vase has hit the floor, it’s not easy to put back together.

Our unconscious fears play a significant role in decision making.

These fears operate in the background shaping our decisions: what will people think of me; will this affect my chance of being re-elected or getting promoted; if this decision does not work out how will that impact me; and so on. As a result, leaders often avoid the difficult decisions that need to be made, or they make decisions which they know are not in the wider interest, but they are unable to overcome their fears and make the correct ones. They may not even be aware that their fear was behind the decision they made. Fear shapes decisions in other ways as well — a fear that others are plotting against them can make leaders suspicious of everyone and live with chronic anxiety, which distracts them from doing their job. All this stops them making the right decisions that their role demands. Fear is part of being human and nothing to feel bad about. It cannot be dealt with using will power alone, because we are often not aware of it. This is why it is so important for those in leadership positions to explore the nature of fear and become aware of how it operates in the background shaping their lives. As a result fear can have its rightful place, allowing you to make the right decisions your role demands.

‘The only real freedom is freedom from fear’

Self-knowledge can help you develop your emotional intelligence, resilience, leadership and communication skills, and your sense of empathy. It can help you live with much less stress and anxiety and make the right decisions.

Self-knowledge is perhaps the most important subject that is not taught anywhere, but one which you can learn, by looking and learning about yourself.

To find out how you can deepen your emotional intelligence, begin your own journey of learning about yourself.

Explore the following sections in the HappierMe app to get started: Work and Leadership Stress and Anxiety Managing your emotions

Understand your mind. Live a happier life.

Life can be tough. The HappierMe app is your personal guide to help you feel better now, but also to take you deeper to understand your thoughts and feelings. It supports you to become the person you want to be, to be happier, manage your emotions and  succeed in the world. There are also coaches you can speak to through the app.

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Copyright © 2024 HappierMe. All rights reserved