Want to solve most of your leadership issues with one competency? It’s not intelligence, technical skills, or flexibility, although these would be nice. We need to focus on self-awareness.
The ability to understand who we are is in surprisingly short supply. Meta-analyses of over 357,000 people in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science found an average correlation of .29 between self-evaluations and objective assessments. This is extremely low considering a correlation of 1.0 indicates total accuracy, and it is even lower for work-related skills. Thankfully, Taylor Swift can rescue us from our lack of self-clarity.
As a father of two girls, I live in a Swiftie household where Taylor Swift music is on constant rotation. I am not complaining (unlike the two year Frozen marathon they subjected me to), and I tend to enjoy her music. Swift serves as a positive role model, managing to balance intelligence, fun, and self-deprecation. With every action, it is clear Swift has a healthy dose of self-awareness. She spoke about this in an interview with GQ magazine:
When other kids were watching normal shows, I’d watch Behind the Music. And I would see these bands that were doing so well, and I’d wonder what went wrong. I thought about this a lot. And what I established in my brain was that a lack of self-awareness was always the downfall. That was always the catalyst for the loss of relevance and the loss of ambition and the loss of great art. So self-awareness has been such a huge part of what I try to achieve on a daily basis. It’s less about reputation management and strategy and vanity than it is about trying to desperately preserve self-awareness, since that seems to be the first thing to go out the door when people find success.
Not sure whether you want to take advice from Ms. Swift? Consider the business facts. A Harvard Business Review study found that teams with less self-aware individuals made worse decisions, engaged in less coordination, and showed less conflict management. In fact, just being surrounded by self-awareness-challenged teammates cut the chances of team success in half. Additionally, the paper A Better Return on Self-Awareness found that 1) employees of poor-performing companies were 79% more likely to have low overall self-awareness, and 2) companies with the greater percentage of self-aware employees maintained consistently higher stock prices.
Self-awareness is not a soft skill, a nice-to-have. It’s playing out in your bottom line. This is about leadership effectiveness.—Dana Landis, co-author of A Better Return on Self-Awareness
To become a self-aware rock star, Swift was able to study VH1 bio pics. To become a self-aware leader, try these six strategies:
Take a personality test. Whether it’s the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DiSC, Birkman Method, or Predictive Index, a self-assessment is a good place to start on your path towards self-knowledge.
Participate in a 360-degree assessment. This is a beneficial way to collect anonymous truths from those around you. For a little extra fun, compare their responses to your own.
Link self-awareness to success. If you are trying to increase the self-awareness of those on your team, you need to communicate why the capabilities are relevant. Research shows that when individuals see learning as valuable to their careers, they’re more motivated and are more willing to apply new skills to their roles.
Remain open to advice. Harvard’s Sheila Heen states that three main triggers prevent our learning: relationship triggers, identity triggers, and truth triggers. Tackle these triggers and decrease your chances of getting defensive.
Get a coach. A talented, trained coach can cut through your veneer to match who you think you are with who you actually are.
Ask for feedback. If this seems simple, that’s because it is. There are plenty of people who are anxious to tell you about yourself. All you have to do is ask.
Swift was right when she said that self-awareness “seems to be the first thing to go out the door when people find success.” We must shake off the delusions of cloudy, misinformed self-realization and strive to be in touch with who we are now. We can then leverage our potential through asserting our strengths, addressing our vulnerabilities, adjusting to the realities of our circumstances, and becoming a card-carrying member of the Swiftie army.