When we think of powerful leaders, we think of people like Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke so eloquently that he changed people’s hearts and made huge strides for the civil rights movement. We think of presidents, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who instilled confidence in the American public during some of the worst years of the Great Depression. His “fireside chats” brought comfort to Americans around the nation. We think of a former professor who led a classroom with poise and confidence, and who was always able to get her students interested in the topic at hand. Or maybe we think of a level-headed boss who was able to balance instructing, helping and reprimanding. Ultimately, we think of people who are competent, confident, and able to inspire others. But how often would most people include self-awareness in the list of traits crucial to a good leader?
Self-awareness is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but in its most basic sense, it means “being conscious of what you’re good at while acknowledging what you still have yet to learn.” (Inc.com) This definition seems contradictory when used with leadership. How can a person be confident in his ability to lead, yet acknowledge his faults? How can people respect a leader if she admits that she is lacking? However, self-awareness is just as important as other leadership traits – if not more so. Indeed, it forms the basis for all other essential traits for leadership. Without self-awareness, a leader cannot truly be confident, nor can he instill trust or inspire. Self-awareness is the key that unlocks all these other traits.
According to an article published on Inc.com, “organizations benefit more from leaders who take responsibility for what they don’t know than from leaders who pretend to know it all.” In other words, admitting your faults as a leader helps you lead more effectively and helps the group as a whole produce better results. When you admit that you don’t know how to do something, you not only show that you’re humble, but you also have the opportunity to learn from or with your team. If you try to pretend to know it all, you don’t get the opportunity to grow, and your team doesn’t produce the best results possible because you’re holding them back without admitting it.
For example, imagine you are part of a group that has been tasked with analyzing millennials’ music streaming preferences. This kind of assignment requires research skills, communication skills, and a basic knowledge of marketing. Now imagine that the person who has been chosen to lead this group has never before done research on millennials. Instead of admitting her inability to do this, she tries to muddle through it, but produces poor quality research. You and the rest of the team don’t want to deliver this presentation to your superiors, but now it’s uncomfortable to confront the leader about her skills – or lack thereof.
When leaders have the self-awareness and the courage to admit a fault and seek guidance, the group invariably produces greater results. When a leader accepts help from others, he grows in learning and the group grows in effectiveness.