Visionaries run fast. They have big dreams and big goals and assume that everyone is right there with them. And while qualities such as ambition, forthrightness and creativity are necessary for driving innovation, growth and action, they can also be a liability if not managed correctly.
Without self-awareness, ambitious leaders can inadvertently leave their teams behind. Their straightforwardness may come across as cold or impersonal, and their limitless creativity may seem chaotic or confusing. The potential is high for fast-driving leaders to cause undue stress and uncertainty within their teams.
Self-Awareness Can Influence Your Impact
I vividly remember the moment when this type of misinterpretation was brought to my attention, and I will never forget it. Our team was in the midst of announcing a thrilling new initiative, and I was outlining the plan. One of my top team leaders looked at me and said, “Amy, you won’t present it like that, though, will you?” I was taken aback, not fully understanding what he meant. He explained, “You know people are scared of you, right?” I was completely surprised. I didn’t know that.
He went on to say that it came from a place of respect and admiration, but it was hard for people to understand how I ran at things so fast—and that, generally, my delivery made it seem like there was one way and it was my way.
I am not typically an emotional person, but I had a lot of feelings that day. I knew with absolute certainty that was not the kind of leader I wanted to be. It jump-started the kind of ongoing self-reflection that is still a major part of my life today.
What emerged from that self-reflection was a powerful mantra: My intent is not always my impact. And the reverse is also true: My impact is not always my intent.
Either way, I am responsible for both.
3 Strategies to Become a More Self-Aware Leader
Along my journey to learn how to balance effective leadership with my own personality strengths, I have implemented a few simple strategies to become a more self-aware leader.
This may sound simple, but for us fast-paced, purpose-driven leaders who are eager to take action, it can be quite challenging. Before communicating, I pause and ask myself three questions:
What do I really think about this?
Is there any additional information I need before making a decision?
What is the most effective way I can respond?
2. Communicate with the audience in mind.
I had an employee once come to me out of the blue and ask if I was upset with her. She explained, “Your last couple of emails to me have been curt, one-word answers.” I explained, “We are all really busy, and I felt that was all the answer you needed.” I drive super fast. I’m super focused. But what she needed was more thoughtful, caring, relational attention. That mattered to her, and it required a behavior change in me. I’ve learned to stop and really consider the impact of my words and actions.
3. Learn the value of complementary personalities.
Drivers are leaders in a lot of organizations. But those organizations are also filled with fantastic team players who bring beautiful complementary traits. Without them, we would be incomplete. It is my job to learn my people well, be aware of my patterns and focus my impact in a way that supports a positive culture. I choose to facilitate an environment in which the charge is not to “follow me” but to “find yourself.” A culture of trust.
My job as a leader is not to insist on my own way but to get out of other people’s way, empowering them to do what they are best at and affirming them in their growth. That is only possible if I am willing to become a more self-aware leader, modeling the practices and servant attitude that I want to see lived out in every interaction and in every team throughout our company.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2023 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by ©Mike D’Avello.
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