By Lt. Col. Ida McDonald, 47th Medical Operations Squadron commander
/ Published March 13, 2009
LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- --
Although it is probably one of the least discussed leadership traits, self-awareness is
possibly one of the most valuable. Self-awareness is being conscious of what you're good at while acknowledging what you still have yet to learn. This includes admitting when you don't have all the answers and owning up to mistakes. It is a very personal process because it relies on thinking, reasoning and examining one's own thoughts, feelings, and in more spiritual cases, one's soul.
While the process itself is not visible to others and it may not be something you frequently speak about, the results of performing self-awareness can make a huge difference in your life. This way of thinking should always be just below the surface of your thoughts as a ready aid when a particularly tough issue comes about.
Do you have a person in your life that you respect so much that you wonder "What would he or she do in a particular situation?" This is a similar concept, except this time you take a moment and wonder: "Is this a situation I am equipped to handle or do I need some help?" or "Am I being objective or am I biased regarding this topic or decision?"
When you commit to a job that entails leading or mentoring others, it is a wonderful opportunity to make a difference. Your own wants and needs may have to take a back seat at times, as it is no longer just about you, but this does not mean you should neglect your own thoughts or feelings. So what makes an effective, yet empathetic leader? There are many components to this answer, but self-awareness, or introspection, should be at or near the top of the list.
Take a moment to reflect on your values, talents, interests, biases or beliefs. What are your strengths and what are your areas needing improvement (I prefer not to use the term 'weaknesses')? Where do your thoughts dwell most? The list can go on, but you get the message.
Few of us are able to objectively look into a mirror and see ourselves as others do. Analyzing one's self is not always easy because you may find something that you may not like. This is precisely why you should do it. Knowing your scope of expertise as well as your limitations can greatly assist you in doing your job. When you acknowledge what you have yet to learn, you may gain the trust of others and increase your credibility, both of which will increase your leadership effectiveness.
It is not hard for others to recognize a genuine leader who may not have all the answers but is willing to listen, reflect and learn, openly and honestly, and reach across conventional boundaries to embrace new knowledge and new ways of leadership. You are also showing that it's okay to admit you don't have all the answers and that asking for help is perfectly acceptable.
Once you have reflected upon your talents as well as your limitations, now it's time for a more difficult feat: soliciting feedback. First, you may ask yourself some questions like, "How open am I to my subordinates, How do they approach me? With fear? With reluctance? With suspicion?" "Are they purely official in their approach?"
We have all completed surveys, unit climate assessments or questionnaires regarding our leaders. This is a good start, but why not ask directly? It's okay to occasionally ask your staff if they feel you are fair and objective. You can do this individually (I would prefer this method) or as a group.
Whatever the case may be, they may appreciate the opportunity to speak freely. It may also be a good idea to keep a journal to express your thoughts and experiences to help with personal reflection and understanding.
Without self-awareness, can you be an effective leader? If you don't know who you are and what you stand for, how do you expect to inspire others to be the best that they can be? Let me leave you with this quote: from Lao Tzo: "Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment"