An effective leader exhibits a number of features that motivate people to follow them. Honesty, charisma, confidence, know-how, a willingness to take risks — the qualities of a better leader are myriad and diverse. One of the most important characteristics in an effective leader is also one you can further develop with a bit of effort and reflection: self-awareness.
Whether you’ve been leading an organization for years or you’re embarking on a path to become a better leader, self-awareness is an essential part of educational leadership success. Knowing your desires, feelings, strengths, weaknesses and motivations will not just help you reach your goals, it will keep you firmly in control of yourself through good times and bad. If you desire to be a better leader, here are some tools to help sharpen you in the self-awareness department.
Getting to Know You
One of the keys to gaining or increasing self-awareness is the willingness to honestly assess what your goals, what your thoughts and your emotions. Oftentimes, it can be tempting to assume we are more honest, more noble, more selfless and more skilled than we actually are. Without getting down to the brass tacks of our internal machinations, self-awareness will be forever elusive and our ability to effectively lead will suffer. Tell the truth without being too judgmental; you won’t be able to work on what you’d like to change about yourself unless you see clearly what actually needs to be changed.
When you’re in leadership, trials are going to come your way with some regularity, but embarking on self-imposed tests can be especially enlightening. Even simple personality tests can reveal strengths and weaknesses you may not have known about yourself. Thought experiments can also provide a good testing ground for self-knowledge. Ask yourself how you would feel and what you would do in different scenarios. How would you handle significant budget cuts to your department? What if you were ever asked to resign? If your institution were faced with a scandal that negatively affected enrollment, how would you position yourself to bounce back? Even if you never face these kinds of tests, you’ll gain valuable information about yourself by considering your responses to them.
Making decisions is an essential part of being in charge. Knowing why you make a decision and your expectations surrounding a decision’s outcomes is an essential part of being self-aware while you’re in charge. When you make a decision, write down what you think will happen as a result and why. In six months to a year, go back and review what your expectations were and what actually happened. Learn from where you were right and where you were wrong.
Pay Attention to Others
With educational leadership, you can learn techniques for communicating with others to get their impressions. Paying attention to others will increase your team’s effectiveness and cohesion, and it will also provide you with another window to your own behavior. People bring out different personality traits and emotions in each other that are otherwise dormant. Pay close attention to your team, your students, your family, your friends and your board and you will improve these relationships. You will also gain new insight into yourself, which would have been impossible without the input and presence of others.
It’s easy to confuse self-awareness with self-reflection, but the two are separate, complementary pieces. Without deliberate thought regarding your behavior, self-awareness will stall or worse — retreat. Self-reflection — the process through which we actively consider our motivations, feelings and actions — is the path toward an ever-increasing honesty with the self; this self-honesty can yield remarkable benefits in both life and leadership. Educational leadership can enable you to use self-reflection as a tool for professional and personal growth.
Welcome All Emotions
For many people, there are some emotions so unpleasant we repress them. However, repression doesn’t make the feeling go away; it keeps the individual from realizing its impact in their decision-making and actions. On the path to self-awareness, all emotions need to be welcomed; that way repressed feelings of anger, jealousy, hostility and the like don’t unduly influence your actions without your knowledge. Emotion is also a primary way leaders can motivate others.
Better leaders come from all different backgrounds and are motivated to achieve any number of differing ends. What almost all of them share is a self-knowledge. Achieving self-awareness can help you understand how to apply your educational leadership skills to your workplace. If you desire to become a better leader, practice self-awareness with thoughtfulness and intention, and the rest of your desires will follow.