Great Leadership Begins With …. by Sherri Hilton MAL, CEC, PCC
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Over 2000 years ago, Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived between 384–322 BC, spoke those now very famous words. In today’s constantly changing environment, “knowing yourself” remains an essential, if not the most important ingredient, for leaders and those developing into leaders. In the first installment of “Challenges Leaders Face In The Energy Industry”, we began the discussion by identifying the significant challenges leaders face in today’s energy industry including constant change, disruption, innovation and increasing demands on their time, energy, attention, resources, capacity and the skills and behaviours leaders need to be successful. We continue that discussion in Part 2 to focus on what great leadership begins with and what the most important ingredient is that will help leaders and aspiring leaders face those challenges. That ingredient is “Self Awareness”. As a leader, no matter in what capacity, ask yourself. What helps you to make the best decisions possible? Create a compelling vision for the future? Inspire and engage your people? As Aristotle said over 2000 years ago, it begins with “knowing yourself.”
What Is Self Awareness?
Self-awareness can be defined as the ability of an individual to practice self-reflection, learn from experience, and display a willingness to learn and develop themselves further. The volatility, uncertainty, instability and complexity of our world requires leaders to be courageous AND to be present with what is happening in and around them, good or bad. Self awareness is the ability to be reflective and to notice your thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and emotions and to work with your anxieties, assumptions and hopes in ways that will sustain you through all kinds of challenges.
As an executive coach I have the privilege of coaching leaders in different countries and industries, including the energy industry. One thing I know to be true for all leaders regardless of industry, country, business size or level of leadership is this; leaders with greater levels of self-awareness are more successful. Period. They make better decisions. They get better results. Their teams are more engaged. Their organizations are more successful. Numerous studies confirm what I have observed consistently in my work with leaders and those identified as up and coming leaders.
In one recent study conducted in partnership with Cornell University examining 72 executives at public and private companies with revenues from $50 million to $5 billion, it was found that “a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.” Self aware leaders work hard to know and better understand what lies beneath their surface and how this internal structure consisting of their beliefs, values, assumptions, biases, perceptions, mental models and stories impacts every decision they make and every action they take. Regardless of your business size or even if you are leading a business unit within a business, self awareness is the first step to being or becoming a great leader.
To get an understanding of how you can build better self awareness, let’s look at four key practices.
- Start By Breathing. Did you know that “how” you breathe actually impacts how well your brain works (or doesn’t)? That’s right, breathing can significantly impact the quality and clarity of your thoughts and actions. Dr. Peter Jensen, a well known Canadian sports psychologist who has worked with many of our Canadian Olympic teams, always teaches the athletes he works with the critical importance of breathing the right way. In those moments when an athlete faces a critical shot or a defining moment, it all comes down to breathing. Start with noticing how you breathe (think rate, shallow or deep) and then slow it down. Trust me…..your brain will thank you.
- Create Space For Yourself. It is difficult, if not impossible to get clarity, be intentional and make the best decisions if your mind is constantly running your show. Creating “space” for yourself every day, away from any distractions and giving yourself time to reflect, read, and connect with yourself is key to understanding who you are and what you are made of. Make a daily habit of taking “15 uninterrupted, distraction free” minutes for yourself and notice how this changes your thinking.
- Ask for Feedback. Sometimes it can be scary to ask others what they think of you or how they feel about your leadership. What if their answers don’t line up with how you view yourself? I am a fan of four simple yet powerful questions that will help you gather valuable information and insight in to your leadership effectiveness. They are as follows: What should I start doing? Stop doing? Keep doing? Keep doing but differently? Ask at least three people who you spend time with on a regular basis and notice what shows up in the answers you receive. And then keep asking on a regular basis. We all have blind spots and asking for feedback can be a powerful source of information to becoming more self aware and to a better understanding of your impact. Again, this can be scary but don’t just look for the answers you want to hear, look for the answers you don’t want to hear. These are often the most importatn ones.
- Practice mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”. Being mindful means you are more present with yourself so that you can “be there” to observe what’s going on inside and around you. And this isn’t about going off to a corner and sitting cross-legged for hours; it is about noticing and paying attention to your inner feeling and thoughts as they arise. The more you notice, the greater your understanding of yourself.
I will touch on these practices again in future articles. In the meantime, try to practice them all, even if some of them are uncomfortable for you.
If you aspire to lead or become a great leader…building and practicing better self awareness is the foundation. Even a person over 2000 years ago knew where to start.
About Sherri Hilton
Sherri Hilton is a Senior Leader with a Canadian based financial institution and also a private leadership coach for leaders in both the United States and Canada.
Sherri has a proven track record of helping leaders achieve personal excellence, build strong relationships with others and positively impact and contribute to the success of their organizations. As an experienced and highly skilled executive coach, Sherri has worked successfully worked with business owners, leaders and upwardly mobile professionals in a wide range of industries including education, health, construction, oil and gas and finance.
She has more than 20 years of experience in individual and group coaching, leadership and organizational development, advanced facilitation and public speaking. These experiences have provided Sherri with both the expertise and deep knowledge of organizational dynamics and systems and a genuine understanding of the many opportunities and challenges of leadership.
Sherri has both a Masters degree in Leadership and a Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching from Royal Roads University and holds a PCC level of accreditation through the global International Coach Federation (ICF), in which she is an active member. She is also certified in a number of leadership development assessments and tools, including Emotional Intelligence 360, The Leadership Circle 360, Meyers Briggs Type Inventory, Korn Ferry Voices 360 and Personality Dimensions.
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