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Leadership 101: Part 6 – Self-Awareness & Personal Growth

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

If you’re not sure where you are going, you’re liable to end up someplace else.- Robert F. Majer

The GROW model allows you to be aware of your goals, but another type of awareness is critical in leadership: Self Awareness. 


Self-awareness also means developing the ability to know oneself as a leader. Learning to spot what is happening inside us when we are stressed and under pressure, when we are on autopilot, or when our mental chatter takes up all the space and cuts us off from the direct experience of the present moment and the possibilities of being initiative-taking. 


We now know how harmful chronic stress is to physical and psychological health. It might not be well known, but stress pressure those around us. This information is of prime importance in the workplace because it directly affects leadership quality. 


Our brain is designed for survival and continually scans the environment for potential threats. Thus, any perceived threat (absolute or relative stress) affects the secretion of stress hormones. The body and mind are then in a state of alert. What happens when a leader is stressed by too much pressure? The brain of people around the leader instinctively perceives it as a threat, and the leader then becomes a potential danger. Concretely, the ability to think, make good decisions, and be creative will be reduced to its simplest expression or become inaccessible. 


Mindfulness, therefore, teaches leaders to be initiative-taking and recognize the signs of stress as soon as they appear to respond appropriately to keep them healthy and support team cohesion through mobilizing leadership. Self-awareness allows the leader to become aware of automatisms. The automatic pilot is the mental program that opens the door to behaviors that are deeply rooted over time, such as habits, prejudices, narrow feelings, or ruminations. 


These automatisms, which keep us within the framework of what we know and which we unconsciously reproduce despite ourselves, limit innovation, lead to the repetition of negative experiences and block the ability to change. Learning how to recognize them and how to flush them out is of primary importance for the leader. 


Self-awareness allows us to recognize the mental chatter that leads us through a maze of thoughts and opinions rather than staying connected with direct experience. We mistakenly believe that what this inner discourse tells us must be correct, but experts in neurology tell us that it is more like a brain cleanse. Moreover, it removes the leader from all available relevant information obtained through active listening and authentic communication with others. 


Cultivating self-awareness means developing the ability to see yourself with patience and benevolence to get to know yourself and recognize your ways of functioning as a leader to transform them. It is how other skills and qualities can be built to ensure the well-being of yourself and those around you. 


Mindfulness meditation is the training of the mind. The gym of the brain invariably brings us back into the present moment away from unconscious programs to develop self-awareness. 


This transformation is possible because our brain can transform and reshape itself due to daily training. Building on this ability encourages adopting new leadership skills better adapted to the mobilization of teams and the human management of resources. 


In chapter 9, you will learn techniques that allow you to become more self-aware, but first, let us look at how you can be an inspiring agent of change. 

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