THE PATH TO SELF-AWARENESS

cropped-full-width1.jpgMost managers have the same goals, and if they are middle managers, those goals are handed down to them by upper management. What distinguishes self-aware leaders is how they go about reaching their goals. Self-aware leaders can predict trends and actively prepare for them instead of always being in reactive mode.

It can be a big challenge for managers to advance themselves in a company that is not in growth mode. Leaders need to take responsibility for their own growth through reinvention. The model involves three parts:

  1. Reinventing self
  2. Reinventing others
  3. Reinventing the business

Reinventing self teaches leaders to grow new skills and develop the ability to put ideas into action. It is the way famous people like former Vice President Al Gore have changed their careers entirely to stay relevant over time.

Ed Cogan, a regional sales manager at Comcast, is an example of reinvention. As part of Comcast’s training program, he was assigned to create a community service program. Though he was initially skeptical of the idea, he found he enjoyed the project, and it gave him a stronger sense of purpose. Colleagues at work noticed that he was becoming a stronger leader and began responding to him better. Later in the training, he learned about problem solving and ways to work with his team, which helped him lead by listening and facilitation instead of directing his subordinates. The last training session focused on perpetual reinvention–seeing personal improvement, not just his day-to-day job, as a critical part of his career.

Reinventing others means giving time and energy to help fellow employees develop their own leadership potential. There are many opportunities to do this each day, from offering an encouraging word to a colleague to bragging about someone else’s accomplishments. Reinventing the businessinvolves looking at the organization and making fresh decisions. One good example is Starbucks, which responded to a decline in 2009 by expanding its products beyond coffee, adding a new lower-price brand, and moving into new markets like China.

THE FOUR PILLARS OF REINVENTION

Reinvention has four pillars. To develop self-awareness, leaders need to truly understand what each pillar means and work to make the pillars part of their daily lives.

1. An Above-Average Network and Support System

The first pillar calls on leaders to create a network of people with a variety of skills and abilities who can give them the opportunities they need to perform. Networking is not just about job hunting or finding sales prospects but about improving overall productivity by being able to call on a range of people to help get work done more efficiently. It is also about investing in others’ careers, not just as leverage for a person’s interests, but simply because they are part of the team.

Here are some questions to help assess networks:

* How many elevator rides does a person need to take at work before they see someone they know?

* When an individual sends an email, do people respond without a follow-up email?

* If an individual calls a meeting, how many people show up, and are they peers of that person or more senior employees?

Beyond just having a network to call on for help, leaders must have a support system of people who can offer perspective on either personal or professional matters and who can be trusted completely. Bonds built on trust, respect, and care make for the strongest support.

2. A Proficiency in Critical and Systems Thinking

The second pillar, critical and systems thinking, comes from the lessons learned from excellent teachers, whether at school or in regular life. Good leaders can read between lines, see potential answers instead of just problems, and analyze issues while thinking on their feet. Reinvention demands critical thinking–the ability to question the status quo and reach better conclusions–as well as systems thinking–the understanding of relationships and interactions among different parts of an organization. To use both types of thinking together, leaders need data and the ability to arrange it into useful patterns. Presentations should be brief and have “splash”–a way to make an idea instantly appealing.

3. A Savvy Perspective of the Political Landscape

Pillar three demands the ability to “play the game” when it comes to the human-level interactions, popularity contests, and power grabs that make up office politics. Successful leaders will understand who is working for them and who is working against them. They will also be able to talk in an honest, useful way with senior executives and subordinates alike. Leaders must also be patient observers, putting aside their “Type A” tendencies when necessary so they can learn and listen.

4. A Courageous Drive for “Magis,” or Doing More for the Good of Others

Pillar four is based on the concept of magis, a term used by Saint Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, to describe doing “more” for others–both for individuals and for society. Magis is about offering help to others beyond what they ask for, to help them both professionally and personally. To be effective the offer must be authentic and not simply a way to get a return favor, and it must be intentionally directed at someone who is in a position to contribute to the team. A leader also needs to stick with the offer even if someone takes advantage of their generosity.

Like physical pillars, the four pillars in this model offer a way to carry weight and are a method for building. When the pillars are strong, leaders are able to make demonstrable progress in advancing their careers, helping others around them to do the same, and building a strong sense of capability and happiness.

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