Self-awareness is defined as “conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives and desires.”
In a business context, this sounds rather soft – something relevant if your professional aspirations are to be a psychologist or HR professional, but certainly not as critical as the “hard stuff” like experience, skills or credentials after your name. Right?
In my four decades of experience as a leader and entrepreneur in diverse industries from entertainment to sports to new media to education, in the hierarchy of factors most important to career success, I would rank self-awareness as #1.
I wish I knew this at age 22…
Because regardless of your profession or industry, your career success rides on your ability to lead, manage, and get along with your colleagues. Executing this requires exceptional interpersonal skills, the foundation of which is very personal – YOU! Self-awareness is the essential building block to develop this critical competency.
For example, can you objectively answer the few key self-awareness questions below – and as importantly, have your colleagues, managers and team members respond to these same questions about you in a way that matches your responses?
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- What triggers stress you, and how do you cope with these stresses?
- How do you manage conflict?
- What inspires you?
- What derails you?
- How do you respond to authority?
- How do you deal with criticism?
- What is your communication style?
Next, does your awareness extend to the “selves” you work with, manage or lead? Can you objectively answer these same key questions about them? Your success in accurately answering these questions and adjusting your communication style accordingly is critical to maximizing the potential of your teams, reducing conflict, and ultimately driving organizational effectiveness and competitive advantage.
Achieving self-awareness is challenging and a lifelong effort. The earlier you start to work on yourself, the more self-aware you’ll become, and the more likely “the powers that be” will recognize your leadership potential and accelerate your career journey. Fortunately, there are survey tools, like The Birkman Method, which is what we use at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management in one of the courses that I teach to help our MBA students gain behavioral insights about themselves and of others. Whether it’s offered at your school or at your job or if there’s a workshop where you live, take advantage of these assessment tools!
It’s never too late to work on yourself.
We’re all continuous works in progress. In fact, the doors to my own self-awareness opened for me later in life. However, once I crossed the threshold to self-awareness there was no going back — despite how painful my new insights about myself often were. The rewards far outweighed the pitfalls.
In fact, recently the self-awareness that I personally gained from taking the Birkman assessment along with our students was enormously helpful in my recognizing and changing old behaviors that could have derailed an opportunity.
As an executive and entrepreneur, I’ve purchased, acquired, built, and operated many sports teams and stadiums and across the country – not to mention theaters — and I felt confident I knew exactly how to execute these initiatives. When I was presented with my latest opportunity to acquire and operate the new Major League Soccer team in Los Angeles (LAFC), I immediately went head strong, pedal to the metal, full throttle into action, seeking to control everyone and everything in the process — an old behavior.
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!
Using my Birkman profile as my emotional navigational compass, I put a stop to my impulsiveness, recognizing that my “stresses” demonstrated an over-reliance on precedent and excessive attention to detail. That self-awareness allowed me to reshape my communication and behavioral styles. I surrendered command and control and became far more open and inclusive to a dialog with the President and other key stakeholders charged with the responsibility of finding the stadium location, selecting the architect, and building the infrastructure necessary to design and run a professional sports franchise.
The result was a more efficient, collaborative, successful, and even joyous, journey to a win-win resolution with relationships far more likely to endure and open doors to future opportunities to score goals together!