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Self-awareness: the key to your purpose

Self-awareness is essential for anyone who wants to be successful in their career and life. More importantly, self-awareness is crucial for success if we are leaders. It allows us to understand our strengths and limitations and helps us to make more informed decisions that positively impact both ourselves and our teams. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of self-awareness and how it can help us to identify and pursue our purpose.

In a recent workshop at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), I learned the importance of self-awareness firsthand. As part of a business simulation exercise, I was given the role of director and tasked with solving a range of operational issues while also ensuring the strategic viability of the business. I focused on addressing the operational issues and missed an opportunity to contribute to the strategic concerns of the business, which is one of my strongest capabilities. However, I wanted to help solve real problems and not just dabble in ideas. As I reflected on my personality profile and behaviours in the simulation, I started reviewing my career journey as an individual contributor, middle manager, and senior leader. This experience showed me the importance of being fully present and engaged in all aspects of my role rather than just focusing on solving immediate problems. In a knee-jerk reaction to the situation, I forgot how important setting the strategic context is in determining priorities and a path to success.

How often do we throw our efforts and energy into solving problems that don’t move the needle toward our goals? And an even bigger question is, how much of that tendency is driven by a failure of self-awareness as we navigate the world of work-life, business, and leadership?  The insights I gleaned from the business simulation were transformational. When it comes to theory, strategy, systems thinking, creativity and innovation, I’m your guy! I will deliver if we need to get into the weeds, but my energy reserves will be drained dramatically. I’ve always been a high performer, but I am learning to maximise my impact by being more intentional about my playing field and purposeful about my role.

Whether you believe in destiny or determine your goals, how well you know who you are and how you relate to others will impact your growth and success.

Self-awareness accelerates our ability to find and fulfil our purpose as leaders. Understanding who you are and what you do well enables you to determine your mission, decide the best use of your time and the people you must connect and collaborate with to accomplish your goals. This is the power of self-awareness! “Self-awareness is the ability to focus on yourself and how your actions, thoughts, or emotions do or don’t align with your internal standards. If you’re highly self-aware, you can objectively evaluate yourself, manage your emotions, align your behaviour with your values, and understand correctly how others perceive you” (Duval & Wicklund, 1972). Another definition I particularly like is “the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection” by Courtney Ackerman, wiring for PositivePsychology.com. Beyond the concept, self-awareness is only as good as our practice of reflecting on our experiences, doing the introspection work, and taking meaningful action to bring who we are and what we do in alignment with our mission. Self-awareness is a crucial component of success and fulfilment in life. It allows us to understand our unique strengths, weaknesses, values, and goals and to use this understanding to guide our actions and decisions. Whether you believe in destiny or determine your goals, how well you know who you are and how you relate to others will impact your growth and success. Self-awareness is the key to unlocking your purpose, which I think plays out, not just conceptually but in our pursuits in life, work, business and leadership; the ultimate alignment – being, living and doing well!

A research study conducted by Harvard Business Review found that self-awareness is a key predictor of leadership effectiveness. The study surveyed over 7,000 leaders and found that self-awareness was the most important predictor of success. More self-aware leaders had higher levels of emotional intelligence and were better able to build trust with their teams. Additionally, the study found that self-aware leaders were more likely to address their weaknesses and seek growth opportunities proactively. This research highlights the importance of self-awareness in leadership and suggests that self-aware leaders are more effective and successful in their roles. It also underscores the need for individuals to develop self-awareness to achieve success and fulfilment in their personal and professional lives.

Let’s get practical!

By understanding who you are and what you want to achieve, you can set yourself up for success and fulfilment in all areas of your life. But developing self-awareness is not a one-time task but a continuous process of reflection and self-examination. Here are some strategies for improving self-awareness and finding fulfilment in life:

  • Reflect on your values, strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Take time to think about what’s most important to you, what you’re good at, what areas you need to work on, and what you want to achieve.
  • Engage in activities that promote self-discovery. This might include journaling, meditation, therapy, or other practices that allow you to explore your thoughts and emotions. Personality tests and other assessments are also useful for gleaning insights into your traits, motivation drivers, preferences, and styles.
  • Seek feedback from others. Ask trusted friends, family members, or colleagues to provide honest feedback on your strengths and areas for improvement. 360 assessments are also a great way of triangulating objective data like personality metrics with the subjective perceptions of those who know and work with us. Getting feedback from others enables you to identify and close the gaps between your intent and impact on others.; you don’t know what you don’t know.
  • Practice mindfulness. Paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the present moment can help you become more aware of your internal state and the world around you.
  • Reflect and align: Reflect on your experiences, intentions, reactions, and the lessons you could learn to help improve yourself. As you learn more about yourself, align your intentions and actions to maximise your experiences’ impact.

By developing self-awareness, you can better understand your purpose and take steps to pursue it, whether that means following a predetermined path or creating your own goals.

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