>Leaders and awareness

>A great educator, Caleb Gattegno, once said that the only thing anyone can ever teach is awareness.  This is handy if you are in the business of developing leaders, as it seems to be the number one thing that is mentioned in discussions about growing leadership capabilities.  In this very interesting post (http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2010/08/the-crucial-skill-for-tomorrow.html)  from the Harvard Business Review, Professor Bill George suggests that leadership is more about self-knowledge than skills.  He goes on to say that it comes from an exploration and understanding of one’s life story and asking oneself, “What is my purpose in leading?”

So if the prime target for leader development is self-awareness, how can this happen?  Many of us in these educated times would say that we have good self-awareness.  However, we can only know what we know.  What about the stuff we don’t know about ourselves?  ….and what about the stuff we don’t know that we don’t know?  For some leaders, these ‘unknowns’ lead to a self-imposed career ceiling, although it is unconsciously self-imposed.  To develop greater awareness, we need to have the courage to find the things that we DON’T know about ourselves.  This can free us to change and grow, and thus open up further career opportunities.

For example, there will be the leader who struggles to delegate.  An overly-controlling or micro-managing style will likely not open up opportunities at the top of the organisational ladder.  We can think that this kind of leader needs to enhance their coaching and mentoring skills, and perhaps their communication skills.  But as Bill George says, it’s not about developing skills.  What about those folks who go on coaching courses or communication courses, but still can’t put the skills into action?  It’s most likely that the remedy is not to add more skills, but to uncover more about the person.  There could be something in their life history which has given rise to the need to be in control.  Awareness development will drill down to the question which the person may never have considered.  It could be something like, “What is your greatest fear about delegating to others?”

I am continually delighted when I’m working with people, and I ask a question about themselves which elicits an immediate “I don’t know”.  I sometimes joke “I know you don’t know, that’s why I’m asking the question.”  It can be useful to encourage ourselves, when we get to an “I don’t know” about ourselves to pause and really consider the answer.  Having really gone inside and searched for the answer, if we still don’t know, then ask “Well, who WOULD know?”  Feedback from others can be a essential part of this self-awareness journey.  I like to think that growing self-awareness is best done with others.  It’s a strange human paradox that we have to learn things on our own, but that we best learn when in the company of others.


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