How Well Do You Really Know Yourself?
The famous business guru Peter Drucker said, “Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong...And yet, a person can perform only from strength.” How well do you really know yourself? The path to being a truly skilled and effective leader begins with an honest and deep understanding of yourself.Years ago, in ancient Greece, Sacrates was placed on trial for “corrupting the minds of the youth” by encouraging them to think for themselves. During his trial, he said the statement which has been forever identified with him. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates not only believed that; he lived it out. He was offered 3 choices of paying for his crime, death, exile, or remaining silent. He believed that the very thing that gave life meaning was growth through self-examination, and exile or being silent would make both of those impossible for him. He asked instead to be permitted to pay a fine. They denied his request and sentenced him to death. The method of learning and growth through asking questions and self-examination is called the “Socratic method” in recognition of the man who actually believed unless you examine and reflect on your life, you quit growing. And growth is the reason for life. He believed that through self-reflection and conversations with others, one could sort out his or her flaws and blind spots, learning to truly know themselves.This lesson is vital for all who wish to lead. Unless we proactively choose to take the time to examine and reflect on our lives, reaching our potential is impossible. When we examine our lives, we begin to understand our strengths and weaknesses, talents, desires, personal values, and motivations. It is through these discoveries that we are able to establish a lasting and strong foundation for our leadership. James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their book Leadership Begins With an Inner Journey, say, ”The quest for leadership, therefore, is first an inner quest to discover who you are and what you care about, and it’s through this process of self-examination that you find the awareness needed to lead.”Leadership begins with leading yourself. The process of developing as a leader is necessarily linked with personal development. Becoming a leader starts with knowing yourself and what you want to make of your life. Knowing yourself is the foundation of strong character, purpose and authentic personhood. Too often we believe our press—we believe what “they” think of us and see ourselves as “they” read us. It’s only when you understand who you actually are apart from their assessments are that you’re ready to lead.Back in the day when I was a basketball player, the coach frequently warned us about having “rabbit ears.” He would tell us that players and officials alike can get a bad case of “rabbit ears,” where the voices calling out from the crowd begin to have an undue influence on who they are and how they handle the game. When you listen to the opinions of the crowd, you lose your objectivity and perspective about yourself and your capabilities. You have to be able to shut out those voices, and listen to your own interior. Having a deep understanding of who you are and where you’re going provides the context for where and how you lead.In other words, an effective leader gets that way by becoming more self-aware than aware of the watching crowd. Self-awareness comes from the examined life Socrates preached, and is the conscious knowledge of one’s own character and thoughts. It is developed only through honest self-assessment and reflection. Dr. Phil McGraw, the pop psychologist, says, “You have to own the problem before you can fix it.” He is echoing ancient knowledge from the Roman philosopher Seneca. He said, “For a person who is not aware that he is doing anything wrong has no desire to be put right. You have to catch yourself doing it before you can reform.”For instances, when you got dressed this morning, hopefully you checked the mirror before you left your home. The mirror is your best critic. It gives you the necessary information to make needed adjustments to your appearance. Other ancient wisdom from James, the brother of Jesus Christ says, “Anyone who looks into a mirror and goes away forgetting what he sees is a fool.” Taking an honest, reflective look at yourself on a regular basis is both the starting place and the continued method for substantive and real change.Just as a mirror reveals food on your mouth, a rumpled shirt, hair that needs attention, self-awareness and reflection helps you identify what adjustments are necessary for you to become the leader you can be. This kind of self-awareness will ignite a desire for change, address weak spots in your leadership, keep you becoming and growing, and will lead to trust and respect from your peers and followers.Go look in the mirror. It’s the place to start.