Commentary

December 20, 2013

Self awareness — A key to leadership development

Lt. Col. MICHAEL EBNER
61st Fighter Squadron

As part of our enduring quest to become better Air Force leaders we must always strive to develop ourselves.

One way to do this is for each of us to build an accurate assessment of ourselves. Without a keen sense of self-awareness leaders can easily operate in the dark without regard to their subordinates’ attitudes, opinions and perceptions. With accurate self-awareness leaders become more effective due to their ability to adapt and improve.

I think of building self-awareness as a four-step process.

Number one, determine what others think. Number two, assess your strengths and weaknesses. Number three, find ways to improve and finally, test and assess. This process is a leadership tool that will, at worst, yield minor leadership improvements and, at best, transform leadership styles.

Early on in Airmen’s careers during formal training, instructors assess performance and tell Airmen their strengths and weaknesses, as well as how to improve. The Air Force essentially does self-awareness for you.

After formal training, the amount and frequency of feedback diminishes, requiring Airmen to conduct their own self-assessment in addition to the Air Force’s formal evaluations. Supervisors should provide regularly scheduled formal feedback sessions, which provide a fantastic venue for determining what others think. Even if this formal feedback session passes by, leaders should always attempt to get feedback from both supervisors and subordinates.

Informal settings often allow for free-flowing, unguarded conversation that can provide insight into others’ opinions and perceptions. Furthermore, a trusted agent like a mentor, spouse or roommate can offer unfiltered opinions that build accurate assessments. Leaders should always strive to see what others think — it is a key ingredient to self-awareness.

After listening to others, leaders must be completely honest and identify their own strengths and weaknesses. This second step requires reflection on previous experiences, both good and bad. Ask yourself what things you do well and what areas you need to improve. If leaders think of themselves above reproach then they will seal their own perilous fate. Don’t be afraid, be a tough critic. Leaders can only truly change through a thorough, personal self-assessment.

Once improvement areas are identified, leaders must determine a means to fix their weaknesses and improve. This third step does not happen overnight. Leaders need to plan and think through the implementation. Without a plan the status quo will prevail, and there will not be any improvement or change.

The last step in the process is to test and assess the means of improvement. Often this test is a change in behavior or action from previous methods. For most, change is difficult and therefore, must be practiced and given time.

The self-awareness process is simply one component to leadership development. After reading this article I challenge you to look through the leadership lens and think of two strengths and two weaknesses you have. Then think about how you can improve upon those weaknesses and change your behavior. By doing so you’ll become a more effective leader.




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