David_Brent_111For many decades psychologists and business leaders have observed, practiced and preached about effective business leadership. The result is a wealth of tools and materials to help guide the development of business owners and managers. Here LEAP’s John Raftery explains how freely available online tools can help you play to your strengths, and become a genuine leader as opposed to a David Brent-style caricature.

John, what does self-awareness mean in practice?
The key components of Emotional Intelligence are self-awareness, motivation, self-efficacy, empathy and social dexterity. But in order to develop the other four key factors in emotional intelligence you must start with the foundation which is self-awareness. Without self-awareness you won’t know what issues to address, you won’t know what your strengths or weaknesses are. So the key component in success is to build a high level of self-awareness.

The trouble is that’s not easily achieved; there is no formula or quick fix for building self-awareness. It is something that is developed over time. It’s about reflecting and understanding yourself at a deeper level and that can only be achieved through maturity and growth. We all meet people who have high levels of self-awareness and we meet people with very low levels of awareness.

How do you build self-awareness?
How you build self-awareness is a challenge. One thing you can do is to spend more time reflecting on your behaviour, your day’s output and trying to understand other people. The best way to do it is to devote more time to personal development. That means along with the technical skills that people learn on the job, you’ve also got to do some soft-skills training as well.

You have to look at personal development like communication, negotiation and listening skills, personality profiling and understanding the various personality profiles. There are lots of different tools out there. ; some are free tools and can give you information relating to your personality type. You can learn a lot from them if you reflect on the results and take things on board. If you complete a number of these tests you may begin to see a certain consistency which helps you to articulate who you are more effectively.

There are lots of good books out there too. A lot of good work has been done by Martin Seligman about authenticity and identifying what the drivers are in our personalities, and trying to achieve success in life and re-prioritise what we regard as success. His book is called Authentic Happiness and he’s been a big influence. Daniel Goleman’s book on emotional intelligence is also a very powerful one in terms of trying to understand yourself.

HR Managers and Profiling Tools
A lot of HR managers use Myers-Briggs for personality profiling. What I’m saying is that self-awareness is about reflecting on your behaviour and trying to understand yourself better, and there are tools and reading materials available to help you do that.

But business leaders and managers can take it to another level. Tools like performance management systems have in-built behaviours to help you develop your capabilities as a manager or leader. Tools like the 360 degree feedback can be useful in understanding how other people view you. Sometimes there is a disconnect between how other people view you and how you see yourself.  People often view themselves one way but present themselves to the world another way, and that indicates there is a problem. It indicates a low level of self-awareness.

Is there a danger of someone reading personal development books forcing themselves to act a certain way according to what they’ve read, but the ‘act’ is at odds with their authentic self?
Yes that’s a big issue. It reminds me of the character David Brent from The Office, that’s exactly what he represents; somebody who has a very low level of self-awareness. He has an image of himself as being very smart and clever. He has obviously swallowed all the management development books but it’s come out all wrong, and that’s why we find Brent so funny. He actually does represent that type of character that believes one thing about himself, but behaves in quite the opposite way. So that is a danger of course, we’ve all met those Brent types in our working lives.

But we also meet very genuine and authentic people. There is a difficulty here in defining someone who is authentic, orto give a formulaic answer to the question of what is authentic. But when we meet genuine people we know instinctively that they are genuine people. The greatest compliment you can pay someone is to say that they are genuine. One of the biggest insults is to say someone is harmless. It means they are ineffective, they have no influence or authority as they go through life.

Genuine and Authentic Behaviour
But in relation to genuineness, another word for it is congruence, where your behaviours fully reflect how you view yourself. So if you view yourself as trustworthy then you are absolutely trustworthy. But sometimes we behave in opposite ways to how we see ourselves. To be consistent in your behaviour, regardless of what situation you’re in, is really the sign of being genuine and authentic.

When the pressure is on you don’t suddenly revert back to type. You don’t dispense with proper behaviour, you don’t decide that manners are no longer necessary because you’re in a rush. Your behaviours have to be consistent irrespective of the environment, because the environment changes all the time. To be authentic means you stick to your beliefs and that your behaviours, and your view of yourself, are totally consistent. That’s how to build trust, you do what you say you will do. Self-awareness is key to all that.

John Raftey, executive coach, LEAP, leadership

John Raftery
Executive Coach