You can’t be a good leader without self-awareness. It lies at the root of strong character, giving us the ability to lead with a sense of purpose, authenticity, openness and trust. It explains our successes and our failures. And by giving us a better understanding of who we are, self-awareness lets us better understand what we need most from other people, to complement our own deficiencies in leadership.
The question, then, is: How can we cultivate and develop it further? Here are five suggestions:
+ Meditate. As most people know by now, meditation is the practice of improving your moment-by-moment awareness. Most forms of meditation begin with focusing on, and appreciating the simplicity of, inhaling and exhaling. But these don’t need to be formal or ritualistic – greater clarity can also come from regular moments of pause and reflection.
+ Write down your key plans and priorities. One of the best ways to increase self-awareness is to write down what you want to do and track your progress. Warren Buffett, for one, is known for carefully articulating the reasons he’s making an investment at the time he makes it. His journal entries serve as a historical record that helps him assess whether or not future outcomes can be attributable to sound judgment or just plain luck.
+ Take psychometric tests. Among the best known of these tests are Myers-Briggs and Predictive Index, but all are aimed at serving as a data point toward greater self-awareness. A common design point with all of them is that there are no particular right or wrong answers. Instead, they are designed to compel respondents to consider a set of traits or characteristics that most accurately describe them relative to other people.
+ Ask trusted friends. None of us is altogether aware of how we come across to others. We have to rely on the feedback of our peers, friends and mentors. To have your friends play the role of honest mirror, let them know when you are seeking candid, critical, objective perspectives. Ask your friend or colleague to give you an informal, but direct and honest view. Another strategy is to ask friends to call you out when you are engaged in a behavior you already know you want to change.
+ Get regular feedback at work. In addition to informally and periodically asking friends and family, use the formal processes and mechanisms at your workplace. If none are in place, see if you can implement more formal feedback loops. Provided it is done well, constructive, formalized feedback allows us to better see our own strengths and weaknesses.
In the end, we all want self-awareness. Without it, one can never fully lead effectively. It’s only with self-awareness that one can journey closer to a state of “self-congruence” – in which what we say, think and feel are consistent. Building self-awareness is a lifelong effort. You’re never “done.” But these five pragmatic practices will help you move faster and further along the way.
(Anthony Tjan is CEO, managing partner and Founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball, vice chairman of the advisory firmParthenon and co-author of “Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck.”)
© 2015 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate