The High Cost of Low Self-Awareness

Want to improve your performance – and enhance your organization’s culture? Here are some leadership potholes to steer clear – or climb out – of.

The original title I had in mind for this article was “Five Habits of Highly Ineffective Leaders (and How to Avoid Them),” but on reflection, I thought that sounded cynical. My purpose for this piece is quite the opposite: to help fellow leaders become much more self-aware and effective.

As an executive coach, I invest most of my time helping business owners and other leaders understand how their actions affect other people, including family, employees, customers and vendors.

As a husband of 40 years, father, grandfather and serial entrepreneur, I believe how we interact with others is the single greatest predictor of success – or failure. If you’re a leader who wants to improve your performance and organization’s culture, here are five poor leadership habits (and their solutions). With each, ask yourself: “Does this describe me?” and “How can I change?”

Arrogance: Many of us are guilty of thinking higher of ourselves than we do of other people. This can be a function of our authority, income, education, family reputation or experience. And while these things contribute to our sense of self-worth, taken to an extreme, arrogance creates barriers that blunt our ability to inspire and motivate. The most effective antidote to arrogance is humility. Even when credit is rightfully due us, we let it slide to those who had a hand in creating the achievement. Humble leaders attract willing participants in a way that arrogant leaders don’t.

Ignorance: As highly capable individuals, we often fall into the trap of believing we are good at most things. Accepting the notion that success demands our commitment to a lifetime of learning is the first step in overcoming ignorance. This requires that we humbly invite the opinions, experience and expertise of other subject experts into our decision-making. Informed leaders make wise choices and model the importance of learning.

Haste: We all know the 5 Ps: “Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” What we may forget is that we are not alone in our enterprise. Our planning (or failure to plan) affects the lives of everyone around us. When we remember to put the needs of others ahead of our own, we purpose to plan rather than just roll the dice.

Hypocrisy: Every time we lead with “Do as I say, not as I do,” we reinforce the fact that we believe in a two-tier culture. When the rules are different for leaders, employees quickly find workarounds. Lack of engagement, wasted time on social media, theft and sabotage are a few of the tools they use to even the score. Placing ourselves in an accountability relationship with a coach, mentor or peer group (see below) is a solid strategy for avoiding this trap.

Exaggeration: Depending on our personality, level of stress and what’s at stake in the situation, this leadership habit can display itself on a spectrum of simply amplifying minor facts to completely lying, taking a serious hit to our integrity. The only true cure is to remain vigilant about what we say and how we say it. If we want our people to tell us the truth, we have to model the truth.

Area organizations you can tap for help:

EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organizations), eonetwork.org/fortworth. National and local peer mentoring organization.
TAB (The Alternative Board), tabfortworth.com. A national and local peer mentoring organization with deep ties to Fort Worth business, TCU and other local organizations.