As a manager, you must be able to work with employees to improve their performance. One way to do that is through one-on-one meetings, but your effectiveness here may be hampered. If you lack self-awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses, it becomes impossible to provide guidance and help employees develop and become their best selves.

The Key to Manager Effectiveness: Self-Awareness

Why Does Self-Awareness Matter?

It is easy to wonder why self-awareness is such a critical part of performance management. After all, if a manager will provide the same guidance to an employee, whether they’re self-aware or not, what difference does it actually make?

It comes down to the same concept that underlies the idea that you must be able to love yourself before you can truly love another. If you cannot feel love for yourself, then whatever you feel for another is likely not love. Following that, if you are not self-aware, it becomes impossible for you to provide proper guidance. After all, if you cannot understand yourself, then how can you understand someone else, much less help them improve and grow?

The Good News

There is some good news here. Self-awareness is not an inborn trait. Most of us develop without ever really “meeting” ourselves. We all have modes of thinking that we don’t understand. We have behaviors and tendencies that lead to negative outcomes, yet we still do them. If we truly knew ourselves, we would be able to change those things based on an understanding of why they occur in the first place.

Again, self-awareness is not a trait. It’s a learned skill. That means anyone can develop their awareness of themselves. It simply requires time and the right habits.

The Keys to Self-Awareness

Developing self-awareness does not require anything earthshaking. There’s no massive revelation where the scales fall from your eyes and you suddenly see the truth. What is required is a collection of small steps that, when taken together, add up to a major shift in your knowledge of yourself.

Know Your Strengths

This one seems like common sense, but we’ll touch on it anyway. To know yourself, you must also know your strengths. What are you good at? Where do you excel? What are your passions and where do they drive you? It’s impossible to help other people develop their strengths if you are unaware of your own.

Become a Coach, Not a Manager

Too often, leaders maintain a managerial mindset. This is a rigid mental formation that puts a dividing line between the manager and those they manage. It also distorts your view of yourself and your role within the organization.

Instead, become a coach. With a coaching mindset, it becomes possible to help employees grow and develop in many ways, including allowing them to answer questions and challenges on their own or with minimal input. Of course, becoming a coach requires knowing yourself better to listen deeply to others, know which questions to ask, and develop the right mindset.

Know What Bothers You

As a manager, chances are good that you’ll be coaching employees based on behaviors that bother you, at least at some points. It’s important to know what bothers you and then drill down into why that is. Often, you may find that there is nothing wrong with the behavior of the employee – it simply goes against what you like or dislike.

You may also find that the things you dislike about others are the same things you dislike about yourself. We all have aspects of our personality or behaviors that we’re not proud of. We strive to bury those and keep them out of sight. However, when an employee does something that reminds you of that trait or behavior, it raises all kinds of negative emotions.

When assessing an employee’s behavior, ask yourself: does this remind me of myself? Am I guilty of something similar? Is this a reflection of something that I don’t like about my own character or personality?

Practice Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a central part of Zen Buddhism, but it has been applied to just about every aspect of our lives, from reducing stress to battling depression. It is also an important tool in your quest for better self-awareness.

In mindfulness meditation, the point is simple – focus on your breathing. Feel the in-breath, feel the out-breath. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath without chastising yourself. Watch your thoughts and let them come and go without becoming attached to any of them.

Over time, through practice, you will learn to observe your thoughts because you are not them. You learn to make them separate and gain important perspective. Next, you can begin to analyze your thinking, tying thoughts to the rise of specific emotions within you or seeing that many of our thoughts are not actually true – they’re fantasies based in the past or some speculative future. Ultimately, this practice helps you understand yourself and how you think, thereby providing the opportunity for positive growth and change.

Ask for Feedback

Employee-provided feedback is a critical part of modern performance management, but it can also be a great way to improve your self-awareness. By asking for and then accepting feedback on yourself from those around you, it becomes possible to get a better picture of your attitude, your actions, your demeanor, how you interact with others, and so much more.

Often, we’re so locked into our own heads and bogged down in our private narratives that we don’t realize how we behave or how our words and actions affect others. Critical feedback can help you come to grips with these things and learn more about yourself at the same time.

A Self-Aware Leader

With better self-awareness, it becomes possible to transcend the role of “manager” and become a true leader. You can break out of outdated ways of thinking, form new neural pathways, and guide employees forward to a brighter future for the entire organization.

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