How To Be A Self-Aware Leader

In the past five years, I seem to have continually been in a place where I needed to be more aware of who I am. Moving across the country, growing my family, and navigating a season of depression has caused me to take a good look at who God is, who I am, and who I am not.

One of the most important ways I have grown in the last five years was through practicing the discipline of self-awareness.

I say “practice” because the act of becoming aware of yourself and who God has made you to be is not a one time event. There is no test or online quiz that once-and-for-all assesses who you are and gives you the perfect results that will answer all of life’s questions. The act of being aware is a life-long journey, a discipline that should be developed for life-long discovery.

Through this process of becoming more self-aware (disclaimer: I am not an expert and I’m still on this journey!), I have come to understand four truths that apply to us all as pastors, leaders, and disciples of Christ. This is not an exhaustive list of what self-awareness is, but I hope it helps further the conversation of why self-awareness should be part of any organization’s leadership development process.

1. SELF-AWARENESS STARTS WITH UNDERSTANDING WHO YOU ARE AND WHO YOU ARE NOT.

You are not God.

I know you just read that statement and are thinking, Why am I wasting five minutes of my life by reading this post?! But bear with me.

It’s seems basic. But too many leaders put all the responsibility on themselves to do it all, save all the people, and without realizing it, be Jesus. Only God can be God. Only Jesus can be Jesus. It is a true gift that we don’t have to be the only one who can make a difference in this world.

Self-awareness starts with an act of humility, acknowledging that God is God and you are not. No amount of hours at work, personal time spent trying to reach all the people, or stress over that project that seems unending will be able to do what only God can do.

I believe we can grow in our understanding that God is God (and we are not) by opening the pages of scripture with fresh eyes to see what God has done in and for our world. When I see the God who gave life to an empty world (Genesis 1-2), when I watch Him deliver people from helpless situations (Exodus 14), and when I stand in awe that the one who died on the cross came back to life (Luke 24), it helps me to understand who I am not. And I am not God.

2. SELF-AWARENESS CONTINUES AS YOU REALIZE WHO YOU ARE. 

God did something pretty cool when He created humans: He created us in His image and has equipped us uniquely for His purposes in our world. If we are not aware of how God has equipped us, how can we properly live out what we are called to do?

Part of our job is to learn how God has uniquely wired and equipped us for His purposes. This kind of self-awareness requires us to know our strengths, our weaknesses, and our limitations.

Luckily, there are plenty of frameworks that help us figure out and understand our strengths, weaknesses, and limitations:

    • The Gallup Strengths Finder is a great tool to help you know your strengths and what you’re good at. As you lean into your strengths, you’re able to better refine them and grow in them.
    • The Enneagram is an ancient personality type system that has had a resurgence in popularity of late. The nine-pointed Enneagram symbol represents nine distinct strategies for relating to the self, others and the world. The Enneagram explores the motivation behind our behavior. It’s helped me get a birds-eye-view of how I see and experience the world. 
    • There are also many personality and temperament inventories that identify a color (red, blue, yellow, green). The I Said This, You Heard That workbook is a personal favorite of mine. It has helped me and those I lead to see how our wiring affects the way we give and receive communication.

Whatever inventory or assessment you use, it is important to note that these are tools describing personality and wiring, not prescribing behavior. They will not always be completely accurate, but they can go a long way to help us put words to who we are and how we interact with others.

3. SELF-AWARENESS GROWS WHEN YOU LEAD OTHERS FROM YOUR AUTHENTIC SELF. 

Leading people is hard, and being self-aware in leadership is even harder. It requires us to be vulnerable and transparent with the realities of our strengths, weaknesses, and limitations, not only with ourselves but also with others.

Kevin Kruse, a Forbes columnist and author of Employee Engagement 2.0 put it this way: Leaders must become “self-actualized individuals who are aware of their strengths, their limitations, and their emotions. They also show their real selves to their followers. They do not act one way in private and another in public; they don’t hide their mistakes or weaknesses out of fear of looking weak… They are not afraid to show their emotions, their vulnerability and to connect with their employees”

When someone on my team tells me that the way I communicated to a group of students made me sound sarcastic and judgmental (true story), I have a choice to either be vulnerable with that person and accept their feedback or defensive and argumentative. Practicing the discipline of self-awareness necessitates me being open to feedback from others and allowing others to speak truth to me.

4. SELF-AWARENESS LEADS TO LIFE CHANGE.

As we work hard to develop the discipline of self-awareness, we will change lives.

The first life changed will be our own. As we embrace the fact that we’re not perfect and are vulnerable with ourselves and others, we’ll begin to see ourselves in a clearer light, and our blind spots will decrease. As our blind spots decrease, we’ll be able to be better parents, leaders, spouses, and pastors.

Self-awareness will also change the people we lead. Being open about our strengths, limitations, and weaknesses gives those we lead permission to do the same. I recently sat down with a group of volunteers and told them areas that I need to grow in order to be a better leader. It was a hard conversation to have, but it gave people permission to be vulnerable as well. People are only as open to personal growth as the person walking alongside them.

Finally, self-awareness will change the organizations we lead. Self-awareness requires authenticity, authenticity builds trust, and trust is the foundation on which organizations stand. Brené Brown, author of Dare to Lead, puts it this way: “Trust is the stacking and layering of small moments and reciprocal vulnerability over time. Trust and vulnerability grow together, and to betray one is to destroy both.”

The discipline of self-awareness can be a messy process, but it is absolutely worth it. What other benefits do you see to practicing the discipline of self-awareness? And what things do you do in your life to grow in your understanding of yourself?

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Tim Gardner

Tim Gardner

High School Pastor at Faith Church
Tim joined Faith Church staff in 2014. He loves working with a team of leaders who enjoy deepening relationships with students and helping them find hope in Jesus. His interests include playing with his two kiddos, running through the Lehigh Parkway, and exploring bookstores with his wife.
Tim Gardner

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2 Comments

  1. Deb Hinkel Deb Hinkel on April 18, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    Ive used Strength Finders and the Enneagram for self-assessment, but wasn’t aware of the “I Said This, You Heard That,” information. Appreciated learning about this resource.

  2. Ed Cole Ed Cole on April 3, 2019 at 6:57 am

    Excellent post. Thanks Tim for writing intelligently and humbly.

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