4 Questions To Increase Self Awareness In Leadership

Self-awareness is a cornerstone of effective leadership.

It’s the ability to see ourselves clearly, understand how we are perceived by others, and recognise the impact of our actions on the organisation.

For CEOs and business leaders, cultivating this self-awareness is crucial for maintaining humility and ensuring decisions are grounded in reality, not ego.

Here are 5 thought-provoking questions that can guide leaders in this journey:

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Question One: What Am I Not Hearing?

Leadership can inadvertently create a bubble, distancing you from the grassroots of your organisation.

Continually asking yourself what opinions, facts, or perspectives you might be missing can bridge this gap.

Ensuring you remain in touch with the diverse viewpoints within your company and the broader impact of your decisions.

The Unasked Question

In the fast-paced life of a CEO, amidst endless meetings and strategic decisions, a vital question often goes unasked: “What am I not hearing?”

This isn’t about the literal act of hearing but about tuning into the unspoken, unseen, or unnoticed aspects of your organisation.

It’s about seeking out the messages lost in the daily operations.

When I first contemplated this question, it was an acknowledgment of my blind spots – which felt unnerving yet crucial for growth.

This inquiry has since been transformative for both my leadership and the company.

Case Example 1: Employee Well-being

Our employee satisfaction surveys were consistently positive, which was reassuring at first.

However, when I began engaging in informal one-on-ones and participating in department meetings without set agendas, I uncovered concerns that never surfaced in surveys.

Issues such as workload imbalances and the desire for more flexible working conditions came to light.

Addressing these not only improved our workplace culture but also boosted productivity.

Case Example 2: Customer Feedback Loops

On the surface, our customer satisfaction seemed solid.

Yet, direct conversations with longstanding clients revealed missed opportunities and minor frustrations not captured by our CRM system.

This led to the creation of a more nuanced customer feedback system, proving invaluable in refining our services.

Case Example 3: Industry Shifts

Being engulfed in day-to-day tasks blinded me to the gradual, significant changes occurring within our industry.

Engaging with external experts, attending industry events, and delving into in-depth reports allowed me to steer our company towards innovation and maintain a competitive edge.

The Power of Listening

My quest to uncover the unheard has underscored the profound power of listening—not just to reply but to genuinely understand.

Embracing the unsaid has unveiled hidden insights within my company, fostering more inclusive, innovative, and empathetic leadership.

To my fellow CEOs and leaders, I urge you to reflect on this question: “What am I not hearing?”

It could unveil critical insights for advancing your organisation.

It’s about looking beyond the reverberations of your decisions and tuning into the subtle signals where truth often lies.

Your employees, customers, and the business environment are constantly communicating.

The real question is, are you truly listening?

Question Two: How Would I React if This Decision/Action Was Taken by Someone Else?

Maintaining objectivity as a leader is vital.

This question encourages you to reflect critically on your actions and decisions, considering them from an external perspective.

It helps to identify potential biases or ego-driven choices.

Leadership Reflection

Leadership is not just about making decisions but also about understanding and reflecting on them.

A question I often ask myself is, “How would I react if this decision/action was taken by someone else?”

This has been instrumental in maintaining objectivity, fairness, and empathy in my leadership approach.

Here are some scenarios where this self-inquiry provided profound insights.

Situation 1: A Bold Market Move

Our company once considered entering a new, risky market.

I was in favour of the move, seeing the potential long-term benefits.

However, when I pondered how I would react if a team member suggested this, I questioned whether I would have deemed it too risky or irresponsible.

This role reversal made me examine the risks more critically and discuss the plan more openly with my team.

Ultimately, we entered the market with more robust risk mitigation strategies.

Situation 2: Changing Workplace Policies

During the pandemic, we shifted to remote working.

As things normalised, I thought about reverting to in-office work.

However, asking myself how I would react if another executive proposed this made me reconsider.

I realised I might have seen it as valuing traditional working models over employees’ flexibility and work-life balance.

This led to the adoption of a hybrid model that balanced diverse employee needs with collaboration and company culture.

Situation 3: Handling Underperformance

When a high-performing department started missing targets, my initial thought was to consider leadership changes.

Reflecting as if another leader proposed this, I questioned whether we were jumping to conclusions without understanding the underlying issues.

This led to a more empathetic approach, where we engaged in discussions with the team and discovered unforeseen market changes impacting their performance.

Instead of reshuffling leadership, we provided additional support to help them adapt and recover.

New Dimensions of Thought

Applying this question to my decisions has opened new dimensions of thought, challenging the ‘echo chamber’ effect that can sometimes occur in leadership.

It ensures that my actions are not just bold but balanced and considerate.

This approach has refined my decision-making process and built a culture of trust and respect within the team.

A Recommendation for Leaders

For those in leadership positions, I recommend pondering this introspective question.

It pushes you to think beyond your viewpoint, fostering a more inclusive and balanced leadership approach.

Decisions are never made in isolation – they ripple across an entire organisation.

Understanding how you’d react if you were on the receiving end of those decisions is crucial.

It’s a practice of humility and empathy, essential qualities for any successful leader.

Question Three: In What Ways Could I Be Wrong About This?

Confidence in decision-making is essential, but overconfidence can be a pitfall.

By pondering where I might be mistaken, I open myself up to a more thorough analysis and invite collaboration and input from others.

The Value of Vulnerability in Leadership

The corporate world often celebrates decision-makers as infallible leaders.

However, true leadership embraces vulnerability and acknowledges the possibility of being wrong.

A question I consistently ask myself is, “In what ways could I be wrong about this?”

This introspective inquiry has unexpectedly and positively shaped my leadership.

Situation 1: Implementing a New Software System

Initially, I was in favour of introducing a new software system across the company to improve efficiency.

However, contemplating where I might be misguided led me to consider challenges such as employee training, potential resistance, and short-term productivity losses.

This resulted in a pilot test in one department before a company-wide rollout.

The test revealed various implementation issues we hadn’t anticipated, enabling us to address them and ensuring a smoother transition for the entire company.

Benefits of Self-Questioning

Regularly challenging my own convictions has allowed me to:

  1. Foster a Culture of Openness: When the team sees the CEO openly questioning their decisions, it encourages them to voice their concerns and insights more freely, leading to better-informed choices.
  2. Mitigate Risks: Recognising potential errors in judgment allows for the implementation of precautionary measures, reducing costly mistakes.
  3. Promote Continuous Learning: Embracing the idea that one can be wrong promotes a growth mindset. Every misjudgment becomes an opportunity to learn and grow.
  4. Admit Mistakes: Through self-questioning, I have also come to realise, at times, that I made a mistake or was wrong. While this can be difficult to accept, it’s ultimately beneficial, as it garners respect and appreciation from the team.

The best leaders aren’t those who always make the right decisions, but those who are willing to question their decisions and adjust course when needed.

For all the CEOs and leaders out there, embrace the power of doubt.

It doesn’t weaken your position but strengthens your decisions, ensuring a more resilient and adaptable organisation.

Always ask, “In what ways could I be wrong about this?”

The answers might surprise and enlighten you.

Question Four: What Would Happen if I Listened More Than I Spoke in Meetings?

This question prompts self-reflection on the balance between speaking and listening.

By prioritising listening, leaders can gain deeper insights, better understand team sentiments, and ensure that decisions are more democratic and well-founded.

The Power of Listening in Leadership

As CEOs, we’re often expected to be the driving force in meetings – setting directions, providing solutions, and leading discussions.

However, I’ve recently explored a transformative approach by asking myself, “What would happen if I listened more than I spoke in meetings?”

For someone who is naturally vocal, like myself, this was a challenging but enlightening experiment.

The decision to alter my behaviour stemmed from this simple self-inquiry, leading to a significant shift in how I conducted meetings.

I committed to spending more time listening than speaking, and the results were revealing.

In one strategy meeting, I chose to listen rather than lead with my ideas.

A junior team member, typically reserved, proposed a novel solution to a longstanding issue.

Had I dominated the conversation, this innovative idea might have remained unheard.

This experience underscored that when a leader listens more, it can create an environment where groundbreaking ideas emerge from unexpected sources.

During a project debrief, I refrained from offering my analysis initially and instead encouraged the team to share their perspectives.

This led to a dynamic discussion and a collective decision that was more comprehensive than any directive I could have provided.

This instance demonstrated that listening can cultivate a collaborative atmosphere where team members feel valued and actively participate in decision-making.

In regular departmental catch-ups, particularly with sales or projects teams, focusing on listening resulted in heightened team morale and engagement.

Team members felt heard and appreciated, leading to increased motivation and a sense of ownership over their work.

This shift highlighted that effective leadership involves listening to people’s insights and concerns as much as it does providing guidance.

The Ripple Effect of Listening

Adopting this listening-first approach led to several positive changes:

  1. Better Decision-Making: With a broader range of voices and perspectives considered, decisions became more comprehensive and robust.
  2. Increased Trust and Respect: The team felt more valued and respected, which in turn fostered trust and loyalty within the organisation.
  3. Personal Growth: As a CEO, this practice enhanced my empathy and understanding of different aspects of the business, contributing to my personal development.

Listening more and speaking less in meetings has not only enriched the quality of our discussions but has also fostered a more inclusive, innovative, and collaborative culture.

It’s a reminder that sometimes, the most impactful action a leader can take is to simply listen.

I encourage fellow leaders to embrace this approach.

The results might just redefine your perception of effective leadership.

Sign up for Executive Coaching and increase your self awareness with me today.

Increase Self Awareness In Leadership
Picture of Natalie Brown

Natalie Brown

Keynote Speaker, Executive Coach, and Group CEO at Select Training.

Work with me
Picture of Natalie Brown

Natalie Brown

Keynote Speaker, Executive Coach, and Group CEO at Select Training.

Work with me

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