When we think about leadership, we often think of leadership as a very extroverted responsibility. However, the foundation great leadership is the ability to practice Self-Study. This is different than self-awareness. I do not believe anyone is ever fully self-aware as some kind of status to be achieved. We are all always changing and evolving – even the most seasoned of leaders. As the environment and conditions around us change (which is always happening), we change, too. Great leaders are self-aware because they continuously practice Self-Study.
What is Self-Study?
Self-Study is the practice of observing ourselves in order to better understand our strengths, interests, obstacles, resistance, motivation, behaviors, and mindset at any given time. Self-Study involves observation, curiosity, and inquiry about why we do what we do and why we feel how we feel. It requires interest in self-improvement and greater clarity. It requires acceptance of and enthusiasm about change.
When we understand key aspects of ourselves – especially what we have resistance to or negativity toward, we can choose to change direction or rewire our mindset. When we understand our true interests and motivations, we can move further toward our version of success, feeling confident and clear on our path.
Why is Self-Study the foundation for strong leadership of a team?
Self-Study sounds, well, selfish. Right? However, it’s actually quite the opposite. The leader sets the tone for the whole team. A leader that feels supported in having their needs truly met and is authentically confident and motivated by their work sends this energy out to team members through presence and interactions. The team feels this positive vibe and follows with motivation and enthusiasm. A leader that can tap into their resistance and obstacles can better clearly identify and remove obstacles for the team.
Leaders that are not skilled at Self-Study usually react impulsively rather than responding thoughtfully and authentically. They usually lack confidence. This lack of confidence manifests in lack of motivation, productivity, and enthusiasm. Their teams in turn also have low morale, efficiency, and retention.
How can you practice Self-Study?
Self-study is best practiced through a combination of observation and inquiry. It sounds weird to step away form the work (stop working – oh no!) and take time to reflect on what is going well, not so well, resistance you feel, and what you’re most excited about. However it’s important. Taking a pen and paper to actually do thi makes it easier. It makes it feel as though you’re manifesting something by writing it down instead of just sitting by yourself to reflect and then potentially forget important insights you uncover.
Here an exercise: Take a piece of paper or notebook and your pen. Go somewhere without the presence of technology (no phone, computer, texts, emails coming in) and spend at least 30 minutes or one hour think about the following prompts.
- What do you enjoy about your current work and role?
- What do you admire about your leader at work?
- What would you change if you could change something about your current work scope? Why?
- What is going really well right now for you?
- What is not going so well for you?
- What support, knowledge, or resources would help you to be more successful in this role?
- If you could achieve something – learn one new thing, accomplish one thing – this year, what would it be?
- What are you most excited about in terms of what is on the horizon at work for you?
- What do you feel your main strengths are as far as your field of work and as a leader?
- What do you feel or have you been told are constructive areas you could work on? Why is it important (or not so important) to you to find ways to work on these areas?
Once you take some time to think about these and write responses yourself, consider talking with someone like your leader, a peer, or a family member about them. Sometimes they’re hard to answer without more thought, observation, or feedback from someone else.
Remember that Self-Study takes patience and practice to learn how to tune into your own zone, but it is so worth it. As you practice Self-Study more, you’ll see that it feels more effortless to remove blind spots, obstacles, and move toward your version of success authentically.