By Jonathan Kirschner, Psy.D. • August 27, 2012

Survival Part II: Self-Awareness and Change

Self-awareness is the knowledge we dynamically formulate about our needs, values, strengths, shortcomings, aspirations, and how others view us. Without self-awareness, our behavior is reflexive, guided by conscious and unconscious learned-responses (habits) and the pleasure principle; we do what feels good, we avoid what does not.

Without self-awareness, we will struggle to achieve an accurate understanding of how our actions impact others.

Brief Case-Study:

Gene is a finance manager in-line to become the CFO of a midsize Pharma. Gene realizes his gift for numbers and his ability to think critically in real-time. The latter has helped him in presentations as well as defend the company’s investment portfolio to analysts and external stakeholders. Gene views himself as indispensable, but his sense of entitlement translates into an attitude of being exempt from the need to play by the rules. Gene’s inflated confidence in his abilities is also his greatest weakness. Gene is known to steamroll anyone in his way.

When objections or questions are raised on his thinking or rationale, he either ignores the challenge or squashes it, depending on his unpredictable mood. This leaves others feeling devalued, insecure and unheard. Further confusing, Gene’s warmth and sociable nature around the office tends to diffuse and cover over the tension he creates. Nevertheless, everyone who has experienced ‘Gene-pain’ knows that the best way to work with him is to never challenge or question him - Just smile-and-nod. Gene’s lack of self-awareness around his reactivity to opposition makes him vulnerable to mistakes that could cost him and his company dearly. His inability to discern how others perceive him leads to superficial work relationships and an environment of low motivation and productivity. On the one hand management views Gene as a prime succession candidate, but on the other hand, he is a walking liability.

When Gene was passed over for a peer to succeed the CFO role, he reacted with shock and disbelief. The story may have ended much differently had Gene been aware of his behavior and how he was impacting others. Had Gene been able to garner stronger self-awareness, he would learn more about:

  • His ineffective ways in dealing with opposing ideas and why
  • How his developmental history, social influences, and early career experiences impact his current behavior
  • How others experience his leadership style
  • His life and career aspirations and to what extant he is on track to reach them

In sum, deeper self-awareness would have helped Gene become the master of his behavior rather than his behavioral reactions guiding him.

So how do we achieve self-awareness? There are a number of ways to ‘look into the mirror’ and learn about your self. The first step is simply  to acknowledge the need and carve out time to answer deep questions, such as:

  • What do I value most?
  • What are my greatest strengths and gifts?
  • Where am I weakest? What are the situations that bring out the worst in me?
  • What do I want? What am I striving for?
  • How do I lead others?
  • How do others view me?

Next, it’s critical to find out how your network views you along these same questions. Though potentially uncomfortable, soliciting feedback from your peers and trusted colleagues can surface new insights, affirm internally-generated hypotheses, and provide you with a sense of any areas where you view your self differently from how others view you.

At AIIR, we view Self-Awareness as the bedrock that enables change and development to unfold. We believe it is so essential to successful change, that we spend between 30-40% of any given coaching assignment providing our client an opportunity to cultivate deep self awareness through our comprehensive assessment-feedback process.

After all this talk about the criticality of self-awareness, though, I must fess up that self-awareness alone is not enough! Keep an eye out for our next blog post in this series, where we’ll talk about the difference between Self-Awareness and Strategic Self Awareness.

Yours Truly,

Jonathan