In the midst of being put on trial for corrupting the youth of Athens, Socrates uttered the famous line, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He was well aware of the fact that, in order to truly live and lead as we ought, we first have to know who we are. As leaders, this is especially true since, by definition, we are going to influence and impact other people. If we are to do this as well as we can, we must first be aware of ourselves: strengths and weaknesses, gifts and flaws.
Self-reflection for its own sake is not necessarily bad, though it can lead to narcissism if one isn’t careful. However, self-reflection is important to leaders since we must evaluate who we are in order to become more confident in our gifts while also being willing to address our flaws. Once we’ve done that, then we can use those things in service to others. Thus, it is crucial to get a better understanding of yourself as a person and as a leader, and the process is never-ending since we will all change and develop as we grow older. Here are three quick things you can do to jump-start the process of understanding who you are so that you can then learn how to better serve those that you are leading.
Step 1: Ask yourself what it is that you resent in other people.
Do you resent when people are disrespectful? Arrogant? Condescending? Lazy? Dishonest? The reason to ask yourself this question is to see what it is that you value. If you dislike laziness in others, it is because you see the value in hard work. That’s a good thing. If you dislike it when others are disrespectful, it’s because you see the value in being respectful. Again, that’s a good thing! However, one thing to be aware of is this: often, we most dislike in others the things that we ourselves are or have been guilty of. For me, I know that I dislike it when others are condescending; and I know that this is at least in part because I have been guilty of this (especially in my classroom). So, when looking at what it is that you resent, be humble enough to ask if you are or have been guilty of the things you dislike.
Step 2: Ask yourself what you admire in other people.
What qualities do you most enjoy seeing in other people? Integrity? Self-confidence? A strong work ethic? Whatever these qualities are, surround yourself with people that have them, especially if you know that you may be lacking in certain attributes. When I first became a head coach for a high school soccer team, I was very envious of the self-confidence possessed by my assistant coach. I was young, and I was concerned with making sure everyone on the team liked me. He, on the other hand, despite being the same age as me was much more concerned with making sure the players did what they were supposed to, regardless of how they felt about him. That self-confidence is something I still admire today.
Step 3: Ask for honest critique from a few people in your close circle, and then compare their answers to what you came up with from steps 1 and 2.
Once you have begun examining yourself, be even more vulnerable (within reason) and ask a few people close to you what they see as your biggest strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Ask them to give you specific examples, if possible, of what they mean, and then be willing to address the issues that they bring up. By doing this you show vulnerability and trust to your close circle, and you are also growing as a person and leader.
Confident Humility, and all leadership, is about using your gifts and talents in the service of other people. May you grow in your understanding of yourself so that you can use what you’ve been given to serve others.