It all starts with the leader! ~anonymous person talking on the phone while on the sidewalk
"They want to have an off-site retreat with leadership, but it won't make any difference because it all starts with the leader." This is what I heard today from a passerby talking on her phone while I was walking back to the office from a breakfast meeting. I didn't mean to overhear, but she was talking rather loudly and I could certainly sense her frustration. Based on her comment (and tone) I drew the conclusion that this leader isn't aware of the impact they are having on their leadership team.
Her astute observation reminded me of something I read recently on Forbes.com.
The National Advisory Council of a prestigious west coast business school was asked what single quality they thought would be most valuable for their graduates to acquire as they graduated. The answer was self-awareness.
For us, the most important element of self-awareness, especially for those who lead organizations, is a clear understanding of the impact they are having on the people around them.
I've come across a number of definitions of self-awareness, but this definition seemed so obvious that I had overlooked it. And it reflects the frustration of the young woman this morning who seemed quite aggravated that the "leader" she was referring to does not have a clear understanding of the impact they are having on the people around them. And, she's right; an off-site retreat probably isn't going to change that a whole lot.
Authors Bolman and Deal describe it like this in How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing. "One of the most basic and pervasive causes of leadership failure is interpersonal blindness. Many leaders simply don't know their impact on other people. Even worse, they don't know that they don't know. They assume that other people see them pretty much the way they see themselves, then they blame others when things go wrong."
How do we know if we need to work on our self-awareness? Here's something I've tried with leadership teams and I now use it as one barometer for self-awareness. I challenge them for the next week, or two, to look for situations where their interaction with someone could benefit from them leaning in to the other person's strengths. Said another way, observe your own behavior and the impact you have on another person. Then alter your behavior so the other person realizes a greater benefit from having had contact with you this week. Then I send them off. Those who struggle to find any scenarios where they could have changed their behavior for another’s benefit are those who may need to work on their self-awareness.
If you, as the leader, aren't self-aware (the single most valuable quality for a leader), all of the off-site retreats you can pack into your schedule aren't going to change your team's effectiveness.