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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

How to Be Self-Aware for Success

I was shocked to find out recently what the #1 characteristic business school graduates lack when entering corporate America. Corporations surveyed stated that the #1 trait graduates lack is (get ready for this): self-awareness.

I raised my eyebrows when I read it because self-awareness is at the heart emotional intelligence and being in the Smart Zone. Self-aware people are more productive and self-aware organizations are more profitable.

Initially the term "self-awareness" might bring to mind the idea of meditation or even yoga. I like the way a recent Inc. magazine article defined self-awareness. It said, "Self-awareness is being conscious of what you're good at while acknowledging what you still have yet to learn. This includes admitting when you don't have the answer and owning up to mistakes." What does it look like to lack self-awareness?

Remember the coach from Oklahoma, Mike Gundy, who lost it? Click here to watch it.

Or the Miss Teen USA contestant from South Carolina? Click here to watch it.

At work, lack of self-awareness shows up in the following ways:

  • The CEO who has to appear "right" at all costs.

  • The boss who goes into a rage when the department doesn't meet monthly business goals.

  • The coworker who talks overly loud on the phone in his cubicle - disturbing everyone else.

  • The coworker who competes instead of cooperates.

  • The person who takes credit for others' efforts and blames others for mistakes.

  • The salesperson who talks too much - annoying the customer.

  • The new hire who is afraid to admit she doesn't know how to do something.

We've all lacked self-awareness at some time. I recently overcommitted to a project because I felt passionate about the cause but neglected to consider the amount of time it would take. I remember one time when I chewed out the mailman for not delivering my mail - unaware that it was because my car was parked in front of the mailbox interfering with his ability to do his job.

Emotions can get the best of us if we are not self-aware. Being able to manage your emotions is what helps you be more self-aware and apologize when appropriate. Below are 4 Smart Moves to improve your self-awareness (without doing yoga!):

  1. Use your gut: Loan officers must sense when a loan might go bad even when the numbers look okay. Recruiters have to make educated, but timely, guesses about which candidates will fit in best within an organization. Having a hunch starts pretty deep in your brain and actually creates a physiological response. When you think, "This just doesn't feel right" and get a stomach ache - that's your body's response to your hunch. Listen to it!

  2. Keep it real. Have an accurate sense of your own strengths and limitations. Being blind to your own problem areas can put your career and business at risk. The key is to learn from your mistakes, acknowledge your own faults without rebuking those who point them out and have an "overall awareness" of your limitations.

  3. Believe in yourself. People with high self-awareness are naturally confident. They exude charisma, are likeable and often inspire confidence in those around them. On the flip side, extreme lack of self confidence can show up as arrogance and brashness. Workers who believe in themselves achieve more because their belief motivates them to work harder and persist through challenges.

  4. Walk your "inner" talk. Know and focus on your personal values. In business it's called "social responsibility." Jeff Swartz, CEO of the shoemaker Timberland, provides an inspiring example of this in the September issue of Fast Company. (Click here to read the article.) If your #1 priority is "being a good person" or "being there for your children" it can be easy to lose sight of this during the workday when we have too much to do in a short amount of time. Since few of our daily work tasks pertain to what we value most it's easy to spend too much time on lower priority tasks. Focus on your values and you are more likely to accomplish what you consider most important.

Listen to your "inner talk" when making decisions to boost your own self-awareness. Over time a good internal dialog and being receptive to learning from your mistakes translates into the wisdom that can be seen when you are working in the Smart Zone.

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