Episode: 4 Practices to Become a Self-Aware Leader
Michael Hyatt & Megan Hyatt Miller
Michael Hyatt: You know the American television sitcom The Office? Well, it ran for nine seasons, and the show was a major success by almost any measure. It won multiple Emmys, a Golden Globe, more than a dozen other major awards. More than that, references to the show and its characters have penetrated workplace culture, just like Scott Adams’ Dilbert comics before them. Without a doubt, the key ingredient to the show’s success was Steve Carell’s hilarious portrayal of the lead character, Michael Scott.
Michael Scott: The fundamentals of business. The fun-da-mentals of business. Mental is a part of the word. I have underlined it, because you’re mental if you don’t have a good time. You have to enjoy it.
[End of video]
Michael Hyatt: The magic in the character was just how oblivious he was. Here’s Carell talking about Scott:
Steve Carell: I think he’s a man who clearly lacks self-awareness. And I’ve always said that if he even caught a glimpse of who he really is, his head would explode.
[End of video]
Michael Hyatt: Then there’s this:
Steve Carell: If you don’t know a Michael Scott, you are Michael Scott.
[End of video]
Michael Hyatt: We all love watching the character, but no one wants to work for him, let alone be him.
As a leader, Alan Mulally is best known not only for his successful tenure as CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes but also his stunning turnaround of Ford Motor Company. When he took the CEO job in 2006, Ford was plagued with troubles and bleeding cash by the billions. Along with other strategies, Mulally worked closely with his executives, encouraging honest communication, and within three years Ford was profitable again, and that was during the Great Recession, when General Motors was taking government handouts and still failing.
Fortune magazine put Mulally on its World’s Greatest Leaders list, and similar recognition came from Barron’s, TIME magazine, and other publications. But Mulally wasn’t always such a great leader. In fact, as a 25-year-old manager, his very first employee quit because he was such a terrible boss. “Why are you quitting?” Mulally asked the employee. “Because you’re driving me nuts,” the man answered.
Initially, Mulally was hurt, but a few weeks later he tracked the man down and asked him what it was about his leadership that drove him to resign. The truth was hard to hear, but according to organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich, who tells the story in her book Insight, Mulally never forgot that feedback. It turned out to be the alarm-clock moment that marked the beginning of his incredible journey as a leader. Mulally went from clueless to self-aware.
The biggest opportunity for improvement in business, at home, and in life is awareness, he says today. But what about your journey as a leader? Very likely, your level of self-awareness will be the determining factor in your success. A 2009 study by the business consultancy Green Peak Partners and Cornell University examined over 70 executives in several different industries. These leaders led companies from 50 million to 5 billion in annual revenue.
The researchers discovered high emotional intelligence was essential for top performance. In fact, they found that while most executive searches don’t flag self-awareness as a key trait, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success. It makes sense. While self-unaware leaders are hindered by their weaknesses, self-aware leaders know their weaknesses and build teams that compensate for them.
But here’s the problem. Most of us aren’t very self-aware. According to Eurich, 95 percent of people consider themselves aware (I mean, most of us do), but the real number is nowhere near that. She says it’s more like (get this) 10 to 15 percent. On a good day, she jokes, 80 percent of us are lying to ourselves about whether we’re lying to ourselves.
Well, after reviewing over 750 studies on the subject, Eurich identified two distinct kinds of self-awareness: internal and external. Internal self-awareness is about your values, your beliefs, your appetites, and emotional triggers. External self-awareness is about how others see you, and effective leaders know not only how they move through the world; they also know how others experience that movement.
Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt, and this is Lead to Win, a podcast to help you win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence. In this inaugural episode, we’re going to explore self-awareness, and I’m delighted to say that I’m here with my cohost, COO and eldest daughter Megan Hyatt Miller. Thanks for joining me, Megan.
Megan Hyatt Miller: Hey, great to be here with you.
Michael: This is so awesome to have you doing this with me. You are the one who actually suggested self-awareness. What is it about that topic that got you so excited?
Megan: Well, it’s the thing that I see in our team and in teams that we coach, through the entrepreneurs we lead and resource, that really comes up time and time again. When a team member or an aspiring entrepreneur or an executive doesn’t have self-awareness, they really get in their own way and very often without knowing it. It’s usually the reason people are promoted. It’s usually the reason people are fired. If you don’t have it, it will slow your growth in ways you can’t even imagine, and if you do, it will skyrocket your success.
Michael: Absolutely. I think the important thing in this show is to talk about how in the world could we get it. If it’s true that so many people don’t have it yet think they have it, how can you move from being unaware or clueless to self-aware and effective?
Megan: Well, so often in leadership we focus on the skills we need to develop, and we forget that you can never be talented enough in the skills that are relevant to your position to be truly successful. This is really the catalyst for your success, so I’m excited to dig into that today. As you mentioned, we are talking about self-awareness, and you actually have four specific practices we can use to become more self-aware and avoid the dreaded Michael Scott syndrome. Are you ready to unpack the first one of those for us?
Michael: Yeah, I am, but I have to tell you something funny first. I’ve always been a little self-conscious about this, wondering if anybody would ever figure this out. My middle name is actually Scott, so in a sense, I’m Michael Scott.
Megan: You are and you aren’t, thank goodness.
Michael: Yeah. Well, I’ve had my clueless moments as well.
Megan: Well, that’s probably true.
Michael: Okay. Let’s get into these practices. The first practice is know your symptoms. I had an executive who worked for me more than a decade ago, and it’s the weirdest thing, because he was somebody who reported to me, but in every meeting a couple of things happened.
First, he felt like he always had to have the last word. I would be clearly summarizing the meeting, bringing the plane in for landing, closing off with all of our conclusions and the summary, and then he had to say something, and it was usually a correction to something I had said. So that was the last word.
Or he would directly challenge me in meetings, just like he was a peer. Now I think I’m pretty collegial in terms of I invite input, and I certainly want to be collegial, and I see myself as a peer, but when you’re not a peer, you need to defer, in a sense, to the person who’s your superior. But he would never do that.
Finally, I walked into his office and said, “Look, this division only has room for one leader, and right now that’s me.” I said, “Do you understand me?” He kind of took a deep gulp and said, “Yeah, I get it.” It did improve after that, but I think he was completely oblivious to the fact that he was doing that. It was apparent not only to me but to everyone else, because other people had mentioned it to me.
But it was really irritating, and I found myself managing around him. I would just stop inviting him to meetings because he was so clueless that this happened repeatedly. It made me uncomfortable, it made everybody else uncomfortable, so it was just easier to leave him out, and that’s why I finally felt like I had to speak to him.
Megan: Wow. That’s a great story, and unfortunately one that I don’t think ever got corrected. According to research we’ve seen, leaders are especially susceptible to self-unawareness for two reasons. First (and this is a hard one to hear), power is proven to decrease empathy. One study conducted by Adam Galinsky of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management found that increased power can lead to a deceptive degree of self-assurance.
According to the study, power makes leaders prone to dismiss or, at the very least, misunderstand the viewpoints of those who lack authority. It found that many leaders anchor too heavily on their own perspectives and demonstrate a diminished ability to correctly perceive others’ perspectives.
Michael: What’s interesting about that, the story I just told a moment ago… One of the top strengths in this executive I was talking about was self-assurance. Self-assurance can be a big thing if it shows up as confidence, but if you dial that up a couple clicks and it becomes sort of that indomitable sense of “I’m never wrong, I’m always right, I have amazing insight,” it could become arrogance, and that’s how it could manifest itself here. You don’t have the empathy because you think you have all of the answers.
Megan: According to the research I’ve seen, leaders are especially susceptible to self-unawareness for two reasons. First, power is proven to create an inflated sense of self-assurance. One study conducted by Adam D. Galinsky of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management found that increased power can lead to a deceptive degree of self-assurance.
According to that study, power makes leaders prone to dismiss or, at the very least, misunderstand the viewpoints of those who lack authority. It found that many leaders anchor too heavily on their own perspectives and demonstrate a diminished ability to correctly perceive others’ perspectives.
Michael: Yeah. The story I was just telling you about this executive over 10 years ago who had this inflated sense of self-assurance… He was completely oblivious to it, but it was that very thing, which was, by the way, on StrengthsFinder as one of his top strengths. It was dialed up from confidence to where it got very close to arrogance and made him feel like his answers, his viewpoints, were the truth. Not just a perspective but actually the truth, like it was inerrant or immutable, like he had the only true perspective, and it really got in his way.
Megan: This can be particularly problematic with younger leaders or people who have risen to power quickly, where they haven’t had time to, frankly, experience enough failure to have the antidote of humility baked in there. So I think it’s something for people who are younger leaders, people like myself, frankly, to be perceptive about internally and just make sure we’re constantly checking that, because it can become a real problem quickly.
Michael: Well, I think it’s true for all leaders. Even at my age and with my experience, I think it’s imperative that I maintain a sense of humility that really all I have at the end of the day is my limited perspective. There are other perspectives. I certainly want to be confident, and I want to lead with confidence, but I don’t want to be so self-assured that it becomes arrogant and I begin to close down other perspectives. I want to be aware that other people bring much to the table.
Megan: Absolutely. The second reason leaders are particularly susceptible to un-self-awareness is that power also diminishes the mirror system in our brains. Psychology Today reported on a Canadian study that found an increase in power leads to a decrease in compassion. In fact, they said even the smallest bit of power shuts down that part of the brain and the ability to empathize with others. That’s a scary thing to think about, especially in our world today.
Michael: It is scary, because if you go back to the leader you were talking about, who rises to power quickly and forgets or maybe didn’t experience the failures that bring the humility and bring the compassion, that’s something also to cultivate. If you have a coworker or a colleague who’s really struggling with something…
If you’re going to be effective as a leader, you have to have the self-awareness that includes the compassion to see their struggle, to acknowledge it, and to be aware enough of the fact that you may be struggling in a different area one day, but they’re struggling with that on that particular day, but to maintain the compassion.
Megan: And remember that the people you’re leading are human. That’s easy to forget.
Michael: That’s right. Last I checked.
Megan: Last I checked. All businesses are filled with humans for the most part.
Michael: Okay, so how can you tell if you’re one of those leaders who lacks self-awareness? This would be hugely helpful if we had some kind of barometer or some kind of way to be able to take somebody’s temperature and say, “Yep, you’re lacking in self-awareness.” As it turns out, I think there are at least four symptoms. So let’s talk through those.
The first symptom is people frequently seem irritated with you in meetings, and you don’t know why. Pay attention. If people are seeming irritated and you’re thinking, “Did they just have a bad day?” and yet that shows up again and again, maybe it’s you. That could be a clue that you’re not self-aware.
Megan: Right. One of the things to help with that is notice people’s body language, their tone of voice, their pacing of the conversation, how the agenda is flowing, all those kinds of things. It’s really a lot about paying attention, which I know we’re going to talk a little bit more about later, but when you’re doing this self-analysis, that’s one of the things to ask. “What’s going on in the meetings when I’m present?”
Michael: That’s one of the problems when you get too self-assured. You’re thinking more about yourself than the environment and the people around you, and you miss clues when that happens.
Michael: The second symptom is that people are working around you or leaving you out of meetings and conversations. They don’t involve you voluntarily. If you feel like you’re being left out, it might be a good opportunity for introspection and to ask yourself the question, “Why am I not being invited to these meetings? Why does it feel like people are managing around me? Why am I being left out?”
Megan: The right answer would not be to push to be included in those meetings. It might be actually to ask someone, “Hey, I sense this. I feel like I’m not being invited to things. What’s going on there?” It takes some courage to do that, but you could get some real insight that would be helpful.
Michael: Absolutely. The third symptom is you have troubled relationships with colleagues most people seem to love. If you’re the only person who has a problem with that person everybody else really likes and enjoys being around, maybe you’re the variable. Humility would demand that level of self-awareness to say, “Maybe I’m the problem, not the other person.”
Megan: It’s like wherever you go, there you are.
Michael: Exactly. The fourth symptom is your staff never seems excited or enthusiastic. I mean, why would they? Working for a self-unaware leader is draining. It’s just not motivational. You feel diminished. You feel less than what you could be when you’re around them. That’s the person who’s always right. They’re not the compassion, which we talked about, or the empathy, and there’s nothing to get excited about. You don’t feel like you’re playing on a team with anybody who really has concern for you.
Megan: Right. People just feel shut down when they’re around you. You know, as you were talking about these symptoms, I thought, “Wow! If people would do this diagnostic on themselves…” It’s like when you have some weird medical thing going on and you get on WebMD and try to see what your symptoms mean and whether you are dying or not.
If you would go through these symptoms as a diagnostic for yourself on a regular basis as a leader, it would not only keep you out of so much trouble, where you’re in a situation like the guy you mentioned, in somebody’s office being reprimanded, but it would give you such an edge in success in your career that would be incredible, because you would always be checking in. “Is there anything I need to be aware of? Are any of these things in play?” and it would be a huge advantage.
So as you listen to those symptoms, do any of them sound familiar to you? Even if they don’t fit you, perhaps they fit someone you’ve worked with before or may even work with right now. Yikes. That was definitely true for Mandi Rivieccio, one of the writers on this show.
Mandi Rivieccio: Early in my career, I faced a tough situation. As a part of company-wide staff cuts, I was required to lay off a member of my team, and for any leader, that’s the absolute worst. Nobody wants to have to let someone go. Surprisingly enough, I wound up selecting one of the highest performers in my department. I know that sounds bizarre, but it was ultimately the right call for us.
You see, this person was a great performer. He would frequently crush the goals I set for him, exceeding them by 20 or 30 percent, which was amazing, but he carried an angst and negativity about him that had started to adversely affect the tone of the department as a whole. You would see him walk into a staff meeting, and it was as though the enthusiasm in the room was deflated by the negative comments he would make.
I don’t think he woke up in the morning wanting to knock the wind out of the sails of all of his coworkers. He just had a mind that was naturally wired to see the pitfalls and, frankly, wasn’t aware of how powerful the way he communicated about those pitfalls was when it came to diminishing the morale of his coworkers. Even after addressing the issue with him, he persisted in it, because it’s what came the most naturally to him.
At the same time, I had another team member who was more of an average performer. She would usually achieve the goals I set for her, but honestly, her greatest value came in the fact that she took a posture of encouragement to the members of the team around her. She was always rooting on her coworkers, and even when we were given a challenging assignment, she would be the first to say, “Guys, I know this is tough, but we’re going to get it done.” Then she would go make us all a pot of coffee. She had such an uplifting effect on everyone on the team.
When I sat down to make this tough decision, I realized that even though the individual contribution of that first employee was stronger, what was ultimately in the best interest of the department as a whole was keeping on the second. The reason was that not only was she giving us a solid individual performance, but she was elevating the performance of everyone around her with this infectious enthusiasm.
So that’s how I came to make that really difficult decision to let go of that high performer. As hard as it was, it was ultimately the right decision. The performance of the department actually got better as a result of finally eliminating that negative influence. The whole situation showed me just how powerful it can be to take ownership of our emotions, and it also showed me that that process really begins by cultivating an awareness of the way in which our attitude is influencing the people around us.
Megan: Okay. You’ve talked about the first practice to go from being a clueless leader to a self-aware leader, which is to know the symptoms. Let’s talk about the second practice.
Michael: The second practice is to do a self-inventory. Half the battle is waking up and becoming aware, and that can be done by becoming conscious of the way our behaviors impact those around us. I spoke earlier of the metaphor of a boat leaving a wake, and that’s what you have to be aware of. “How am I impacting people?”
I think sometimes we’re not aware of how our words, how our body language impacts other people. I’ll give you an example. I remember years ago sitting in a financial review when I was the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, and I had an executive consultant, Ilene. I’ve referred to her in a lot of my writings. She was hugely helpful to me.
At the break, she came up to me and said, “Are you angry this morning?” I said, “No, I’m feeling fine.” She said, “Well, you might want to have a conversation with your face, because your face looks like you’re mad. I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but it’s very intimidating to these people who are trying to make a presentation.”
I said, “No. How I feel is I’m curious. I’m interested. I sometimes kind of feel proud of them. I’m excited about what’s happening in the company.” She said, “You have to get this to your face. Your face needs to telegraph that, because it will really move the conversation forward and build people’s confidence, not destroy it.” That was huge for me and, I think, huge for our company.
Megan: That is a huge idea. One of the things I talk about with the leaders who are under my jurisdiction here at Michael Hyatt & Company is about the idea that you’re responsible for what you communicate, not what you mean or intend. Whatever you think you’re communicating is not nearly as important as what you’re actually communicating, both through your words, your body language, your actions…all those kinds of things, and that’s a big part of self-awareness. I think our society and modern technology seem really structured to keep us asleep more than ever. Don’t you think?
Michael: Yeah, because I think with smartphones, laptops, and other technologies, oftentimes, especially in meetings, leaders are focused on what’s happening on their smartphone. That’s what has their attention, not the people in the room. You see this at dinner all the time. Families are out. Dad or Mom is on their smartphone. They’re not paying attention to the kids. It’s very easy, if you’re not careful, to become self-unaware and be just oblivious to what’s going on around you.
Megan: Not only that, but we lack practice in human interactions. It used to be that every communication you would have with someone would be in an in-person meeting or have some kind of a personal connection. Now so much of it is virtual or mediated through technology that I think many of us have lost the fine art of communication and, therefore, self-awareness, because we don’t get the kind of feedback in an environment like Slack, which we use in our company a lot, or other technological solutions… We just don’t get that kind of human feedback that helps us develop the skills of self-awareness.
Michael: Yeah, that’s a good point. In his famous book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes from the perspective of an elder demon advising a novice tempter about the best way to thwart a human patient. Among his most sinister advice is the insistence that he should never let the human pause to reflect. He says, “Your business is to fix his attention on the stream [of immediate sense experiences]. Teach him to call it ‘real life’ and don’t let him ask what he means by ‘real.’”
Megan: Whoa. That’s intense, and we live in that time more than ever.
Michael: Yeah, totally.
Megan: The truth is self-awareness is not a natural skill for many people anymore. Maybe it used to be more so than it is now, but it’s not. Fortunately, however, you don’t have to just say, “Well, I’m not that good at it.” You can actually develop this as something you can become good at, and there are many assessment tools that can help you wake up to yourself.
One of them is the StrengthsFinder test, which we really like. We use that a lot in our business. It’s one of the ways we celebrate the strengths in our individual team members, but it’s also a way… We don’t talk about this probably as much as we should, but you can go to the bottom of that list of 34 strengths and see where your real blind spots are, and that’s something to be aware of too.
Michael: I know. It’s embarrassing. What’s your top strength?
Megan: My top strength is futuristic.
Michael: Really? Why did I think it was relator?
Megan: Well, because it kind of switched lately. Relater is my number two.
Michael: You relate to people in the future very well.
Megan: That’s right. But my bottom one is adaptability.
Michael: That’s my bottom one too.
Megan: Right. So we need to be really aware of that.
Michael: Yeah, we’re one inflexible company.
Megan: Yeah, although actually we’re not. We’ve become not, but I think that’s something we’ve worked at. Another test is the Myers-Briggs test, which is a really classic personality test that’s used widely that we like a lot.
Michael: What is your Myers-Briggs profile?
Megan: I am an INFJ. We comprise less than 1 percent of the population, which I’m a little bit proud of, truth be told. What are you?
Michael: I’m an INFJ too. You knew that.
Megan: I did. You didn’t always think you were, though.
Michael: Well, I used to think I was an INTJ, but when you have five daughters, the thinking moves to feeling, as it turns out, because I spent a lot of time listening to my daughters as teenagers.
Megan: You’re a really good listener, by the way.
Michael: Thank you. That moved me.
Megan: The other test we love and rely heavily on for hiring in our company and positioning people within their strengths is called the Kolbe A Index. Why don’t you talk a little bit about that and why we love it so much?
Michael: We love this because this basically talks about how people strive, which is the language of Kathy Kolbe, but it means how we initiate work. There are some people who like to initiate work… It’s called a fact finder, somebody who likes to go out and do a lot of research before they come to any conclusion or take any action. Then there’s somebody who’s a quick start, which I am and which you are. Basically, we’re just like ready, fire, aim. Just do something, and we’ll figure it out along the way.
Then there’s follow-through. Follow-through is somebody who likes to have a process. They like to have an outline. They like to have a plan, get it all put together on paper before you take action. Then there’s the implementer one, which is, for me, the most difficult one to understand, but these are people who basically like to have a concrete sense of what needs to happen, to feel it, taste it, smell it.
Megan: Very often they’re tactile, sensory-oriented, concrete world-oriented.
Michael: But as I said, and I gave it away, we’re both high on the quick start, so we like to act and then figure out what we’re doing.
Megan: Right. But we’re aware of that, and we know how that can drive our team crazy if we’re not careful.
Michael: Which is kind of the point we’re trying to make here. All of these things create self-awareness, not only to your strengths but also, even more importantly, to your weaknesses. You can see where your tendencies go, where you go in stress or where you go when you’re not healthy, and you can take corrective action.
Megan: That brings us to our favorite test or diagnostic tool, which is called the Enneagram. We love this one. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
Michael: This is one I read about probably about 10 years ago and did some initial exploration, but really until I got to be really good friends with Ian Cron, who happens to be a resident of Nashville where I live, did I read his book The Road Back to You and got really intrigued in my conversations with him about this, because I saw the potential of this as a leader.
In summary, it’s an ancient personal development tool that has recently been used by Sony, Adobe, HP, Toyota, Motorola, even the Oakland A’s. It basically details nine basic personality types, achiever, helper, loyalist, challenger, and so on, and it shows us where we fall as individuals. The main thing I like about it is that it shows us the pitfalls of your type and how to navigate around them so they don’t keep you stuck. So no more getting in your own way.
Leaders have to know what drives them, and it’s critical to know why we do what we do. For instance, of the nine types, I’m a 3 on the Enneagram, and a lot of executives and entrepreneurs are. That’s the achiever. This defines my life. Interestingly, on StrengthsFinder, achiever is my number-one strength. But it’s also called the performer, and performance can dominate my life if I’m not careful.
In fact, one of the things about people who are Enneagram 3 is that they can perform to exhaustion. They can’t turn it off. They become workaholics. I’ll tell you, for the first decade and a half of my career that really defined me, and it almost cost me my most important relationships.
Megan: I love the Enneagram too as a leader, because it helps to coach my team members on where they have opportunities for growth. The other tools we mentioned, for the most part, are static, which are helpful, but they measure where you are and don’t really provide opportunities to grow. That’s not really the purpose of them. The Enneagram not only helps you understand who you are now but who you are when you fall into a place that’s less healthy and what you can really become, and I love that, because that’s real life. We all run the range.
Michael: And it gives you a path to move from that unhealthy version to the healthy version.
Megan: Absolutely. Name of the game. Before we continue our conversation on self-awareness, I want to pause for just a minute to talk about a new resource you’ve created to help guarantee that we grow as leaders. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Michael: Yeah. I’m so excited about this new product. It’s called Leader Box, and it’s essentially leadership development that comes in a box. It’s a monthly curated reading experience designed to maximize your time, grow your leadership, and accelerate your results as a leader. It delivers personal and professional development to your door, helping you get through two books a month in just 30 minutes a day.
Megan: That is so important, because we’re all just so busy. We know that reading is vital to our continued growth as leaders, but there are so many books out there competing for our attention that it can be challenging just to decide what to read, let alone find the time to read the books and then apply those lessons to our businesses. It can be overwhelming fast.
Michael: Exactly. And that’s where Leader Box comes in. My team and I have a combined experience (get this) of over 50 years in the book-publishing industry. That’s a lot, and we’re leveraging all that know-how to bring you the most valuable books each month, the ones that are really going to move the needle in your life and business, in a curated, subscription-based service. Two books, custom activation guides, and more will arrive on your doorstep each month.
Megan: Just to say it again, you can get through this in 30 minutes a day, which is crazy. That’s a lot of books to read in a year in 30 minutes a day.
Michael: And actually, it’s only 21 days of the month. We give you the weekends off.
Megan: Okay, so that happens in the activation guide, so talk a little bit about what is in those.
Michael: This includes a 21-day reading plan, executive book summaries, action steps, a list of related resources, plus my proprietary Book Insights Framework to help you quickly internalize the key concepts. It’s an easy complete subscription that allows you to automate your growth in just minutes a day.
Megan: I love this solution, because I think it solves a very real need for leaders who are committed to personal growth and professional growth but need to achieve it as quickly as possible. I mean, come on. We don’t have time to sit around for hours every day like we’re professional students. Right? Plus, unlike so many subscription services, you’re offering the option to cancel at any time.
Michael: Yeah, that was a big decision for us, but we wanted to take all the risk out so that leaders can get the development tools they need without having to worry about being locked in if it’s not right for them.
Megan: So for those who are interested, where can they find out more?
Michael: Well, I thought you’d never ask. You can subscribe now at leaderbox.com, and I’ll encourage you to do that today so you don’t miss the cutoff for the next box.
Megan: Yeah, that’s important, because each box is only available for one month, and there’s no way to get your hands on them after that. Right?
Michael: That’s true. The books in the activation guide this month are great, and I don’t want you to miss out, so subscribe now.
Megan: Let’s dive back into our discussion on self-awareness. The second practice was to take a self-inventory. Talk about the third practice.
Michael: The third practice is dedicate time to reflection.
Megan: Reflection is really essential to self-awareness. We all know that line from Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Taking time to reflect provides a wealth of insight that would otherwise go untapped, and this is particularly true in our fast-paced culture right now. Don’t you think?
Michael: Yeah. I think very few of us actually do this, to just kind of push the “pause” button on the recording system of our lives and take time out to think about what’s transpired and where we’re going, to be aware of where we are in the bigger story.
Megan: Since this doesn’t really come naturally to most of us anymore, you have three daily activities you recommend for reflection. Right?
Michael: Yes. First, set aside the necessary time. This has to be part of your morning ritual or part of your evening ritual. Harry Kraemer is a clinical professor of strategy at the Kellogg School and the former CEO of multibillion-dollar healthcare company Baxter International. Reflection is key for him. He says, “The reason many, many people have trouble balancing their lives is that they have not been self-reflective enough to figure out what they’re trying to balance.” I totally resonate with that.
He says that self-reflection doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In fact, he advocates for just 15 minutes a day. He suggests eight prompts to make it easier, and here are four on his list that really strike me. “What am I proud of that I did today? How did I lead people? How did I follow people? And if I lived today over again, what would I have done differently?”
Megan: I love those, and that reminds me of the weekly review exercise we have in our Full Focus Planner, our physical planner tool we created recently. I find that when I do that exercise on Sunday evenings or sometimes on Friday before I leave the office, it really helps me to reflect on areas I need to improve or just to kind of take stock of how things are going instead of just speeding from one thing to the next.
Michael: This is one of the best techniques for reflecting: to ask yourself poignant questions. In fact, that brings me to my second activity, which is to take up journaling. I’ve been journaling every day for a bunch of years, and I also use a daily list of questions to prompt my reflection. Coincidentally, there are eight on my list too. Let me just give you a few of them. “What lessons did I learn yesterday that I don’t want to forget?” Usually, I distill the lesson down into a sentence or two.
“What am I thankful for right now?” That, for me, is usually a series of bullets to give me the perspective of gratitude, to be aware that even when I suffer a setback the day wasn’t a total loss. Probably something good happened that I could be thankful for. “What did I read today?” In my own practice, I read the Bible every day, and then I like to ask myself this question. “What stood out to me in my reading?” So those are just some of the ways I practice journaling.
Megan: People are probably wondering whether you do this journaling in a physical book or whether you do it in some other way. Can you share about that?
Michael: I can. Now I love analogue solutions; in other words, paper journals. You mentioned the Full Focus Planner. I use that for my daily planning and so forth, but I use a digital journal called Day One. I’ve been using it now for about seven years. I absolutely love it, and I love it for two reasons. First, I’m able to drag photographs into it. I try to take a picture every day that reminds me, when I look at it a year from now, of what transpired today.
We did that photo shoot yesterday. We took a bunch of pictures, and these are not the pictures the photographer took but pictures of us being in this environment where our pictures are being taken. So I dragged a bunch of those into my journal today, and I talked about the photo shoot, and obviously, now I have a visual representation of what transpired yesterday.
Megan: Almost like the Facebook Memories.
Michael: Exactly. That’s exactly what it’s like. The second thing I love about it, and this is a new feature that Day One introduced. By the way, I have no affiliation with this company. I just love the product. They have a feature called “On This Day.” Now this is part of my morning ritual. I read what transpired on this exact day several years past.
Today, I had entries for three different years on this exact day, and it’s incredible to read that, because you start seeing familiar patterns crop up, and you start saying, “You know, I really have a problem with this that I need to address.” There’s one particular thing I’ve been wrestling with, and seeing this is not the first time I’ve done it is helping me head it off at the pass and kind of cure the problem.
Megan: That’s so valuable. I love that.
Michael: Super valuable.
Megan: So talk about number three.
Michael: The third I suggest is that you practice some kind of mindfulness or meditation. It’s really about slowing down and giving undivided attention to the present. Daily meditation is a great help in cultivating mindfulness. Another word for that might be self-awareness, just being aware of what’s transpiring around you. Why don’t you talk about it a little bit?
Megan: Well, I was explaining this to somebody on my team just the other day, and I was saying that the beauty of any kind of mindfulness practice, and there are all kinds of great apps and resources for this… It teaches you to put a pause between the stimulus and the response. There’s a little moment where you can experience yourself almost like outside of time and kind of perceive how others are perceiving you and make a choice about how you want to act rather than being on autopilot.
So besides all the great stress relief benefits and things like that, in terms of self-awareness it teaches you to be in the present moment and to pause. In fact, our team at Michael Hyatt & Company recently took a month-long mindfulness challenge at the urging of our friend Ian Cron. Ian is a psychotherapist and Enneagram expert and the host of the popular podcast, one of our favorites, Typology.
He suggested that we try a month of meditation and mindfulness exercises, and afterwards, my staff reported many benefits, including reduced anxiety, restored peace and perspective, and greater self-awareness. Ian suggested another great practice we used in our month of mindfulness that has really stuck with us, and I’ll let him explain a little bit about that to you.
Ian Cron: Every morning, I make sure I start the day with a 20- to 25-minute mindfulness practice or what some in the Christian tradition call centering prayer. Now why is this important? Because we want to be people who are living wide awake, here in the present moment, and actively aware of what God is doing in the present moment.
I have a little contemplative practice I came up with that really, really helps me. The acronym for it is SNAP. What does that mean? Well, S stands for stop. Every couple of hours, a notification comes up on my iPhone, and it reminds me to take time to stop for two or three minutes to give my full attention to God and to what’s happening in my life at that precise moment.
That’s not as easy as it sounds. Everything in our culture militates against our stopping, but it’s terribly important. The way I do it is I take two, three, four deep, deep breaths and simply come back to what’s happening in the present moment. I get out of my head. I get out of my thoughts. I get out of my plans. I just come home to myself and to the presence of God in this moment.
Next step, I notice. I simply notice what’s going on. I look around me to see what’s happening in the environment, what others are doing, how I might be relating to what’s going on in the environment around me, and I just notice. I do it without judging, without evaluating, without trying to name it or to fix it. I’m just noticing, almost like a disinterested observer, what’s going on.
The next step I take is I ask. It’s a little bit of self-inquiry. I love what someone else calls it, which is a sacred pause. In the ask moment, what I do is I ask myself at least three questions. One is “What am I believing right now?” There’s a verse in the Bible, “As a person thinketh, so he becomes.” Our thoughts dictate, in many ways, the people we are in the moment. I ask myself, “What am I believing right now?” It’s amazing how powerful that question is.
You may be believing in the moment “I’m a failure” or “I’m never going to make this deadline, and it’s going to be the end of the world.” I just ask myself “What am I believing?” Then I ask myself, “Is it true?” Again, a very powerful question. Is it really true I’m a failure? Is it really true that it’s going to be the end of the world if I miss this deadline? Is it really true? Then I ask myself, “Who would I be if I let go of that belief right now and believed something different, something truer than what I’m believing right now?”
The last step is pivot. Sometimes I prefer to call it prayer. In that moment, what I do is I decide, “Gosh, could I believe something different right now or approach life differently than I am right now?” I just have freedom to make choices when I’m not in auto-self, when I’m living mindfully. I can tell you it has made a terrific difference in my life, and I promise that SNAP could make a terrific difference in yours as well.
Megan: So that was the third practice: dedicate time to reflection. Now we’re at the fourth practice. Tell us about that one.
Michael: The fourth practice is ask your inner circle. Okay, guys. Now it’s time to be brave. Most of us thrive on praise and affirmation but avoid criticism, and yet criticism is the one thing, particularly if it’s constructive and particularly if it’s people who love us and are familiar with us, that can really move the needle for us and help us become more self-aware.
Megan: Absolutely. Shame is often the culprit for why we don’t ask for help and why we stay in a place of a lack of self-awareness. Shame inflates our response to criticism. It’s almost like we perceive things as being more harsh than they actually are or more personal than they actually are. It makes us unable to confront our own shortcomings. Here’s the truth: you are an imperfect leader. I’m an imperfect leader. That’s okay. The goal is not perfection. It’s just growth and progress.
Michael: That’s right. And we don’t need to pretend that we’re perfect.
Megan: Right. You have to give yourself permission to face your shortcomings in order to improve. This is essential but difficult feedback. Your inner circle knows you the best, which makes their feedback invaluable. At the top of the show we told you the story of Alan Mulally. His discussion with his previous employee is an excellent example of this. Man, he was so brave to go back and ask that guy, because you know it wasn’t going to be good news, whatever was said. It wasn’t easy for that person to provide the negative feedback to his leader, but it was clearly invaluable for Alan.
Michael: Yeah, that’s right. Here’s how to make your team feel safe in sharing that information with you. Typically, people don’t give you the honest truth because they’re afraid of the consequences.
Megan: Especially if they report to you.
Michael: That’s right. And if you’re their leader, it’s your responsibility to make them feel safe. You have to create a culture of felt safety for constructive criticism. My friend Joel Manby calls this a culture where it’s safe for dissent. You can disagree with the leader. You can criticize the leader. You’re not going to be punished based on that.
Recognize that your employees may have worked in terrible cultures before and may have learned some bad habits as a result of that. Then conduct an annual leader review, just like you would an employee review, using a tool like SurveyMonkey that allows for anonymity. By the way, when I do performance reviews, I always make it kind of bilateral. It’s not just me reviewing the person who reports to me, but it’s an opportunity for them to review my leadership as well.
But ask for feedback regularly. Frame the conversation positively. “What can I do to lead you better?” as opposed to “What are the things I’m doing that are driving you crazy?” which, by the way, that might be an informative conversation to have, but I would try to keep it positive by talking about “What can I do to be a better leader?” “What am I missing?” rather than “What am I doing wrong?”
Megan: I had an experience actually this week where somebody on my team shared something I was doing unconsciously that was really creating an environment of self-doubt and a negative, critical nature in the air that was a total blind spot. It was such helpful feedback when I got it that I initially kind of bristled at in my own mind, but I had the benefit of doing some meditation and mindfulness, so I had that little pause that helped me stop for a second, and I thought, “You know what? His input is, first of all, dead-on right, and second of all, will help me to lead better.” I’m so glad I was able to listen to it.
Michael: That brings up another important point. When somebody like that who works for us gives us that kind of constructive criticism, we need to affirm it, because we’re going to get more of what we affirm. If we kind of bristle or resist, if our body language communicates in any way that that’s not acceptable or we’re offended or hurt by it, that’s not going to encourage that behavior. We need to welcome that and affirm their courage for bringing it up.
Megan: Yes, absolutely, because it does take courage. All right. Today we’ve covered four practices to increase our self-awareness as leaders. First, know the symptoms. Second, do a self-inventory. Third, dedicate time to reflection. Fourth, ask your inner circle. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, you can get the show notes and a full transcript online at leadto.win.
As we come in for a landing, I’d like to acknowledge that increasing our awareness of our faults and flaws can be discouraging, but it’s a bit like medicine. It may have a bitter taste at first, but ultimately it makes us well. Having an awareness of your shortcomings allows you to improve and will ultimately make you a more intentional, more excellent leader. Any final thoughts today?
Michael: Yeah. I was just thinking that there is nothing more foundational as a leader than self-awareness. I don’t care how much experience you have, how many skills you’ve acquired, what your education level is, how many books you’ve read on leadership. If you don’t have self-awareness, none of that matters. This is where it begins.
Megan: I totally agree. Before we close, I want to remind you about Leader Box. It’s automated personal development in a box. Check it out at leaderbox.com.
Michael: Thanks again for joining us on Lead to Win. If you like the show, please tell your friends and colleagues about it, and also please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts.
Megan: Our producer is Nick Jaworski.
Michael: Our writers are Joel Miller and Mandi Rivieccio.
Megan: Our recording engineer is Matt Price.
Michael: Our production assistants are Mike Burns and Aleshia Curry.
Megan: And our intern is Winston.
Michael: We invite you to join us for our next episode, where we’ll be discussing three behaviors of high-growth leaders and explaining how you can avoid career stagnation. Until then, lead to win.