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We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know
When I was 16, like a lot of 16-year-olds, I thought I had it sussed. At 21, after living a little and reading a lot, I realised how misguided my 16-year-old-self had been. So much so that I might as well have been living with my eyes closed. But then I fell into that same trap again; thinking that now I really had ‘grown up’ and was sufficiently ‘self-aware’. Which, at 21, I clearly wasn’t.
I’m now approaching 40, and, well, I still don’t have it sussed. But at least now I am more aware of this fact, and that makes a big difference!
This, of course, is part of the normal course of development for us human beings and you have probably experienced it yourself. Each few years, as we grow, we look back at our former selves and realise we weren’t as ‘smart’ or self-aware as we had thought.
One reason we tend to feel more self-aware than we actually are is that we forget we are constantly growing and evolving. We are not the same person at 16, 21, 30, or 65. At the same time, the world around us and our knowledge of it is also growing and evolving. If we can regularly reflect on and learn from both our internal experiences and the world around us (and how we interact with it), we will be able to increase our awareness and truly grow and flourish.
Another reason is that we sometimes forget the simple but powerful lesson that we (as individuals and a human race) don’t know what we don’t know!
Imagine if we kept this valuable concept in our minds at all times?!
As most of us are (hopefully) discovering through experience, becoming self-aware is not a journey with an endpoint.
There is always more to learn.
What is Self-Awareness?
Self-awareness is simply the capacity to observe ourselves – to pay attention to patterns within our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
“Self-awareness is simply the capacity to observe ourselves – to pay attention to patterns within our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.”
And it’s a skill that we all have, albeit to differing degrees.
The ‘conscious competence’ learning model or the hierarchy of competence, can be used to help us understand our different levels of awareness in terms of our knowledge, skills, behaviours, and attributes. Each of us may be at different levels in different areas of our lives and so we are always working through these levels in a continuous cycle.
The 4 Stages of the Hierarchy of Competence
(Conscious Competence Model)
Stage 1. Unconscious Incompetence (no self-awareness)
We don’t understand or know how to do something and don’t necessarily recognise the deficit. We may even deny the usefulness of the knowledge, skill, behaviour, or attribute.
Stage 2. Conscious Incompetence – (self-awareness but no development/growth)
Though we don’t understand or know how to do something, we do recognise the deficit, as well as the value of the new knowledge, skill, behaviour, or attribute in addressing the deficit. Simply being aware of our incompetence will allow us to take action, which will lead us to mistakes. By fixing those mistakes we start learning new skills.
Stage 3. Conscious Competence – (self-awareness with development/growth)
We understand or know how to do it. However, demonstrating it requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in its execution but it gets easier over time.
Stage 4. Unconscious Competence – (intuitive self-awareness with development/growth/mastery)
We have had so much practice with the knowledge, skill, behaviour or attribute that it has become ‘second nature’ or ‘automatic’ and can be performed easily without thinking. We will then usually go back to stage 1 to learn yet another skill or behaviour and continue the cycle.
Why is Self-Awareness Important for a Leader?
Silly question perhaps, but we can’t be good citizens, let alone good leaders without some up-to-date awareness of ourselves.
One way we can get to know ourselves and become more self-aware is by being curious and regularly reflecting on our experiences in the past and on our lives in the present.
Think for a moment …
Are you consciously aware of your values, behaviour, strengths, and passions?
Do you understand why you do the things you do? Or why you feel the way you feel?
Are you aware of the impact your behaviour and way of doing things has on others?
When we have a strong sense of self-awareness, we can lead authentically, with purpose, openness, and trust.
Taking time to reflect on ourselves can help us become better in everything we do and everything we are. It can help us notice and manage how we operate in different environments and with different people in order to be successful and flourish.
Assessing Your Self-Awareness
There are many exercises and assessments we can take advantage of to improve our own self-awareness and move up the pyramid, so to speak. Here I mention a few (see also the 5 questions below for more suggestions).
Perhaps you have taken personality tests such as Myers Briggs in the past and can remember the four-letter acronym assigned to you (ENFP, ISTJ, etc.).
These tests are insightful and help us become more self-aware of aspects of our personality in the moment. They are good for getting us to the level of ‘conscious incompetence’. We become aware but we don’t yet know how to take the next step to learn and benefit from this knowledge.
Think about the impact these tests have had on you. As a result of these, have you learnt and implemented appropriate strategies to help you in your personal or working life?
Have you progressed up the pyramid?
It’s important to invest some time (and perhaps money) in taking this initial knowledge further. Knowledge without action is meaningless. We must explore and connect with ourselves to examine what impact we have on ourselves and others around us.
“Knowledge without action is meaningless
The Social Styles for Versatility is a great assessment and programme to gain insight about your communication style and the styles of others. It gives you tools and strategies to help you recognise the communication preferences of others and make informed choices about how to best interact with them for more productive interactions and relationships (this is especially popular for sales teams). Social Styles training helps us get to the level of ‘conscious competence’ for our versatile communication with others.
One profiling tool and business development system I’ve seen make a huge impact on self-awareness in people’s career and personal lives is Talent Dynamics. It provides practical tools and personalised strategies to increase your productivity and fulfillment.
Whether you simply take the test yourself or get your entire team onto the development pathway, it has immediate value. In fact, the deeper you go into this, the more you can learn and grow in terms of self-awareness, understanding of and collaboration with others, versatility, finding your purpose, getting into flow, providing more value, building trust, recognising your particular leadership strengths, and much more.
It helps people (including myself and my team) get to ‘conscious competence’ level as well as bringing our ‘unconscious competencies’ or ‘natural strengths’ to the forefront, showing us how to really leverage these for maximum impact and value.
5 Reflection Questions to Help You ‘Update’ Your Self-Awareness
While I’m sure you are keen to increase your self-awareness, you may not be ready or don’t want to take any assessments right now. In this case, I welcome you to simply take a moment to reflect on yourself …
You probably see these seemingly obvious questions all the time, but, be honest, how often do you actually think about them? How often do you sit down, without distractions, and write out a few answers to these?
(I also have a little challenge for you at the end.)
1. Who am I?
It’s always good to start with this big one. When was the last time you asked yourself this question? It’s important to do it every now and then as the answer may change slightly as you grow and evolve. You may think about your roles (mother/father, wife/husband, manager, coach, friend), your demographics (female/male, 45 years old), and your characteristics (confident, kind, hard-working).
Make a note of some of the first words that come to mind to describe yourself and perhaps ask a few trusted friends, family members, or colleagues how they’d describe you.
Conducting 360 assessments or Johari window exercises are also great ways to see how you see yourself and how others perceive you. These exercises, guided by a skilled facilitator, can be used as a basis to build further awareness of yourself and others in a group.
2. What do I stand for?
This huge question is one we may forget to ask ourselves in the busyness of our daily lives. We get swept along in a constant wave of activity without much time for reflection.
What are my values? You may think about the ‘obvious’ values of honesty, trust, and respect, but can you go deeper than that? Which values are non-negotiable for you? Which values do you live by?
What is my purpose? As Simon Sinek says in his famous book of the same title, ‘start with why’ – that is, your overall life ‘why’ and then perhaps smaller yearly/monthly/project-focused whys. What makes a fulfilling life for you that you can be proud of?
What are my goals? When we are not clear about our ‘why’, it’s not surprising that many of us get caught up in chasing the artificial goals that our society and culture tell us are important (nice car, big house, a particular job title/status), but that are not meaningful or truly rewarding. Based on your values and purpose, what do you really want to achieve?
Your values and purpose help guide you in your daily life, decision-making, and goal-setting, so it’s important to spend some quality time on these. If they are not clear, how can you expect to be self-aware of your behaviour which is directly driven by them?
Professor Martin Seligman and his team at the University of Pennsylvania have some great tests you can take for free (while contributing to their research on positive psychology) on their Authentic Happiness website, such as the Meaning in Life Questionnaire and the Survey of Character Strengths.
3. What am I great at? (Actually)
You may have the skills on your CV memorised, but where did these words come from originally? And how often have you changed them over the years? We tend to get stuck using the same key generic words on our CVs (organised, conscientious, good problem-solver, excellent time management skills) to describe ourselves. These are often chosen to impress an interviewer or manager but how well do they really describe us and our unique skills?
Do you know what you are actually naturally great at and what makes you different from the hundreds of others who have the same generic words on their CVs?
You must become deeply aware of your natural strengths so you can build on them, leverage them and truly be the best you can be. When you are working according to your natural strengths you can start to work in flow and this is when you build trust and increase productivity exponentially.
As mentioned above, the Talent Dynamics profiling tool is really top of the bunch when it comes to assessing the natural talents and styles of individuals and teams and providing clear steps to increase your performance and fulfilment. Find out more in this free introductory e-guide.
4. What (really) drives me?
It’s not all just about what you’re good at of course. What are you passionate about? It’s important to be doing the things you love. The things that bring you joy. Your passions or deepest desires are, after all, the reason for working so hard to be better at what you do. Try to be specific. As well as your interests and past-times (fishing, playing the guitar, having a drink with friends), what are the general topics you are passionate about (sustainability, education, health and wellbeing, social justice).
To give you an idea, think about the common themes in the different work roles you’ve had – the things you just can’t help doing no matter what your job description (managing conflict and helping people, organising social events and bringing people together, coming up with innovative ideas/solutions, waste reduction and recycling initiatives, learning and sharing knowledge). Check out the UN sustainable development goals for inspiration if you’re stuck.
These passions will probably give you clues about your natural strengths as well. Pursue them as much as possible. Make quality time for them in your life. What’s the point of doing everything we do if we leave these right at the bottom of the list for ‘when we have time’?
See also Janet and Chris Atwood’s famous Passion Test for help discovering your passions.
5. What can I get better at or build a team to support me in?
Even though we may try to be super-heroes, inside we know we can’t all be good at everything and that we shouldn’t try. If we do, we will probably end up being mediocre in everything. We will be spreading ourselves too thinly. By having a better understanding of who we are, we can better understand what we need most from other people to support us in areas that we find more challenging.
When asked about our weaknesses in job interviews a lot of us go with the safe and recommended options that we feel will put us in the best light.
My confession: when I was younger and before I got to know my strengths and weaknesses a bit more, I admit that in interviews I often used the ‘I tend to be a perfectionist’ cliché, which, while true, was very generic and didn’t really give the interviewer useful information about what my specific weaknesses were in a business environment.
I realised later that the weakness question was so difficult for me because I didn’t even know what my specific weaknesses actually were! Or why they were my weaknesses.
So how about you? Are you aware of your real and specific weaknesses/challenges in terms of your everyday tasks and responsibilities? Areas that you can either try to develop or, better still, find the right people to support you in?
The things you are not good at are things that someone else will shine in. Why do a mediocre job when you can give that task to someone else who will deliver outstanding results? Knowing the areas you’re not so strong in, and finding people who can support you in those areas, is empowering and will help you build truly high performing teams.
So, those are my 5 questions for you. It’s valuable to spend time asking these big but important questions often and keep them clear in mind in everything you do.
Once you’re on top of keeping your own self-awareness as up-to-date as you can, you can help others to build their self-awareness so you have whole teams (and your organisation) working in flow and flourishing.
Try this little challenge ….
- Find a 30-minute slot each month in your calendar (perhaps first thing on a Monday morning, last thing on a Friday afternoon, or even at the weekend when you are more disconnected).
- Each month at this time, grab a sheet of paper and a pen – or even better get yourself a special notebook (I do this and love reading back what ‘past Louise’ has written. I learn from it again and again seeing new things each time).
- Ask yourself the above 5 questions, and others, and just brainstorm your thoughts and ideas. It doesn’t matter what you write. The important thing is that you are thinking and reflecting and bringing these important topics to the forefront of your mind for a short period each month.
By scheduling this in to your calendar you give your self-awareness and personal growth priority over your general busyness.
If you want a little guidance becoming more self-aware and helping others become more self-aware, get in touch.
We at Growing Organisations offer a variety of tools and programmes which help with self-awareness, for individuals like yourself and for teams and companies. One that I’m recommending here is the Talent Dynamics profile tool, which gives detailed insight into your specific natural talents. Unlike other tests, which simply tell you about your personality or put you in a box, this test shows you the roles, tasks, and ways of working, communicating, and leading others which are best for you (and helps you understand why you are weaker in other areas and how your strengths can sometimes become your weaknesses).
It gives you strategies and steps to increase your time spent working in flow and adding value. It helps you build more trust and shows you how to build a collaborative team around you to support you in the areas that are a challenge for you.
Some suggested further reading
- Team Dynamics, Unlock Your Potential (free downloadable e-guide, Growing Organisations)
- Flourish – Prof. Martin Seligman
- Start With Why – Simon Sinek
- Find Your Why – Simon Sinek
If you have any other recommendations to add to this list, please let us know!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louise Francis is our programme manager and a facilitator at Growing Organisations.
For more information on how you can create more self-awareness for yourself and your team and increase performance and fulfillment, contact the Growing Organisations team.