How to Know Yourself Better to Lead Others Well

AdVance Leadership » How to Know Yourself Better to Lead Others Well

Welcome to Friday 411, issue #020. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you’ll understand how a leader’s influence begins with knowing oneself.

1 Insight

Many leaders make the mistake of barreling over those they manage without first taking the time for self-management. A failure to know oneself is a failure of leadership.

Before you can effectively lead others, you must first lead yourself. Dee Hock, the founder of the Visa credit card said, “If you look to lead, invest at least 40 percent of your time managing yourself.”

But before you can lead yourself, you must know yourself. We once worked with an executive who had almost no self-awareness. He considered himself a warm and friendly person. He believed that he built solid relationships with his coworkers. In reality, he came across as angry, unfriendly, and belittling. None of his coworkers wanted to work with him, and his direct reports avoided him. He didn’t lead others well because he didn’t lead himself well. He didn’t lead himself well because he didn’t know himself.

A swarm of emotions may surround the prospect of knowing yourself. It’s important to understand that we aren’t talking about self-discovery as some philosophical or existential enlightenment. Nor are we talking about navel-gazing in which you examine every action you take, wonder why you did that, and what that action says about the meaning of the universe. As a leader, self-knowledge supports the goal of influence.

Reflection, Action, Influence

Developing self-knowledge within the realm of leadership is about more than self. The better you know yourself, the better you can lead other people. As a leader, getting to know yourself expands beyond personal reflection. The discoveries you make drive you to take action. Those actions affect the influence you have on others. Ultimately, you grow in self-knowledge so that you can grow in influence.

Many years ago, Garland attended a conference in Washington, DC, featuring multiple high-profile politicians. Between the large gatherings with keynote speakers, the participants were divided into smaller groups for breakout sessions. Right away, he noticed one of the men in his group stood out from the rest of the attendees. While everyone else was dressed to impress, he was disheveled. This man was wearing shorts and a t-shirt in a crowd of ties and power suits. While everyone else had neatly styled haircuts, this man’s hair looked like he had just rolled out of bed. The date of his last attentive shave was questionable.

During the first meeting, the group went around the circle introducing themselves. He introduced himself as Gary and told them he was a life coach. At that time, Garland had never heard of that profession. This was before life coaching was mainstreamed, so no one else understood what Gary did either. They asked him to elaborate.

He responded, “I help people discover why they exist and how to construct their lives around their purpose. I guide them to give voice to their dreams, stay focused on their goals, and overcome challenges that could prevent them from accomplishing their priorities.”

The group looked puzzled. How could this man who looked like a disordered mess possibly help people organize their lives to accomplish their priorities? It didn’t even look like Gary had enough self-awareness to know how he presented himself.

Gary then handed out his business card to the group. No one even looked at it. They all pocketed it with the full intention of throwing it away later.

Needless to say, Gary didn’t add a single client from that conference. In fact, it was difficult for any of his small group to give weight to his discussion contributions. As a result, his influence on the group was minimal. His simple action of neglecting his appearance had sacrificed his influence. It seemed as if Gary had given little thought to what his choice of clothing and lack of personal grooming habits would communicate about himself as a professed life coach.

Consider for a moment what Gary may have experienced from the conference if he had taken the time for reflection. He may have realized that he was dressed inappropriately for the occasion and that a bedraggled appearance would result in poor first impressions. He would have made the connection that the way he looked could destroy any opportunity he had to build trust with people and gain new clients. With this realization, Gary would have taken different actions and thus achieved greater influence, possibly long-term influence if anyone had hired him as their life coach. Instead, Gary’s negligence of self-knowledge ultimately resulted in a sacrifice of influence.

7 Ingredients of Self Knowledge

Self-knowledge is a lifelong craft. It’s not like one read-through of an informational book and filing it away on your shelf. Self-reflection must be a regular habit in order to continually understand who you are. Self-knowledge is more like perfecting a favorite dish. It starts with a recipe and improves with practice. The recipe for self-knowledge requires seven key ingredients.

Ingredient #1: Personality 

Your personality is typically what makes you distinctive. As such, you need to reflect accurately on your personality to effectively use it to influence others. Just as it’s impossible to see your physical reflection without a tool (like a mirror), it is also difficult to see your own personality reflected without a tool. The personality assessment market is saturated with helpful tools.


Ingredient #2: Strengths

The most common misconception about strengths is that they are simply things you are good at. Being good at something is only part of what makes something a strength.  Not only does a strength require natural ability, but also enjoyment. Only when ability and enjoyment are combined can one operate in a zone of flow, producing with ease and excellence. Only then can one feel strong.

Ingredient #3: Weaknesses

In the same way, weaknesses can be identified by feeling weak. You feel depleted when you do something because you don’t enjoy it or it inhibits success.

Ingredient #4: Passions

Passions are interests that you feel strongly enough about to sacrifice for. The best way to discern if an interest has evolved into a passion is to ask yourself these four questions.

Do you love to:

  1. Learn more about it?
  2. Participate in it?
  3. Recruit others for it?
  4. Pay a price to pursue it?

If the answer is “yes” to all four of these qualifications, you know it’s a passion.

Ingredient #5: Values

Values tend to sneak under the radar. But realize it or not, they are there. They are dictating your decisions and directing your behavior. Values are why you do the things you do. Values are the core ideas that drive your beliefs and actions. People can’t see your values. But they see the effects of your values through your decisions and behaviors.

Ingredient #6: Preferences

Preferences are different from values. Values are like the engine of your vehicle, propelling you to go in a certain direction. Preferences are like your GPS, representing where you would like to be, but not promising when or if you will actually get there. Preferences are your ideals.

Ingredient #7: Triggers

Triggers are others’ preferences or behaviors that irritate you. When someone does these actions, it really bothers you. Getting to the core of why others’ behaviors irritate you will help you understand yourself.

1 Action

Create a habit of growing in self-knowledge. Add the continual practice of reflecting on who you are so that your actions will influence others.


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