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Our up-and-coming executives are investing a great deal of time, effort and money to develop their leadership skills – so why do they ignore a key element that defines great leaders?

When employers and business schools are asked to nominate a leader’s most important capability, self-awareness usually tops the list.

Yet, when MBA students around the world were recently surveyed about what they valued most from their degrees, self-awareness placed last among 17 skills.

Instead, leadership was the most prized element of an MBA, followed by critical thinking skills, entrepreneurialism, negotiation skills and communications skills. Ironically, success is any of those areas is actually dependent on being self-aware.

Self-awareness is an ability to know yourself, your values and purpose and to understand how you appear to others.

They want to learn ‘soft’ skills

So it appears that these MBA students are missing a trick by under-estimating self-knowledge. They want to learn soft skills, but not self-awareness.

This also puts them at cross-purposes from their own leaders and teachers, who accept the link between self-awareness and success.

Self-awareness was rated the most important quality for leaders by the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council, as well as 72 executives surveyed by the Cornell School of Industrial and Labour relations and Green Peak Partners.

The Cornell study says a high self-awareness score is the strongest predictor of overall success.

“This is not altogether surprising as executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in categories in which the leader lacks acumen,” say the authors.

“These leaders are also more able to entertain the idea that someone on their team may have an idea that is even better than their own.”

Your most valuable asset is your personal identity

Coaching helps you understand how you see yourself, how others see you, and what that means for your ability to lead and influence others.

You need to understand who you really are, to whom or what you want to dedicate your service and how you are different from others in order to develop and control your most valuable asset – your personal identity.

Your personal identity (or leadership brand or executive presence) is the unique value others perceive you possess in your role.

It is the foundation of all you do: your professional behaviour, appearance, your networking, friend-making (and keeping), social media, messaging, emails, the space you inhabit and more.

Australian psychologist and researcher, Hugh Mackay, put it well in an article, entitled “The marketing of Brand Me”: “The desire to be taken seriously is perhaps the deepest and therefore the most easily frustrated of the many desires that drive us. We all need to be recognised, acknowledged, valued.

“We like to think we’ll be remembered after we’re gone. So it’s no wonder we take the question of personal identity so seriously.”

Four things to think about

1. How do you know you need help? You could benefit from coaching in situations such as if you have been asked to make changes to “step up” to the next level and you don’t know how; you have been promoted from a task-focused position to one that is people-focused; you have been passed over for promotion; have had some unfavourable feedback on your performance; or you simply want to invest in your own development as you aspire to enhance your capabilities in leadership.

2. What will coaching do for you? Coaching will establish goals, help identify what is holding you back and examine how you communicate and connect. It will support you through the development process and reinforce the positive changes.

3. What can you do on your own? Seek feedback from others if you have people you trust to be open and honest. Perhaps set up a “buddy system” to get reciprocal feedback on specific competencies.

4. What will happen if you do nothing? Nothing. Or things will get worse.


Best wishes,
Helen Tribe

About the author: Helen Tribe is an executive communications coach with Stephenson Mansell Group. Before joining SMG, she was Director of Tribe McFarlane Communications, a communications consultancy specialising in strategic planning, issues management, media, speech training and marketing.

Prior to establishing her own consultancy, Helen was Communications Director for Luna Park Reserve Trust, responsible for public and inter-government relations, media management, liaison with the Trust and project managing architects, artists and consent authorities.


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