Want to become a better leader? Great — that goal alone is a sign you’re on the right track. It means you care. Showing concern for success and well-being while creating an inclusive team environment is one of the most desirable behaviors in a manager, according to Google’s annual manager research.
But before attempting to embody qualities such as being an outstanding coach, an inspiring orator or a powerful decision-maker, it’s important to take a moment to introspect. Why? Because self-awareness allows you to fuel your growth as a leader, and, therefore, the growth of those around you.
Simply aiming to adopt new behaviors just because you’ve read about them in a book won’t yield the same results as gaining a deeper understanding of yourself and letting those insights inform how you carry yourself in the world.
When you know yourself well, you can make better decisions. You understand how you relate to others and what role you play in a team. You seek to complement your areas of improvement and build on your strengths. You can avoid the pitfalls of reactivity by understanding your automatic thoughts and behaviors. And you start shaping your unique, authentic style of leadership.
Here are six crucial things you need to understand about yourself to become a better leader. You’ll be surprised at how much of the journey really is an inside job.
1. Your strengths and areas of improvement
You’d be hard-pressed to find an amazing leader who isn’t well-aware of her strengths and areas of improvement. Sarah Robb O’Hagan, CEO of Exos and author of Extreme You, told NBC that some of her biggest career failures taught her to surround herself with people who have complementary skills:
“And that’s a really, really important learning to become the best version of yourself. You can’t do it all, and you don’t have naturally wide skills everywhere,” she says.
Are you amazing at coming up with out-of-the-box strategic solutions but kind of suck when it comes to tactical implementation? You’ll need a solid project manager to back you up. If you are great at dealing with others but could use help with complex spreadsheets, use your people skills to get an Excel whiz to support you.
2. Your motivations and desires
Getting very familiar with what drives you on a deeper level — think beyond hitting a work target and more along the lines of your vision and life values — can help you become a powerful leader.
Author and speaker Simon Sinek uses a framework he calls The Golden Circle to explain how legendary leaders like Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King were able to inspire others — and it’s all about the why not the how or the what.
According to him, the best organizations and teams know why they do what they do. So if you, as an individual and a leader, get clear on what motivates you to show up to work every day, you’ll be able to paint a compelling vision and get people on board with it.
3. Your energy and productivity
Becoming a better leader inevitably involves learning how to manage yourself and time productively. And it’s not only about having a jam-packed schedule to deal with but also being able to sustain emotional health and energy levels as you shoulder responsibility and manage crises.
So, what are the habits that help you get the most out of the 24 hours in a day? Do you thrive with more structure and planning or do you need a lot of flow and flexibility to be creative? Are there rituals that help you stay sharp and grounded? Understanding yourself on that front will help you step up as you lead others.
4. Your reactions under stress
On that note, it’s crucial to know how you react to stress and what potential negative reactions to look out for when you inevitably face challenges at work. For example, if you have a tendency to want to control and micromanage others when facing a lot of pressure, you’ll be able to remain aware and anticipate that natural reaction before acting on it and causing damage.
5. Your management style
Whether you’re more of a cheerleader or shine when running highly effective sprints, getting to know your management style is key as you aim to improve your leadership skills. It’s about building on your strengths and setting the tone with your coworkers so they know what to expect from you.
Plus, the bonus of honing your management style is that you start to build confidence in your unique abilities and stop trying to emulate other leaders based on what you think you should do — and confidence will definitely help you lead better.
6. How you communicate and relate to others
Becoming aware of the way you communicate and relate to others is one of the most important things you can do as a leader. There is sometimes a gap between what you intend to project and how things are perceived. This can affect both your relationships with your colleagues and the effectiveness of your team, as misunderstandings can erode trust and waste precious time.
The more you master your own understanding of the message you want to convey, and how to effectively convey it to specific people while using your EQ to do so, the more impactful of a leader you’ll become.