Few skills are as critical for a leader as that of accurate self-knowledge. I stress the word accurate because all of us have a view of ourselves but that view is not always accurate. When it is not accurate we often get in the way of ourselves.

What does self knowledge entail? First it means that we know what our strengths are. Each of us has two to three strengths where we shine and everything else is a weakness. If we can identify our strengths we have also by default identified our weaknesses (everything else). Humility is knowing how God designed us and giving him the credit. And, understanding how badly we need others to compensate for our weaknesses.

Second, self knowledge means that we understand the shadow side of our strengths. Every strength has a shadow side. Three of my five strengths identified by Strenghfinders are strategic, maximizer and achiever. They are a powerful combination. However, their shadow side can include a lack of patience and irritation when others don't move as quickly as I would want them to, or "get it" when the answer seems so simple.

Understanding our shadow side allows us to manage it. We cannot change how we are wired but we can manage our attitudes and behaviors so that our shadow side does not impede our leadership by negatively impacting those around us.

This goes to the third area of self knowledge - understanding how we are perceived by others and how our wiring impacts them. One of the ways that leaders get themselves into trouble is when they don't understand how others perceive them. They may think that they are decisive, for instance but others read them as arrogant. They may want a harmonious relationship with everyone but it is read as lacking clarity because different things are said to different people in order to please them.

The gap between our perception of ourselves and others perception of us is what we need to be aware of. Often we can learn something from testing where both the strengths and shadow side are identified which can give us clues to how others might see us. Feedback from others whom we trust is also a critical factor which means that we must be open and non-defensive about that feedback. The smaller the gap between our perception of ourselves and others perceptions of us, the better we can lead.

The fourth area of self knowledge is understanding our vulnerabilities to sin and when they are most likely to show up. We are vulnerable in different ways and different circumstances and a keen awareness of those ways and circumstances allows us to put in place safeguards to keep us from the "roaring lion that seeks to destroy us." 

Self knowledge requires introspection and a desire to understand ourselves fully. Some won't go there because it makes us uncomfortable. Henry Nouwen said that the reason many of us don't like silence is that it is in that place we see the scaffolding of our lives the most clearly - and there are parts of that scaffolding that we don't like. Yet, the path to health is understanding our dishealth as much as our strengths. 

For leaders, self knowledge is a high priority. It impacts themselves and those they lead.
  • Jun 18, 2012
  • Category: News
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