Why is knowing yourself one of the most important, if not the most important aspect of leadership?

Your level of self-knowledge and understanding shapes how you will lead and signifies what and who you will be capable of leading.

Here’s the reason:

People play out all kinds of fantasy in the work place – most of the time, completely unwittingly.

On their first day, they bring to you, as a leader, all that they have been in and hold onto from their past. I dont mean just their skills and past employment record. I mean all that was forming when they were growing up; all that the adults in their lives during those early years implanted about how to be in the world. But particularly when we are small, we learnt how to deal with authority figures. You, as the leader, represent authority – as they were taught it, not as you exercise it. Unless they have done conscious and extensive work to understand their adopted / adapted ways of being – they will very likely unconsciously frame their everyday work experiences within the boundaries of what they knew within their family. So, simplistically, work colleagues become siblings, bosses become Mum or Dad or Uncle Peter etc.

If you know yourself well, you will find it easy to recognise when others are projecting their ‘stuff’ onto you and you will be able to deal with it with relative ease.

On the other hand, if you do not know yourself well, you will find it hard to know what is their ‘stuff’ and what is yours. The less self-aware you are, the more you will be bringing your issues into play. Very relevant for those you lead is how you were taught when you were younger to deal with those you had to care for – or didn’t – typically younger siblings or lack of them.

It is easy as a leader to absorb and accept blame for situations and events – in other words, easy to accept others’ baggage as belonging to you.

Alternatively, you may refuse to accept responsibility when it is indeed appropriate that you should and you may become confused and angry. You are then likely to respond inappropriately and certainly not authentically and the quality of your judgement as a leader will deteriorate.

You cannot possibly understand the nature of the roles being subconsciously played out in your employee’s heads.

So when one member of your team finds you ‘bossy’ and another finds you not firm enough, my advice is this. Is what you are hearing something that comes up over and over again and from a variety of sources? If so, the chances are it is your stuff. Is what you are hearing new, unusual, outlying, surprising, contradictory, then check it out with someone close but the chances are it is not your stuff.

The more self-aware you become, the faster you are able to make that distinction and then help everyone to move on.