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3 Types of Leadership Awareness

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How aware are you of your leadership?

How aware are you of your effectiveness, your style, your impact, and your influence? Because here's the thing: everyone around you is acutely aware of these things. And sometimes - and maybe more often than we'd like - they wonder if you see what they see ...

Let's take a quick look at three types of "leadership awareness" and consider how well each might be working to help us be as effective as we can be.

Self awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. It's the first step towards interpersonal competence - opening the way to self-management, awareness of others' differences and relationship management (the other three domains of EQ, popularised by Daniel Goleman).    Self awareness is often overlooked in business settings, Goleman notes in his book, The New Leaders (2003). "Without recognising our own emotions, we will be poor at managing them, and less able to understand them in others. Self-aware leaders are attuned to their inner signals. They recognise, for instance, how their feelings affect themselves and their performance .. If a person is oblivious to his own feelings, he will also be tuned out to how others feel" (pp37-38). 

Of course, self-awareness is about more than just how we feel. It's very much about what we do in response to how we feel.

Our behaviour is what determines our real leadership style. Regardless of the happy thoughts or strategic communications or tough logic going on inside our skulls, what we say and do is what determines our leadership style. It's what others experience. And we can't avoid that reality. We can, however, be oblivious to it. And we can choose to manage it.

"Everyone watches the boss," notes Goleman. "Leaders 'manage meaning' for a group, offering a way to interpret and so to react emotionally to, a given situation" (pp9-10).

Which leads us to the second type of leadership awareness: being aware of others' perceptions of your leadership - and power.  

People in leadership roles are frequently shocked to learn that information follows the basic rules of gravity: it tends to flow down much more easily than up! 

Despite the "door always being open", information from below tends to be limited. Why? Because everyone learns pretty early in their careers that upward communication is risky. Power structures tend to discourage challenges to the status quo.

Even leaders who see themselves as being accessible and approachable are not always aware of others' perceptions of their leadership roles and positions. Of the power they have at their disposal. Anyone in a position of authority has power -formal and informal. And the longer they are in the position the more comfortable they become with the power. Sometimes to the point of no longer seeing its potential to separate, to legislate, even to intimidate.

It's important to be sensitive to the power that our position carries. And to the power structures that support us. It takes active and intentional commitment to not just encourage but elicit meaningful upward communication. And that commitment begins with the awareness of how our role and position is perceived by others. 

So how do you develop this awareness? First, take note of people's behaviours, of their communication and their reactions to you. Are they demonstrating confidence, openness, responsiveness? Are you seeing caution, distance, unquestioning acceptance? Do people initiate conversations or do you have to? Second, you can always ask - but be sure to observe how people reply as well as noting what they say!

The third aspect of leadership awareness to highlight here is that of our awareness of others' needs. 

This is something that is at the heart of effective Situational Leadership® - being able to determine the type of leadership others need from us in different circumstances.

This ability to lead according to what is required for the team or group or individual to be successful is, of course, built upon our self-awareness and our awareness of how we are perceived. Our healthy self-awareness alerts us to instinctive responses - e.g., taking control or offering encouragement - that may or may not be useful in different situations. In addition, our awareness of others' perceptions of our leadership will alert us to their expectations and to how we can best use or counter those expectations in a given situation.

This article has made several references to the idea that leadership is about creating the conditions for others to succeed. So one of the ways to develop our awareness of others' needs is to assess situations in terms of how the individual, group or team needs us to use our leadership position, power, influence, or experience to enable them to succeed.

These three aspects of leadership awarenees - self awareness, awareness of others' perceptions of our leadership, and our own awareness of others' needs - are like the three legs of a stool. By attending to all three we have a better chance of providing stable and reliable leadership.

Aubrey Warren is a Situational Leadership® Master Trainer, accredited coach and experienced workshop facilitator.