A key challenge of leading well is experiencing our lives and the events within them as clearly as we can. Seeing clearly means understanding how our thoughts and emotions inform our actions. When we lack awareness, we are subject to circumstances and tend to react rather than choose our responses. When we are aware of our emotions and thoughts within an interaction, we can have them versus them having us. Awareness inspires objectivity in our thinking and leadership.
This practice of awareness is a key component of adult development, first highlighted by the famed researcher Robert Kegan. His subject-object theory is critical to understanding how we evolve and grow as adults. Kegan’s work highlights how our beliefs, assumptions, and experiences from the past and present influence our state of being. The more aware we are of ourselves and why we choose specific actions, the better we can influence outcomes and inspire others. Becoming a better leader is about moving from subject (I am my thoughts) to object (I have thoughts, but they don’t define me.)
Here are three starting points for expanding your awareness:
Keep an open mind. When you can stay open to the thoughts, perspectives, and identities of others, you also become more attuned to their emotions. People sense your openness, and it builds trust.
Take the balcony view. Imagine you are watching events in your life from the balcony of a theater. By separating from the situations you encounter, you can see them more objectively. This also supports you in managing thoughts and emotions tied to past experiences, allowing you to harness your present emotions.
Question your opinions and beliefs. Studies have shown that challenging our assumptions increases awareness of our internal thoughts, biases, and the behaviors they inspire. This creates an opportunity to choose how to respond to situations better rather than react out of habit.
During moments when you begin to attach yourself to your thoughts and emotions, ask yourself these questions:
- What is the origin of these emotions or thoughts?
- Are these emotions or thoughts valid?
- Do these emotions or beliefs add value to myself or those around me?
The more we understand what’s behind our thoughts and actions, the more we can make good choices about how we show up for ourselves and the people we care about.