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3 reasons why knowing yourself is important in leadership

Leadership. It’s a vast and complex subject that can’t really be reduced to pithy phrases, even though we continually try.


However, the key that unlocked a clear understanding of leadership for me – and how to lead successfully – was relatively simple.


I discovered how I am wired to think, and communicate. Here are 3 reasons why that helped.


(1) I stopped comparing myself with others

This is huge. I grew up not thinking of myself as a leader at all, for various reasons including my quiet and introverted nature. When I began to think about leadership, and how I might become a better leader myself, I initially compared myself with strategic thinkers, and verbally-skilled extroverts who could deliver inspirational speeches and pep talks.


I suffered by comparison with these types, as those are not my skillsets.


Everyone is different. Everyone can lead. But the self-awareness of knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is critical. Without that self-awareness, comparison – and the negative self-talk that often accompanies it – is almost guaranteed.


(2) I started celebrating my strengths

Not that I would throw parties in my honour, you understand.


But I began to realise, often through working it out in practice and considering afterwards what had worked and why – that my strengths of having great personal empathy, emotional intelligence, and being hard-working – not afraid to get my hands dirty – actually played very well in a leadership context.


And so in recognising strengths that I do have, rather than getting hung up on the qualities that I don’t, and learning to appreciate how helpful these strengths could be in leadership, I gained immeasurable confidence as a leader.


(3) I became aware of my trip hazards

As in – the things that can trip me up – specifically in leadership. For example, I learned that the empathetic connection that I develop almost automatically with people, while an amazing strength, can also be an Achilles heel.


Because at times I will care too much – what people think, how they are doing, and what they want from me. There are times in leadership when that has to be put aside, or at least downgraded in importance, in the interests of the overall plan, strategy and vision.


And I learned that my desire to ‘get my hands dirty’ – while usually inspiring loyalty and respect in my teams, could at times prevent me from seeing the big picture, and – again – making it hard for me to prioritise the overall goals and vision, over what was needed in the moment.


I have learned a lot about leadership over the years, and there are many things to learn – the demands of leadership are continually-evolving, and right now the current situation with COVID-19 presents unique challenges.


But I consider that knowing yourself – regardless of the context – remains hugely important, and increasingly helpful. 


Andrew Quinn, Nov 2020

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