How Self-Awareness Makes You a Better Manager
Jennifer Stine is an independent consultant, teacher, and innovator with expertise in the development of world-class executive and professional programs, with over a decade of leadership experience at Harvard and MIT.
Becoming a truly effective manager requires a great deal of self-reflection, observation, and growth.
For most of us, it’s an ongoing process. Whether you’re a seasoned manager or relatively new to the ranks, you may have learned the hard way that the skills that helped you move up the ladder aren’t necessarily the skills you need for successful leadership.
It's not unusual to see new managers stumble early on as they stretch beyond their previous roles. Perhaps stellar technical skills helped you get a promotion to team lead, but in a managerial role you'll be relying much more heavily on interpersonal communication skills.
Similarly, if you are too narrowly focused on results, you may lose sight of the fact that your ability to affect change is ultimately dependent on relationships and networks.
A Case Study in Miniature
Let’s look at the example of a rising star who is promoted by his boss’s boss. Once in the new position, he disagrees with his supervisor’s sales projections and has to navigate a tricky set of interests and relationships.
He makes mistakes along the way, including publicly criticizing his supervisor’s numbers and failing to build the needed alliances within the organization. In the end, he sacrifices his long-term career possibilities at the company for short-term wins.
We can learn a lot from cases like this one. The best managers I’ve seen have the ability to stay open to new information and experiences while also demonstrating strengths like empathy, inquiry, and emotional regulation.
Find the Learning Moments
As a manager, you don’t have to know everything. We learn a lot from the people we work with—by feedback, and by example. Every interaction can be a learning moment.
It’s important to ask yourself questions: How did I make others feel in that meeting? Did I facilitate constructive conversation? How did others perceive me? In your interactions with others, being emotionally and socially aware can help you build and strengthen relationships.
When I teach, I ask participants to reflect on the characteristics of the manager they’ve admired the most. Which qualities are always on the list? Listening, motivating, caring, supportive, well-organized, and responsive.
It’s a long and inspiring list. Then we turn the mirror on ourselves: How do we become that person?
Be Attuned to Yourself
Certainly effective management takes confidence and a dedication to building your skills. It’s also important to be conscious and nurturing of the things that renew you and build your energy. To perform well, you have to attend to the basics: diet and exercise, strong relationships, and personal time. But there are times when we don’t come to work at our best. Then we need to be able to control our emotions or impulses to avoid negative consequences.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some of your personal development goals can be met independently. But training and leadership development play a key role. Seek out support, mentorship, and new opportunities to stretch yourself. As you progress from an individual contributor to a manager and leader, continuing to grow will be key to how you perform.