Healthy Leader, Happy Team: The Importance of Self-Awareness

In Leadership, Purpose, Mission & Values

In the event of decompression, an oxygen mask will drop down in front of you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.

Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. Simple instructions. But they may seem counterintuitive in the moment. Why shouldn’t I focus on others first? Why not help the child sitting next to me straight away? Because you are absolutely no good to anyone if you are incapacitated from smoke inhalation, that’s why.

Similarly in business, leaders often ignore the same advice. When the annual employee survey shows a lack of engagement, leaders demand engagement plans from HR. When retention numbers are low, leaders invest in recruiting. When they sense a lack of alignment in their organization, they look to their managers to solve the problem.

All the while, smoke is filling the cabin.

The better approach is to put on your own oxygen mask first. Start by focusing inward and help yourself be better, so you can help others get better themselves.

Let’s start with the engagement challenge. Towers Watson’s 2014 Global Workforce Study showed that leaders and managers influence sustainable engagement more than any other factor. In companies where both leaders 
and managers are perceived by employees as effective, 72 percent of employees are highly engaged. Consider yourself as a leader first. Are you inspiring employees to give their best? Do your employees believe that you truly understand the factors that will lead to business success? Take a hard look at your own leadership, and give your team permission to share honest feedback with you. Work to improve your impact on engagement first, and then ask others on your team to follow your lead.

What about retention? The same Towers Watson study showed that “trust and confidence in senior leadership” is a top retention driver (just behind base pay and career advancement). Before you hire more talent to replace those you’ve lost, consider why they left. Ask your HR partners to summarize the results of your exit interviews, and – again – give them and your team permission to tell you the whole truth, even if it reflects poorly on your leadership. Transparency is an essential first step to improvement.

And what about lack of alignment? Start with yourself. Can you easily and clearly articulate your businesses purpose? Have you communicated a clear and compelling vision for the future? Are you clear on the strategies you will employ to realize this purpose, and have you communicated them to your team? The most successful companies and the happiest people pursue a purpose bigger than profit. Alignment of people and process with purpose-driven strategy creates engagement and improves results. Alignment starts at the top, and responsibility for it cannot be delegated.

And one final lesson about self-care: self-awareness. A few years back, a client who was president of a company decided to grow a beard. Remarkably, within a few months, much of his leadership team was sporting a similar hirsute look. Whether they saw his beard as the permission they’d been waiting for to realize their bearded dreams or not is beyond the point. What it demonstrates is the power in leaders ability to influence behavior … even when they are unaware they are doing it. Be careful the lessons you teach by example. If, out of dedication or poor planning, you are working every night until 9pm, your team will notice and follow suit. If you work weekends, regularly miss family events and skip daily workouts in favor of another financial review, they will too.

Healthy leader, happy team. Consider your influence and use it for good. Be explicit when you are leaving early for a soccer match, cut back on late-night emails and make a point of spending time with family and committing to your own health. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. Your team will thank you, and follow.

This article may be reprinted when the copyright, link to article and author bio are included. ©2015 Storyforge, LLC.  Please contact us for inquiries.

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Haley Boehning is the Chief Change Officer at Storyforge. Building on 20+ years driving change for Fortune 500 clients, non-profits and start-ups, Haley has developed a pragmatic approach to change through storytelling, developing relevant, consistent and emotionally compelling messages and targeted communications strategies that help brand and culture triumph in times of great change.