It all starts with self-awareness

If I had to pick one human trait that singles out the most impact on one’s ability to have positive and successful interpersonal relationships, there is a hands-down winner: Self-Awareness. This is true no matter what type of relationship you are talking about – parent, manager, executive, friend, partner or spouse.

Someone shared a box with me years ago that explains why this is true that I’ve wanted to blog about for a long time. I found this image, which is pretty close to the 2×2 I once drew for myself on a board.

Found on Google Images from Research Gate, adapted from Goleman & Boyatzis 2013

The framework is both incredibly simple and incredibly complex.

Having true self-awareness and the ability to reflect, receive information and feedback, and the ability to accurately self-assess is where it begins. “I’m unhappy today,” “I’m doing a bad job right now,” “I’m not good at doing this job” are all pretty hard things to say to yourself. And yet, without them, it is impossible to move forward in this framework.

I learned this box where boxes II and III in what you see on this chart are reversed, but I’m not sure it matters as much as box I is first and box IV is last.

Once you have a solid level of self-awareness, you can exercise some level of self-control. This isn’t a guarantee – self-monitoring is its own animal, but you can’t manage what you can’t understand. Empathy is similarly a continuation of self-awareness, but also its own characteristic. How can you understand what someone else is going through if you don’t understand what you are going through?

The final framework — Influence — is the result of building all three of the previous attributes. It is impossible to influence others, have deep and lasting relationships, and be able to work productively together without having a consistent level of empathy and self-control.

You can be a leader without any of these traits if you are authoritarian, whether political or corporate. If people HAVE to listen to you, then you can tell them what to do. But founders, especially those who control their companies, should not be under the illusion that they are influencing others if what they are really doing is ordering them around.

Can self-awareness be taught, or is it something you’re either born with or not? While most traits have a balance of nature and nurture, I strongly believe that self-awareness can largely be learned over time, so let’s call it a 10/90 on the nature/nurture scale. I’ve had many influencers in my life who have helped me in their own way to learn the practice of self-awareness, from my parents, to the college professor who gave me my first 2×4, to my first pair of managers at my first jobs, Neal and Eleanor, to my coach Marc who gave me my first 360, to my long-time running mates at Return Path and Bolster, to my wife, Mariquita, and even to my children. I’m sure I’m forgetting many others along the way. I am grateful to all of them.

Want to improve your management practice? Leadership? Cooperation and teamwork?

Everything starts with self-awareness.


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