Thursday, December 2, 2010

Self-Awareness - You Can't Manage What You Don't Understand

About 20 years ago, I did a lot of consulting and executive coaching. Once, while working with a plastics manufacturing company in Miami, I suggested to the president that he take a brain-based personality assessment. He refused. Convinced that he was being held back by personal tendencies he was unaware of, I explained the benefits of self-awareness and encouraged him further.

He looked at me with stern eyes. “I don’t want to know,” he said.

This surprised me. I had administered the assessment to tens of thousands of people. It was rare to find someone who was afraid of self-assessment. It puzzled me why this executive wouldn’t do what so many people enthusiastically do to learn more about themselves. I never mentioned it again. But I wondered if he was bothered by issues that he didn’t want to face.

To me, self-awareness is the key to self-control. How can you manage what you don’t understand?

It’s also about self-development. If you want to grow stronger for life and work, where should you start? How can you decide what to work on if you aren’t aware of your strengths and weaknesses?

The truth is, you can never achieve full self-awareness. People are complex, and there’s too much to know. And we change. So self-awareness isn’t a goal or a destination. It’s a journey. In the best case, you strive to know more about yourself, and you continue to learn throughout life.

What’s there to learn?

Your values. People often speak of “values” as if there were a single set of good and worthy beliefs or principles and if we are to be good and worthy people we need to live by them. Our values are the things we care about the most, and we don’t all care about the same things. You need to know what’s most important to you so you can make the best decisions for yourself. For example, if family is way up there in your value system, you should commit lots of time and resources to it. If you haven’t given much thought about what’s most important to you, you could spend an unwarranted amount of time and resources on things that don’t matter as much to you.

Your style. Also, we don’t all think or behave the same way. Each of us has a special style about us. Some people are more deliberate; others are more spontaneous. Some people love to be social; others require lots of personal time alone. Some people are good at attending to the details; others shine by understanding the big picture. We all have our comfort zones. But life has a way of challenging you, and sometimes it’s important to step outside your comfort zone to get things done. It’s hard to do that if you have no idea what your comfort zone is. You’re likely to shy away from uncomfortable activities and let things fall through the crack.

Your skills and work habits. A lack of self-awareness can have a bad impact on others. Because of your “blind spots,” you may think you’re doing well in a certain area when in fact you’re creating problems for the people around you. The solution is feedback, but feedback can be hard to accept. As Abraham Maslow said, “Self-knowledge and self-improvement are very difficult for most people. It usually needs great courage and long struggle.”

A Fortune Cookie...

Learn who you are, and you’ll discover who you can become.

The story behind the Fortune Cookies...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from


MaGeezy said...

I agree. Self-awareness can be such a powerful way to improve oneself. Recently, I've added forgiveness into the equation as well. Forgiving others and more importantly, forgiving myself for all the past shortcomings.

Starlamishah said...

This is excellent! I know some people who could benefit from better understanding themselves...including myself. I would love to take a self assessment to learn more about myself.

2gnME said...

Great article! What would you say is the best way to gain self-awareness though? We are trying to achieve this by anonymous peer reviews so you can see your self-perception vs. your peers perception of you. We would love some feedback!