Self-Awareness – A Must-Have for Career Success

Self-Awareness – A Must-Have for Career Success

By Dr Galia Barhava

BEFORE YOU READ ON, take a minute or two to reflect on your definition of success.

•   Is it about money?
•   Is it about status?
•   Is it about meaning?

A Definition of Success

I consider successful women and men to be those who have made an impact in their chosen field, operate with integrity, live with well-being, are passionate about what they do, are comfortable with the choices they have made, and derive an income from their work.

Although this is a very personal view based on the work I have done with over a thousand women (and hundreds of men), globally, over the years I have found that these observations resonate across countries and different cultures. Even more so now, after the Covid years, with the subsequent silent resignation.

So, what do successful people, in terms of both their professional achievements and well-being, all have in common? And what strategies can we all develop to attain them?

1.      Self-awareness (personal insight).
2.      Trusted advisors they can turn to throughout their career.
3.      Drive and zest – the willingness to work hard.

This article is about the first, and to me the most critical, ingredient: self-awareness.

What is Self-Awareness?

When I used to coach clients one on one, we’d spend a lot of time in our sessions developing their self-awareness. It’s not because they were not self-aware, it’s because you can never have too much self-awareness.

Self-awareness is not navel gazing. Far from it. Self-awareness is about regularly working to better understand why we each think, feel, and behave in the ways that we do. Self-aware people are perceptive of their strengths and weaknesses, what their core values are, and how the latter influence their behaviour.

Self-Aware and In Control

People, and especially leaders I consider successful, come across as always being ‘together’ and ‘in control’.  They are able to recognise when their lives start spiralling out of control and they take it back. They face pressures yet deal with them with grace and ease. They seem to be able to contain their hectic schedules and the challenges they face without resorting to ‘drama’.

They are generally healthy, and find time to prioritise exercise.

I have come to realise that the leaders I worked with, and especially the women leaders, manage to do all of this through their tremendous power of self-insight. They are aware of themselves and monitor their own well-being, pulling back when they need to do so to avoid burning the candle at both ends. They will be the first to admit that they can reach breaking point, and that their lives aren’t perfect. But they deal with this in a private and controlled manner, making the changes that need to be made and then setting themselves on a course to take back control and get on top of things.

Self-Aware and In Tune

This point is particularly true for women leaders, because as women, like it or not, we are under greater scrutiny. Successful women are aware of how they come across to others and they actively modify their behaviour depending on the setting and company. That doesn’t mean they are manipulative; it means they are in tune with their environment and sensitive to those around them. When they need to be tough, they can be very tough, but they can also be supportive and warm when the situation calls for it. In short, through their self-insight, they continuously monitor themselves and others and make the best of situations – including the adverse ones.

Queen Bees

I don’t like to linger on the negative, but it has to be said that the women I consider successful are NOT ‘Queen Bees’. To those of you unfamiliar with the term, Queen Bees are those successful women who have climbed to the very top of organisations and institutions and who seem to have then ‘pulled the ladder up behind them’. They make it difficult for younger, less experienced women, to follow in their footsteps.

Over the years I have come to realise that many Queen Bees lack the self-awareness of how they come across to others and the impact they have on colleagues. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that quite a few of them would be genuinely horrified to discover how poorly they are perceived by those around them.

Strategies for Self-Awareness

In all of my work, I encourage my clients, especially the mentees on our Oro mentoring programmes, to focus on the strategies that YOU can control, to develop each of the ingredients in your own life. Here’s a taste of the core strategies you can employ to become self-aware:

1st Strategy: A clear, personal definition of success

In my experience, successful people – especially women – are very clear about their own definition of success. With this clarity of self-insight comes confidence that they radiate and which enhances their ‘successful’ image. Because their definition is self-driven, they are not reliant on other people’s perceptions of them. Thus, whether or not they feel successful is fully under their control.

2nd Strategy: Open to feedback, seeks perspective

Ultimately, self-insight derives from appreciation of who we are, from clarity about what we are trying to achieve, and from knowing how to keep ourselves ‘real’.

I encourage you to make this an explicit goal.

When I interview successful women, they refer to it as: making sure that they always remain grounded – they don’t let their success go to their heads. To do this, they seek input through their relationships with partners and children, as well as with old friends, and through their professional and personal relationships.

You can use curiosity to ‘get to know yourself’ by actively seeking and listening to feedback from friends, family, and trusted advisors.

My personal role models all have a real sense of humility – they come across as approachable, despite the fact that they can also be very formidable.

They also extend their self-knowledge through reading, attending courses, and online learning – all for the goal of increasing self-awareness and perspective.

3rd Strategy: Self-check strategies

In the same way they are curious about getting to know themselves, successful people are also curious about how they are doing physically, emotionally, and psychologically, when it comes to dealing with their high volume of work – and the stress that comes with it. They develop ways to keep on top of things; they know when to slow down or take on more challenges, and they make the time to exercise and keep healthy.  By prioritising their well-being, they are able to ‘catch’ themselves before they burn out. They can deliberately take some time off for themselves and resolve matters before the situation escalates.

Even though so many of these leaders deal with big issues and hold senior jobs with many challenges, there never seems to be much ‘drama’ in their lives. The reason, it seems, is that through constantly being aware of where they are ‘at’, they resolve potential problems early on before they become bigger than Ben-Hur…

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