Three Aspects of Self-Awareness
There are three aspects of self-awareness that are critical in order for a person to be well-defined. The first aspect is understanding how we have been uniquely created – our particular bent if you will. Some people have called this the Element. Others term it our ‘sweet spot.’ Still others call it our unique talent pool or our Hedgehog Principle. Whatever you call it, it involves the hardwiring internal to each of us that makes us uniquely who we are.
Let’s now look at these three aspects, beginning with our unique bent.
The First Aspect: Knowing Our Unique Internal ‘Wiring’
We’ve found it to be tremendously helpful as we begin to figure ourselves out, to begin focusing on the positive – our unique strengths makeup. So often people have told us that they have little or no idea what they are truly good at, and what they are passionate about. Obviously, if we aren’t clear on our unique wiring, and where our strengths and talents lie, we will not have a clear understanding of ourselves, or feel comfortable in our skin as we move about our lives from day to day.
I have found a number of helpful tools in this – Enneagram©, Myers-Briggs©, DISC©, etc. The tool I have found most helpful was developed by the Gallup organization, Strengthsfinder©,. This tool assesses a person’s strengths. Candace Fitzpatrick developed an enhancing tool for the Strengthsfinder called Core Clarity©, which yields a profile that identifies a person’s sweet spot , that area of endeavor where we are most aligned with the way God made us uniquely.
Sufficient to say, the well-defined leader is one who spends a preponderance of her time functioning in her sweet spot. This sweet spot represents that convergence of our talents-turned-into-strengths where all of our faculties are combined in a harmonious order. When we are functioning in our sweet spot, we are extremely focused, lost in the moment. We perform at our peak, getting lost in the process and losing a sense of the passage of time. We can work for hours, and are actually energized rather than depleted by the experience. At these times, we are authentically centered in the true sense of ourselves – we are well-defined. We pursue our sweet spot for its own sake, not worrying about the residuals that might flow from its successful prosecution. When we are in our ID, we are re-creating (though most would assume that recreation is the antithesis of work. This is true if our work involves us doing little of our ID).
Obviously, those who can combine their career with their sweet spot will be those who function in those careers at the highest levels, at the same time maintaining a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that unfortunately few of us realize. Those who are rarely, if ever, in their sweet spot will usually find themselves depleted. These folks may also turn to artificial stimulants to produce the synthetic high that being in the sweet spot naturally produces (although these artificial means often lead to addictions and a host of problems associated with that).
The Second Aspect: Knowing your Story
After discerning your unique strengths makeup, for the next step in your journey into self-awareness and clear self-definition, it is important to understand your personal story. Your story consists of all of the experiences that have befallen you since (and possibly before) your birth. These are not isolated, disconnected events, but an unfolding narrative complete with interpretations and perspectives on life, how we should act in any given situation, and thus how we can successfully negotiate life. Your story contains a predominate theme – that of acceptance, competence, control, or survival – that has a tendency to emerge and color certain situations as anxiety arises
Anxiety plays a role in our lives, simply because there is nothing more disruptive in our attempts at clear self-definition than anxiety (discussed more fully in Chapter 2). And it begins early, in our families of origin. And this early anxiety is first generated as parents begin to impose upon their children what parents think the child needs to be, rather than eliciting from the child what her true talents and abilities are. Then society steps in with its demands and strictures. Let’s take a look at how it operates in our lives. We’ll unpack this in greater detail later in this chapter.
Take some time to answer the following questions.
What’s my family’s story like?
• The story’s authors? What were my parents/caregivers like? And how did they specifically shape who I am?
• How did my story emerge over time? What were the stepping stones of my life – those milestones that shaped who I am?
• What were the story’s characters? What was my birth order? What expectations did my parents have of me? Of my siblings?
• What was the story’s premise? What was the central theme around which your family story was built?
o Competence? We will be competent and achieve great things.
o Acceptance? We will be pleasing and acceptable to all who encounter us.
o Control? We will always be in control of the situation, taking the lead wherever possible.
o Survival? We will not trust many people, and be eternally vigilant, making sure we survive.
• What was the story’s plot? Can you come up with an unfolding story of your family as it moved through time when you were growing up?
• What was the story’s dialogue? How congruent was my family’s communication (people did what they said)? What were the family secrets? Who seemed to be allied, who or whom against whom?
• What was the story’s setting? What was the generation into which I was born (GI, Boomer, Gen X, Millennial)? What were the surroundings where I grew up, and how did these shape me?
• To what degree are you still involved in your family of origin story?
o Extremely involved, planning much of my life around what my parents/siblings are doing, and want me to do.
o Somewhat involved, interacting regularly with family members and participating in important family events.
o Almost no involvement, rarely seeing family members, and not seeking much information about the unfolding family stories.
The Third Aspect: Knowing your Culture
Culture surrounds us as the context in which our lives unfold. One can look at the national culture, the local culture, and the culture that resides within every church organization. Each of these contexts exerts a strong influence on us and how we think and behave. I’ve been a member of a church which has two other sister churches in the same denomination with very similar beliefs. But all three are vastly different. One of my sister churches is very wealthy. Sunday morning’s look like a fashion show to me. The worship service is very formal. I once told the minister there, I’d come to your church, but I can’t afford the wardrobe.
The other sister church is the exact opposite of the first. It is relaxed with very contemporary music and non-structured worship. The congregation is less affluent. My church is somewhere in between, with blended worship with well-to-do and not so affluent members.
Someone from the South will have different influences brought to bear than someone from New England. Someone living in Los Angeles (where image reigns) will have different pressures than someone living in Washington, D.C. (where power reigns).
Each organization will exert powerful forces on those who reside within that organization. If an individual does not align with and conform to that culture, strong pressures are brought to bear to either change or leave.
Culture also encompasses generational, gender, economic, and racial differences. An African American single mother struggling to survive will experience the world quite differently from a white middle class male.
These three aspects of self-awareness are critical to leadership success.