Years of weather and wear were showing on our facility. We raised money to do exterior repairs, put on a fresh coat of paint and give the entire facility a facelift. But in a few short months, the cracks in the stucco that had been repaired returned. Support beams started cracking and crumbling more significantly than before and much of the work we had completed was for naught. We called in more construction experts and we were given some alarming and difficult news. The issues with our building were not just cosmetic. Our facility woes were the result of an inadequate and failing foundation. We had spent thousands of dollars on much needed exterior repairs, however, the exterior repairs would be worthless if we did not work on the issue that was unseen…a failing foundation.
Research into leadership traits needed for organizational and personal transformation and you will find an extensive list of traits and skills that leaders need to bring about personal and corporate renovation. However, a foundational skill of transformational leadership often goes unnoticed. Although leadership research is revealing that this leadership trait is a crucial foundational element to healthy leadership, few leaders do the work necessary to develop the skill. This foundational trait is self-awareness. The Center for Creative Leadership notes, “Leader effectiveness is constrained or amplified based on how leaders understand themselves, their awareness of how others view them, and how they navigate the resulting interactions.”
Self-awareness is like the foundation of a structure. It can go unnoticed but the strength of the foundation determines the strength of the structure. And over time, if the foundation is weak, the outward evidence will be revealed. Cracks will develop. Damage will occur. Therefore, leaders must be as intentional about building the internal skills of self-awareness as we are clear about the external realities of leadership like being clear about vision, values and strategy.
Here are some suggestions on becoming more deliberately self-aware:
1) Take time for self-reflection
St. Ignatius Loyola included in his spiritual exercises a prayer called “the Examen,” which derives from the Latin word for examination. This was also a spiritual practice of the ancient Stoics. There are many versions of “the Examen” today, however, here is a simple version of some key components:
1) Place yourself in God’s presence. Give thanks for God’s great love for you.
2) Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life.
3) Review your day — recall specific moments and your feelings at the time.
4) Reflect on what you did, said, or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God, or further away?
5) Look toward tomorrow — think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God’s plan.
Do you notice how the purposeful act of reflecting on one’s emotions might affect events of the day? Self-growth comes by reflecting on our choices and mistakes, and in order to reflect and learn we have to slow down.
2) Determine your core beliefs and values
Knowing our core beliefs and values will help us in understanding what is or should be our driving force in our lives. Our beliefs and values are what is most important to us, and they should serve as a compass for our decisions. Knowing our beliefs and core values also helps us to evaluate if how we are living is in alignment with what we say is really important.
3) Understand your strengths and weaknesses
There are certain skills and traits that God has uniquely given to you. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is a starting place for personal growth. It is also a springboard for living on purpose.
4) Examine your repetitive patterns of behavior
The choices we make each day can add up over time to have a big impact on our lives and the lives of others. The impact can be either positive or negative! Ask yourself, “How are my repetitive patterns of behavior and actions influencing my life?” “What actions are helping me grow and adding value to others?” “What behaviors are keeping me stuck?”
In 1888, Frederick Langbridge wrote,
Every time you go to bed your clay is so many hours nearer to its final mould. A few years of such days—a long time to look forward, but a short time to look back upon—and there you will be: a beautiful goodly vase, or a cracked, misshapen vessel, fit only for base and vulgar uses. We are our own potters; for our habits make us, and we make our habits.
Our repetitive patterns of behavior are the building blocks for our future.
5) Ask for honest feedback from safe people that really love you
A great way to grow in self- awareness is by asking other people to help you. The people you are closest to can serve as a mirror and reflect the progress you have made, and the areas of growth we still need.
Ultimately self-awareness will help you stay on track with the desired results you hope to have. It will help you recognize whether you’re making decisions that support or jeopardize your personal growth.
C.S. Lewis once said, “The prayer that precedes all prayers is, may the real me meet the real you.” What a daunting and yet powerful prayer. In Psalm 139, David prayed, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Self-awareness is foundational for healthy effective leadership.
 1888, The Happiest Half-Hour: Sunday Talks with Children by Frederick Langbridge, Chapter IX: Twigs and Trees, Start Page 63, Quote Page 65, The Religious Tract Society, London
 C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt, 1992), 82.