Self-awareness and change
We are all called upon to act as leaders in some stage or capacity of our lives. A healthy, developing person is constantly growing and changing, and exercises personal leadership to continually assess and adjust their direction. Leaders in organizations apply the same pattern to the teams and other systems around them. They recognize inconsistencies between the way things work today in the organization, and the present and future challenges of its environment.
Having identified such an opportunity for improvement, we are faced with a question: where to begin? How can the system evolve from this form to that? How can I facilitate that change? The most effective leaders I’ve seen don’t look very far for the answer. They start by changing themselves, and thereby their own behavior toward others. They do this for a number of good reasons.
First, we have greater influence over ourselves than our environment, because we can understand our internal world more readily than anyone else’s. We therefore have a better chance of success in our efforts. Building on that foundation, we will begin to affect others in small ways, often without even knowing.
Furthermore, meaningful and lasting change is usually inspired rather than directed. Consider the traits you value in yourself, and the people who have helped you to develop them. Do you more strongly identify with the paternalistic figure who says “you must be…” or the role model who showed you a different way by silent example?
We are highly adapted to recognizing problems in our environment, and socially conditioned to try to correct them through action. This emotional impulse is a strong one: I see something I don’t like, and I want to stop it or change it. This approach works well for inanimate objects, but not so well with people. We resent others for trying to change us, because we value ourselves as we are. Who are they to tell us how to be, when they too are imperfect?
The catch, of course, is that changing ourselves is hard. It is nearly hopeless without understanding what we are, and perhaps some of how we got that way. It is easy to become caught up in other people’s apparent problems, thinking that you can fix them, or even know what they are. If I stop and think, though, there is generally always something I can change within myself which contribute to solving the problem. Often, this means working at a deeper level, setting aside my superficial view of the situation and understanding what is behind it. What might they be feeling which inspires their behavior, and how am I affecting them? How can I change in a way which will give them the confidence and perspective to see the problem more clearly and act for themselves?
I probably heard this principle, in some form, a thousand times before I managed to internalize it, and I still forget, sometimes when I need it most. I hope that writing this will help to remind me of it in my life. It is simple enough, but requires great discipline and practice to apply consistently.