The Art of Self-Awareness.

“A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside him/herself, inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.”
— Parker Palmer

The guy across the table from me just would not shut up. I was in a business meeting where about a handful of us were doing some strategic planning. The guy started with a good point--a point he could have made thoroughly and powerfully in about two minutes. Instead, he had drifted off into a long, tedious story for more than 10 minutes...and didn't show any signs of slowing down. I glanced at my watch to see precious time slipping away, the larger agenda being compromised by this guy's need to talk.

Since I was not in charge of the meeting, it didn't feel like it was my place to intervene and get the meeting back on track. Instead, my "inner conversation" of criticism and irritation continued to heat up. Until I caught myself.

A spark of revelation: This emotion of frustration is not me; it is not my being; it does not own me. It's just an emotion--one I can hold in my hand, so to speak, turn it around and look at it. I can discern why it's there and decide if it's useful or not. It was a moment of utter freedom!

Turns out that this tide of frustration was more about my effort to control the course of the meeting so that I could feel safe, about an old but ultimately ineffective relationship with time, and about my anxiety concerning decisions to be made there. In other words, it wasn't about Mr. Blabbermouth at all; it was about me.

That a-ha moment completely defused my irritation, humbled me around my own issues, and allowed me to actually relax and enjoy the guy's story. Mostly. It was a refreshing alternative to the many times when a rising emotion has thrown me sideways and wrapped me around the axle so that I became reactive and unpleasant. The worst version of myself. The false self.

Thriving leaders are self-aware leaders.

Let me put a fine point on this: Unless and until we become aware of our inner lives--and the effect of that inner drama upon our outer world--we can never lead others at a high level. We will merely be playing out our own "emotional programs for happiness" (as Thomas Keating would say) at the expense of others. Ready to tune in?

  1. Make emotion a "red flag." It's not that emotion is bad. Not hardly. Emotion can be a uniquely powerful source of truth. It becomes bad when it rules us. Instead, name the emotion once you feel it rise.
  2. Detach from the emotion. Once you realize that you are not your emotions, you can see it as one possible way of responding--not the only way.
  3. Follow the "fruit" back to the "root." Ask yourself where the emotion is coming from, what this indicates may be at work in your soul--and whether that activity represents something healthy or unhealthy. Learn from it.
  4. Respond instead of react. Choose a response that lines up with your truest conviction, a way of honoring both self and others. This is the place of freedom and the place of positive influence.

You may want to print this one out and keep it handy. I find I have to use it about once a day! Your soul needs you to be self-aware, not to mention those who look to you for leadership. It's the best solution to Mr. Blabbermouth and all the others who rub your fur the wrong way!

Posted on October 10, 2014 .