Being emboldened by a vision of success — often skewed — intoxicates many and takes them to the verge of humiliation and destruction.
Experience, ego and a conscious or subconscious desire for superiority often overshadow an adequate perception of reality. The balancing act between selfishness and altruism, overconfidence and humility, wins and steady progress seems to be taking many powerful leaders over the edge. Being emboldened by a vision of success — often skewed — intoxicates many and takes them to the verge of humiliation and destruction.
I recently came across a clinical term called hubris syndrome, also known as a “disorder of possession of power.” It happens to be an acquired personality disorder associated with overwhelming success without many constraints on the individual and a general lack of self-awareness.
As highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, not only CEOs suffer from the syndrome of overconfidence. The president of France lost his prominent ministers (“executives”) who pointed out his biggest blind spot — hubris/overconfidence — while the French economy (“corporation”) has fallen behind the rest of Europe, painting the president as out of touch.
Leadership seems to come with a high price tag. In order to get to the top, those pre-selected must fit and then follow well-structured and rigoristic, yet not always realistic, and often deceptive, standards. Uncertainty and volatility call for superhuman skills to withstand the pressure to deliver exceptional results.
Internal politics and personal and business agreements with those leaders report to (boards of directors, investors and other stakeholders), accompanied by elevated stress levels, surrounded by a fast-paced, results-frenzied environment and vanity and aspirations larger than life contribute to changes in personality and make many susceptible to developing this dangerous and hard-to-recognize syndrome. Lack of constructive feedback and absence of “loving critics” at the top of the ladder only increase alienation and narrow the possibility of reality testing.
Blind Spot Alert
When asked, most of us would be absolutely certain about our level of self-awareness, yet only 10–15% of us actually fit the criteria. Consequently, self-awareness among leaders still seems to be in shortfall. The more power leaders hold, the more likely they are to overestimate their skills, including the level of their own consciousness.
I have spent a fair amount of time observing to what degree we, as individuals, are actually self-aware and how levels of consciousness influence our leadership skills. In my observation, women, in general, seem to be more self-conscious than men, perhaps due to overall higher levels of empathy and emotional intelligence than men.
Traditional leadership models still tend to portray leaders as being all things to all people — to be flawless and not to seek guidance, to broadcast orders rather than connect on an emotional level and to be self-reflective. However, self-awareness is a prerequisite of introspection and retrospection, and it is a critical and much-needed quality of effective leadership today.
The future will always be uncertain, yet we can see patterns of change taking place. Inquiry of self plays a significant role, especially among leadership, to efficiently execute emerging business requirements. Here are just a few ways to become a more self-aware leader:
1. Be Willing To Learn
As Alvin Toffler once said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
Effective leadership starts with honing self-observation skills and a willingness to attain expansion, which can only take place outside of our comfort zone. Before we can ignite the change, we must be the change. Before we can influence our reputation, we must examine our identity and see our unfiltered and unrated version of self.
We must sift through our own self-sabotage, fear of failure, ego trips, comparison surplus and other non-serving patterns of behaviors like procrastination hidden behind a “keeping busy” mask, perfectionism, worrying, planning for the worst, self-deprecating thoughts and/or other ways of “playing it safe” invented to avoid confrontation with self.
2. Know Where You Stand
You can’t get where you want to be if you don’t first know where you are. To calculate the direction toward our desired destination, we must first know where we are in reference to it. In order to do this, we must turn off all the notifications that keep us distracted and simply pay attention to our surroundings. This is where the road map to change begins. Only from here can we mark our path to desired outcomes.
3. Embrace Your Fears
Instead of avoiding your fears, harness and get to know them. Only by staying conscious can we train ourselves to see what potentially stands in the way of fulfilling our vision. By including ourselves in the calculation of anticipated outcomes, we permit ourselves to be fully human when confronted with overwhelming uncertainty, doubt and fear.
By recognizing our blind spots and limitations, we allow different perspectives and points of view to emerge and reap the rewards that diversity has to offer. Self-awareness starts with recognizing the dimensions of our personality and the existence of different realities and understanding that some of them simply don’t serve us. Leadership then becomes about showing up consciously and authentically. It’s about relating, connecting and building genuine interpersonal connections to inspire and empower others while cultivating our own personal growth.
In my experience, I’ve found conscious leadership yields multiple measurable benefits:
- Improved performance
- Amplified communication and influence
- Stronger relationships
- Enhanced financial performance
- Greater openness to possibilities
- Increased rate of promotions
- Learning opportunity mindset
- Purpose-driven outcomes
In the end, we’re only human. We can’t possibly be curious about something without first having some level of knowledge or awareness of it. Courage to experiment opens up the gate to unlimited perspectives and insights. Intentional thoughts, feelings and actions then become the center of effective leadership.
This article was originally published at FORBES