Improving Self-Awareness: It is as Essential as a MBA for Leaders

Approximately 40% of CEOs are MBAs. Many large-scale studies have found that leadership based solely on MBA-trained logic, is not always enough for delivering long-term financial and cultural results, and it is often detrimental to an organization’s productivity. In one study, researchers compared the organizational performance of 440 CEOs – split into two groups: those with an MBA and those without one —all who have been celebrated on the covers of magazines like BusinessWeek, Fortune, and Forbes. The researchers monitored their performance for up to seven years, and surprisingly the performance of those with an MBA was significantly lower.

We are not saying that MBAs are not useful in leading an organization. But if the linear MBA-trained logic becomes the sole focus — at the cost of other skills, like self-awareness, understanding others, and the culture — the leadership approach can go out of balance.

Bill George, a professor of leadership at Harvard Business School, says that self-awareness is the starting point of leadership. Self-awareness is the skill of being aware of our thoughts, emotions, and values from moment to moment. Through self-awareness, we can lead ourselves to authenticity, integrity, and in turn lead others as well as our organizations better.

It has been observed that leaders at the highest levels tend to have better self-awareness than leaders lower in the hierarchy. This could be because stronger self-awareness accelerates the promotion process, or because, we’re nudged toward enhancing our self-awareness as our leadership responsibility increases.

The good news is that self-awareness can be enhanced. Simple steps can be taken to complement one’s traditional leadership skills as given below:

Adopt a Daily Mindfulness Practice

Research has found that a short daily mindfulness practice, leads to changes in structure and functioning of the brain, in-turn enhancing self-awareness. Mindfulness training enables you to expand your awareness of what’s happening in the landscape of your mind from moment to moment. It also helps you to notice and regulate your emotions. Finally, it helps you to better understand the behavior, reactions, and emotions of the people you lead, in turn creating better relations.

Take Regular Breaks

When we come under pressure, we default to doing what we have always done – resort to habitual thinking and behavior. There is not much awareness and there is little space for understanding oneself or the people one leads. Taking regular short breaks, of even just one minute, gets you out of habitual thinking and behavior. It provides space for awareness to arise and to see things clearly.

An awareness break is a break where you do nothing. You don’t check the news, the phone, or social media. All of that just occupies the space of your mind and does not allow for awareness to arise. Rather, you need to put down your phone, turn away from your computer, and simply look out the window, close your eyes, or walk down the hallway.

Pay Real Attention to What Others Say

When we are busy, our brains default to pattern recognition – it wants simplicity. And when others talk to you, your brain will automatically look for what it has heard before and eliminate what is new. That way, you won’t hear others’ concerns and opinions, and you won’t have your finger on the cultural pulse. Further, you risk getting insulated in your leadership bubble, where your brain only really listens to your inner voice. To avoid the brain’s default pattern, make an effort to listen with two ears wide open and mouth shut, when you are with others. Also, ignore the inner voice of your mind that comments on everything you hear.

The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge-based management consulting firm in India, believes, that it’s not enough for CEOs to lead with prevailing business theories. Leaders need to be open to change, curious about the surroundings and question their assumptions. They need to convince others of their vision and make them feel comfortable with change. By utilizing the aforementioned steps of self-awareness, along with business theories, leaders can improve organizational performance, with high performing teams delivering results, and at the same time also maintain a good relation with them.

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