self awareness is key for leadership I’ve often wondered about all the people who don’t realize they are introverts. I guess I assumed everyone knows if they are. But actually, it’s one of those things that you don’t know until you know. If I think back, I didn’t realize it either…for a really long time. When I figured it out the sky turned blue and the sun came out. My world changed.

As the title of this post points out, self-awareness is the key to leadership. All leadership.

Seems like such an obvious statement whether you are leading a team, an organization, a classroom, your own business, your family, or just yourself in your own life. But, anyone who has ever been in the position of following an unaware leader knows, it isn’t always part of the package.

Gaining self awareness is an endless process of peeling back layers and examining your own filters and triggers and values and ideals. It comes down to knowing what you are good at and what you still need to learn. It’s underrated as a leadership skill and as a result, it’s rather rare.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a great relief to stop trying to be who you are not. And a big part of that for me meant happily owning my temperament and natural preference for introversion.

I have an analytical mind and I definitely experience the world from the inside out. Happily, no need to pathologize it through an extroverted lens or ideal, it’s just a collection of traits that are common to one-third to one-half of the population.

Once I acquired this self awareness, I wasted no more energy trying to figure out why I wasn’t more “outgoing”.

I wasted no more time feeling strangely bad about it, while not really wanting to change it either.

Wow, talk about a sense of freedom. The ability to relax into who you are, exhale, and finally realize it’s been your strength all along.

Now all I had to do was figure out how to leverage it.

When you stop wasting energy trying to conform to a comfort zone or a standard that never belonged to you and biologically wasn’t designed for you, you can finally channel your energy towards your creativity, direction, innovation and the understanding of your environment and how you bring your own light to your surroundings.

So, what is that, exactly? How do you ‘bring your own light’? What does that mean anyway? For each of us, of course, it will be different.

Here is an excerpt of a quote from one of my favorite authors, Marianne Williamson. It comes from her book, ‘A Return To Love’.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”

Hmmm, an invitation to shine our light. Not only an invitation, but more of a mandate. It’s our responsibility to show up as who we are meant to be and use our gifts, talents and strengths in the world. And why not? Sometimes it’s easier said than done.

She also says,

it’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”.

I first read Marianne’s ‘A Return To Love’ over twenty years ago as a new manager early in my career. At the time I was newly out of college with a business management degree, alone, and far from home. I felt adrift and was trying to find my place as a leader, find enough courage to show up confidently, and…find my voice.

I had taken a position with a large hospitality firm and hit the ground running. The learning curve was straight up, I had no mentor (at least not one who understood my introversion or learning style…but then, neither did I), and the stakes were high. Failing seemed like it was not an option. I had no plan B, I couldn’t go home, and I had to figure it out.

I learn by observing, thinking, listening, processing, observing some more, writing, and more thinking…you get it. There was little time or tolerance for all this assimilation of knowledge and the feedback I received often stung.

I stayed focused and tried my best to learn quickly given the tools I had to work with. After one long painful year, I was promoted to my own account where I could set the tone, spread my wings, design the process, do things my way…and finally experience success of my own creation. I was so happy to be leading on my own and making the decisions.

That first year out of college was difficult. I definitely didn’t fit in. Ultimately I stayed with that organization for ten years and truly enjoyed it in time.

I always remember what that was like when hiring or working with new college grads or anyone new to an industry or environment. When you don’t even know what you don’t know, it can be painful. It can take time to crack the code. In most cases it’s a function of learning style and not capacity.

If you are naturally introverted, you may be suffering in silence or feeling outrageously exposed trying to calibrate with a new team or group.

I kept Marianne Williamson’s quote in its entirety in my office and took it with me as I moved along through my career for twenty-plus years.

The truth that spoke to me then still resonates today. As leaders with self-awareness, we can create space for others to identify and shine their light and show up as their highest selves too. I set my leadership compass by this “True North” a long time ago and I believe it has always served me well as a reminder that by being myself, assuming positive intent, and seeking first to understand, I could play a role in bringing out the best in people and together we would do great things.

Amazing people always showed up. Becoming confident as a leader was an evolution. Being naturally curious about people and genuinely wanting to know who they are invited people to open up, share ideas, innovate, and stay creative. I strived to provide enough space for them to do their thing, in their own way, and I knew each organization was better for it.

I started this post by saying I often wonder how many people don’t know they are introverts. But, really, the path to self awareness is a journey of a lifetime and indeed this is only one aspect of our own complexity. It’s something that never ends if we are to continue to grow as lifelong learners.

The women I coach have often shared with me the relief they feel to relax into a more natural way of being only to find they have more energy and joy and confidence overall. And why not? This is how you hit your stride.

So, as a leader, help to shine a light that facilitates the asking and answering of the right questions, often difficult questions that cause inner and outer worlds to collide and be exposed for the greater good, even when it’s uncomfortable or unpopular.

Be a catalyst for deeper thought that goes far beyond the surface in strategic ways for the best outcomes.

These are often natural strengths for the introvert mind. Not everyone – of course we all have our unique ways of showing up, but learning to identify where your rich inner world of contemplation and process serves a higher good…that’s the key. Take someone with you on your solo flights of thought once in a while.

Here are some other ways to influence and use your introvert strengths. If any of these ring true for you, consider playing bigger and offering up some of your unique talent. Don’t wait any longer. You’ve waited long enough.

* Do you have the ability to infuse thought with strategy? Align talent and resources? Perhaps you incorporate intuition in a way that moves fact finding into action? No small feat, but delivers huge benefits.

* Perhaps you naturally see and can help others view the world differently. Or from multiple perspectives simultaneously? Not everyone can do that.

* Maybe you can expose the subconscious mind and bring it forward into conscious awareness for discussion? Do it.

* Perhaps you see patterns in outcomes or behavior that others often miss?

* Do you sense micro-inequities in group dynamics that lead to stress that can be alleviated with awareness?

* Maybe you have a natural skill to clarify, break down and explain complex ideas in a simplified manner so resources can be mobilized or innovative thought can be put into motion.

* Have you ever been told you have a calming demeanor? If so, realize that this can empower others to step forward and take risks or take initiative in a way that highlights their natural talents.

Resist the temptation to hold back, if possible. At least become aware of it. Trust your instincts, even test them, to build your confidence as someone who makes a difference and therefore encourages others to do the same.

Stepping into your own power as a leader is an inside-out process. It starts inside where we, as introverts, are fundamentally strong. Strategize and prepare, then take action.

This wasn’t the typical introvert list of tendencies, but perhaps you identified with some of them as part of your own journey of self-awareness.

Stay curious and intrigued by this process. Explore the inner world fully and find application that makes a difference in an uplifting way for those around you.

Keep your energy up and take time to recharge in a way that allows you to let your light shine.

*Did any of these ideas resonate with you?

*When did you realize you have a tendency towards introversion?

*How does it manifest for you?

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We need introverts to share their gifts with the world and lead with confidence!