Building Awareness to Discover Your Leadership Potential

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By Natalie Born

Early in my corporate career, amidst the 2009 economic crash, my company’s CEO created a mandate. He asked our team to create two new innovative products every year. With a background in product development, I knew this was a massive responsibility to take on; but the real question was, where was I even supposed to start? 

Oftentimes, when we take on large projects that will undoubtedly shape our careers, we must start by assessing the situation. In that initial assessment, there are three pieces that we should focus on:

  • Do I have the right skills? (Aware of Self)
  • Do I have the right tools? (Aware of Resources)
  • Do I have the right team? (Aware of Others)

Taking a moment to pause and ask ourselves these questions creates a powerful ripple effect in our lives. It allows us to move from the tactical to the strategic. Not only is this sound business advice; this is biblical advice. Luke 14:28-30 (NIV) reads:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’”

When we embark on a new journey, we must be intentional. Intentionality begins with estimating the costs, understanding the resources, and having the right team. Awareness requires discipline. When we build self-discipline, there is always an incredible reward. Furthermore, when we connect the authority in the Word of God to the way we work, we stand out.

In Matthew 25, through the Parable of the Talents, we are called to grow the things that we are stewards over. In order to do so, we must start by knowing ourselves and then begin the process of growing ourselves.

Aware of Self

In the book of James, it becomes clear that we can’t just hear; we have to act. James 1:22-24 states, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” Self-awareness is a crucial component of being an effective leader. As we build and maintain relationships, both at work and in community, we can ask others the hard questions about the way we show up at work and how we are perceived. It is this understanding that helps us lean into our effectiveness.

At the start of my career, I wanted it to appear that I knew more than I did. However, if we cannot admit that we do not have all the answers, growth will be difficult for us. There can be times we feel unqualified for the work we’re doing, or even feel like an imposter. However, the areas in which we try to overcompensate for this end up affecting the team. There is freedom in asking for help versus pretending to know and not benefiting from the experience of others around you. The best thing one can do as a leader is to admit early on when you don’t know the answer to something. Doing so will help everyone arrive at the right answer sooner and, most importantly, as a team.

Aware of Resources

Too often, I see heroic efforts to deliver on projects that lacked the necessary tools before they even began. There is great value in stepping back and surveying the lay of the land before diving in. Great leaders ask great questions. Before we ever step out to tackle a new endeavor, we should be asking questions such as:

  • Why do we need this change?
  • Who is asking for this change and what are their expectations?
  • How does this impact the overall strategy and direction of our organization?
  • What does success look like?
  • What’s my budget for this change?
  • What resources are at my disposal?

I once worked with a client who had very little budget to deliver on a mission-critical project. I knew that I couldn’t effectively reach the client’s goals within the price range they wanted. By asking these simple questions early on, I was able to realize it wasn’t a good match for either party and turned the project down. If you embark upon a project that is not resourced, you will end up looking like you’ve cut corners. That reflects on you, not the customer. Their level of expectation doesn’t change; they just want it done at a cheaper cost. It’s a lose-lose scenario. When we understand our resources, it sets both parties up for success. Asking the hard questions and obtaining the right resources are key components of leadership.

Aware of Others

The best teams place a high value on collaboration and diversity. A number of years ago, I was guiding a U.S. software team through a series of questions—these questions revealed that they were not collaborating with the company’s other regions. When we traveled to one of those regions, we asked the China software team the same questions. We learned that both teams were building the same product with similar functionality, spending twice the company’s resources, all because no one had stopped to communicate with their fellow team members. As leaders, we may find that a big part of our role is encouraging people to communicate and breaking down silos that create redundancy and waste resources. There is no doubt that our trip, and a series of questions, saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars by opening dialog between the teams. But the simple fact is that I couldn’t have uncovered that truth alone; it was our team that uncovered it together. One thing is clear: we are better together. We have to strive for connection and community with those around us. We must keep a door open for dialogue.

Oftentimes, in leadership, we are out on an island alone, and when the terrain gets rough, we isolate ourselves even further. We put our heads down and get the job done, because that is how so many of us were taught to handle hardship. But this new way of leadership invites you to lift your head and let others in. I have personally found an appreciation for the quiet power of community. Having team members and advisors around me to uncover my blind spots and help me see what I cannot see on my own has been the greatest blessing. To truly build awareness, you must start by letting people see the real you. Investing in our self-awareness and showcasing our authenticity and vulnerability will, without a doubt, lead us all to a place of real trust.  

This article was extracted from the premier issue of Thrive Magazine (Spring 2021). Learn how to get your copy of Thrive Magazine by visiting us here.