Increased self-awareness in leaders drives innovation and change by enabling them to continually improve their ability to manage and collaborate with others, creating the conditions for everyone involved to thrive.

Central to the drive of an organisation to remain competitive is its ability to tolerate and stay comfortable with a state of continuous and transformational change. A leaders’ role in creating the conditions for this to come about cannot be understated. Focus on innovation, maintaining position in a dynamic market and looking for competitive advantage need to be front and centre. Through this adaptable and flexible approach, leaders can play instrumental roles in navigating start-ups and larger organisation systems through turbulent times. 

Where this works, the results stand out. When it doesn’t, the results tend to be seen more in statistics – in 2018, 5.7 million private businesses established in the UK alone. Yet, about 90% of start-ups fail.

In a complex world like the one we operate in today, multiple variables can negatively impact an organisation’s ability to adapt to change. That being said, how organisations are led is often one of the main reasons they fail to innovate and adjust to circumstances. And leading better in the future usually starts with being aware of how we are leading now. For this reason, Increased self-awareness in leaders drives innovation and change.

On the other hand, leaders are believed to be one of the main reasons companies fail to innovate and adjust to change. Dealing with the complexity of constant change and how not only to see a path through but also bring others along with you is something that not enough emerging leaders can develop. Josh Bersin suggests that we need to ask ourselves one crucial question: how do we provide future leaders with the tools and data needed to continually improve and develop a new generation of leaders?

The field of leadership theory is an incredibly cluttered one, with multiple models, approaches and gurus proposing that their silver bullet is the cure to this. Well-known theories such as transformational leadership, servant leadership, entrepreneurial leadership and innovation leadership are routinely taught, to name but a few. While these approaches provide an understanding of good leaders’ expected behavioural traits, their complexity and reliance on models that must be memorised can quickly blunt their impact.

In his talk, “Great leadership comes down to only two rules, ” Peter Anderton highlights that the development of the numerous complex theories buried the real purpose of leadership. Anderton explains that despite leadership not being easy, it is simple, and it can be achieved through two simple rules.

Rule #1: It is not about you; it is about people.

Some of the most influential leaders have recognised that the best leaders are the ones that are not seen and make their followers feel like they achieved their goals by themselves. The idea is supported by transformational leadership, according to which a leader can inspire others and develop a shared vision. Leaders can only deliver results through other people. The world today is too complicated for only one person to have all the answers. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” Therefore, innovative leaders are not afraid of hiring people smarter than them and allowing them space and support to develop a range of competencies and perspectives, driving innovation essential for maintaining an organisation’s competitive advantage and growth. Great leaders do not create followers; instead, they create more leaders.

Rule #2; It’s all about you.

The second rule introduced by Anderton is that it’s all about you. According to Dee Hock, a VISA founder, leaders need to devote at least 40% of their time to lead themselves before leading others. A leader needs to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and have a strong understanding of what they aim to reach. Only then can a leader live the change they want to achieve, set an example for others and be truly authentic and transparent. 

Why increased self-awareness in leaders helps drive innovation and change.

Pulling back to these two simple rules can help address the two main challenges that leaders face today; creating a shared vision and motivating people’s teams to support it.

Many leaders find this difficult not because of incapability but because of a lack of reflective space or coaching. Turbulent times are some of the most challenging to navigate, as leaders must deal with the impacts of change for themselves and create the conditions for others to do the same. Awareness of yourself as an individual, the ability to bring others along, the vision to see a path forward and the knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses and how to surround yourself with others who complement them is a delicate balance to achieve – doing this with low self-awareness – practically impossible. 

Increased self-awareness in leaders drives innovation and change. Convinced? I am, and I hope this article has gone some way to getting that across. 

If you liked this, why not download my ebook on Successfully Leading Change. Or try this post on embodied leadership.

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