[June 29, 2017] There’ve been several lively discussions on leadership blogs and in popular news stories lately about what young leaders lack the most. Many say that a lack of relevant experience is their greatest shortfall and others tell us that young leaders are just plain self-centered. For the sake of a good argument, I will suggest that they mostly lack self-awareness.
“I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion.” – Billie Jean King, American tennis professional
My argument is that young folks are over-protected and that may be a significant factor in young leaders who lack the self-awareness; that personal skill necessary to be as great as they can be. Self-awareness means having a clear understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, values, thoughts, and emotions and the ability to perceive how others see you.
Youths today, growing up in a Western society, are bombarded by those who wish them well but ultimately protect them from harm as well as from the healthy need to compete and overcome life’s unavoidable obstacles. Under the guise of improving their self-image and building confidence, much of society goes to great lengths to shield those young people and do so in many ways.
Participation trophies are now mandatory for any young person involved in an activity that adults recognize as being of importance (which is just about anything). Some professionals believe that just showing up is remarkable and should be rewarded. What this does not do is allow people to gain the ability to make better choices because of a heightened awareness.
For example, Dr. Gail Gross argues that because kids what to fit in, it is incumbent upon adults to provide positive reinforcement to foster their self-esteem and security.1 These ideas have driven personalities that are more self-centered than ever before among youth. It is claimed that they desire more positive and more frequent feedback than generations before them and the mix of new technology makes that reinforcement pattern easier than ever.
Self-awareness is development is not learned from a book or from hearing someone talk about it. Real awareness comes from others who have the fortitude to give you good and accurate feedback on your behavior. This feedback doesn’t come automatically or easily. It must be cultivated and practiced.
Those who recognize the importance of true self-awareness will always say that it is a process of gathering feedback, synthesizing it, and applying those insights that leads to greater success as a leader.
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