Leadership & awareness

A child's story, a little taste of reality, and the start of the self-awareness path.

Franco Salerno April 20 · 4 min read
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I remember myself in primary school, I was 7 or maybe 8 years old. Days before the Labour Day celebration, we all had to choose a job to represent and everything started with the teacher asking us: "what do you want to be when you grow up?" Without hesitation, I always replied the same: fireman! Our school was down the street from the fire station and I was able to see them everyday going around in the fire truck, looking amazingly brave.

Why am I telling you this story? Well, what I learned during those years of representing jobs at the school is that you need to develop technical skills in order to get a job, it doesn’t matter if you are a fireman, a doctor, an astronaut or (we all have a weird friend at school) a gravedigger. I was able to confirm this statement when I got my first job as a waiter: I got the job because of my mother's influence, and I lost the same job because of my lack of skills with the tray!

Since then, I've done different jobs, from cleaning pools and leather furniture with a friend to coordinating digital projects at Formula 1, and I've seen this pattern repeated over and over: people are hired and promoted because of their expertise on technical skills. So what? We learned that's the way it works so it shouldn't be wrong, right? Wrong! I won't say that people shouldn't be promoted if they stand out by doing a great job, don't panic. What I want to say is that we are promoting people to leadership roles just because they are good at their main task, and sadly, some of them will let the tray down and break all the glasses of champagne.

Being a great leader is more than doing a great job (everyone is expecting you to do it, that's why you have been chosen), is being able to understand other's needs, behaviours, goals, motivations, ways of conversation, etc., and that can be done only if you have done the same for yourself. How? Self-awareness is the first step to others-awareness. How many times have you asked yourself: "why did I say that?", "why did I react like that?" or "what's wrong with me today?"

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Several pieces of research have demonstrated the direct relationship between a leader's self‐awareness and its team attitude and performance, that levels of work attitudes and correlations between work attitudes, charismatic leadership, and performance vary as a function of self-awareness of managers. But don't despair, self-awareness is a skill, and, like any other skill, it requires time and training to develop expertise and that means that you can start working on it today, as I think we all have more time now than ever before to learn new things.

I will leave you with a quick win, a lovely poem from Portia Nelson that will make you think and understand in simple words what the self-awareness process is about:

“I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost... I am helpless. It isn't my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in the same place. But, it isn't my fault. It still takes me a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in. It's a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

I walk down another street."