Why do high-performing employees quit their job? Well, if you ask that employee why he or she is leaving, you are probably not going to get the real answer. Career advice taught from day one at the beginning of their career is to “never burn a bridge.” Thus, you will get the cliché answer, “I just got an offer I can’t refuse.” That leaves the bridge intact as the employee quietly exits without making any enemies. 

Unfortunately, corporate leadership typically does not hear the real story. Research shows the main reasons employees leave — and it is not just salary. What is often missing is the employee did not trust he or she could be honest with their boss. In fact, a full 40% of employees who don’t give their boss’ performance high marks have interviewed for a job recently. 

In many cases, a lack of self-awareness led to poor leadership issues with his or her manager. That employee, more often than not, left because of mistreatment, or maybe their needs were just ignored. The fact is that the manager is not self-aware of his shortcomings as a leader. 

The failures of corporate leadership pushed that high-performing employee out the door. Few people enjoy looking for another job. It’s hard work that’s filled with embarrassment and frustration. They search because they are not happy with the job they have, which the manager could not perceive or just didn’t have the self-awareness to realize what was happening.

What is Self-Awareness?

One thing self-awareness is not is the consciousness of being aware of what’s going on around you. That’s just observation. Self-awareness is understanding your motives, impact of what you say, the results of what you do, the character you present to others, and the desires you openly express. It’s what other people see and perceive when you interact with a team at work, or socially with family and friends. Do you understand it all? Most leaders don’t. The Hay Group behavioral database cites these statistics. Self-awareness is strongly evident in only 19% of women and 4% of men in general management roles.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

Let’s kick self-awareness up a notch. We are, after all, dealing with the psychological and behavioral issues of thought leadership. Emotional Intelligence (EI) embodies what a leader needs to consider and understand to become a great leader. EI boils down to these five categorical elements of psychology and behavior:

  1. Self-Awareness – understanding one’s emotional wiring.
  2. Self- Management – learning to evaluate and control our emotions and behavior.
  3. Motivational – able to set and achieve personal goals with determination.
  4. Social Awareness – empathy to sense and relate to what others are feeling.
  5. Relational Management – able to work through and resolve conflicts to maintain healthy relationships.

While these are volumes unto themselves, for the moment, let’s stick with self-awareness and get a little more specific with some learning actions that will help us understand your level of self-awareness beyond observation.

Becoming self-aware

In-Depth with Self-Awareness

You know when you’re angry, happy or sad, or afraid or threatened.  You may not know, at the deepest level, exactly why. Furthermore, you may not know  how that affects the people around you.

So, how do you educate yourself in self-awareness? Other descriptors for self-awareness include: self-connection, self-understanding, self-acceptance. There is a lot of advice out there, but whether that advice is relevant to you is a decision you have to make. It all begins with a good rethinking process based on a sincere desire to know yourself better. 

You can gauge your desire level by answering the following questions. Are you:

  • Interested in human psychology and behavior, especially your own?
  • Highly curious about why you react the way you do?
  • Exploring, mapping and understanding your childhood upbringing?
  • Ceaselessly examining your emotional hard-wiring and emotional triggers?
  • Learning how to listen to your first reactions and thoughts and control them as you learn more about where they come from and why?
  • Realizing, accepting and fully owning that your disconnection with another person includes the part you play,without blaming, shaming or projecting onto others?
  • Quick to repair a broken relationship connection, recover quickly and take the first step?
  • Taking time to understand the lives and challenges of your parents and grandparents?
  • Interested in knowing what motivates you and longing to understand it?
  • Focused on setting and maintaining high trust relationships with others?
  • Realizing there are still things you don’t know about yourself and respecting that the process of moving from unconscious to conscious is a lifetime endeavor?

A tool that might be of some use is a SWOT chart where you can get in touch with your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). You won’t get it right the first time, but you have to start somewhere. It will surprise you how much it changes as you mature your outlook about who you are.

What are your strengths? Possible bullets here are open-minded, quick study, empathic, objective, and confident of naming a few. Weaknesses are where many people fail to be honest. Honesty is a critical factor that makes the process work. Possible bullets here might be, don’t know all my people’s emotional tendencies, tend to ignore red flags, strong-willed, quick to decide without considering all the contingencies. 

These are all the internal factors that you need to become self-aware. Opportunities and threats represent the external factors that you can develop and enable you to mitigate your weaknesses and improve your strengths. Call it an action plan.

It’s essential to keep a journal (digital or handwritten notes) in which the SWOT chart is the first page. Then, as you work on your plans to improve your self-awareness, the SWOT chart will take on a life of its own as it matures and becomes more relevant to your leadership skills.

The possible outcomes can be things like:

  • The realization that emotional intelligence is more important than your IQ.
  • Weaknesses discovered will multiply as strengths become more focused.
  • Situational knee-jerk reactions to events such as anger should trigger a need to slow down to rethink how to react before you speak or make a decision you might regret.

The bottom line: you need to gain the respect and trust of the people you lead. You need to root out the threats that damage your opportunities to move forward in building the team where the strengths and weaknesses of all the team members, including you, are organized into a mutually supportive structure where the organization acts like one entity.