Self-awareness: The key to productivity

This article, written with Roger Mayo, director at MT&D Learning Solutions, continues to explore the importance of self - including self-awareness, self-efficacy, and the relatively new concept of self-leadership - and of quality feedback.

Written by Emerald Works
Published 22 September 2016
Self-awareness: The key to productivity

It's built on the belief that you alone are the person who should be most concerned and most active in your self-development and growth. It's this that will provide you with a compass of success through lifelong learning.

In church, one Sunday in 1786, seeing a louse on a lady's bonnet, the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote a poem dedicated to the "crowlin ferlie." The poem included the lines, "O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!/It wad frae mony a blunder free us,/An' foolish notionâ".

Self-awareness is the key to successful working relationships. In 2003, Philippe Rochat, a professor of psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, called it "arguably the most fundamental issue in psychology, from both a developmental and evolutionary perspective."

In 1972, Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund broke new ground by putting forward a theory of self-awareness. In that theory, they state that, when we focus on ourselves, we compare our current behavior with our internal standards and values.

The psychologist Albert Bandura's theory of self-efficacy builds on our varying degrees of self-awareness, defining it as "the belief in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action to manage prospective situations."

Your belief in your ability to succeed shapes how you think, behave and feel. People have varying views of their self-efficacy. This influences how they see challenges - either as tasks to be overcome while not feeling easily discouraged by setbackor as things to be avoided while feeling easily discouraged by setbacks.

Our "inner monologue"- our "thinking in words" - plays an important part in developing our self-efficacy. We can experience it in times of stress. It offers us a perspective on what we're experiencing and can help us to rehearse what we then say.

Do you talk to yourself kindly and respectfully, or are you critical and harsh? When you experience this inner speech, are you satisfied with the tone and content?

If you're not satisfied, you - and only you - can change it. Only you can replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Think of how you'd want your parent to speak to you - lovingly, positively, kindly.

When you make a mistake, your internal speech might say, "I messed up again" or, "I can't do anything right."Rather than accept this criticism, you can choose to replace it with, "I made a mistake. I'll do this a different way and be successful next time." Choosing the second option - being supportive and kind - helps to improve your self-belief and self-efficacy.

Relating this search for greater self-awareness, self-efficacy and, therefore, enhanced relationships to the business world means exploring an important strand of leadership theory - self-leadership.

It's said that no one should lead others until they can lead themselves.

Charles Manz, of the University of Minnesota, writing in 1986, defined self-leadership as a process through which individuals achieve self-direction and self-motivation to perform effectively. In Manz's view, support strategies should positively influence personal effectiveness. These include managing behaviors related to necessary but unpleasant tasks, and the removal of ineffective behaviors. 

Self-rewards can include a metaphorical "pat on the back" for completing a difficult task. Organizations can encourage this behavior by encouraging self-directed learning strategies and solutions.
Learning approaches that can help the learner to develop include coaching, e-learning, online resources, mentoring, and action learning assignments, which provide a gamut of challenges and solutions.

Self-led learners shape their own development by trying different ways of doing things. Self-led learning is effective because it enables individuals to learn from real experiences in their work.

There's convincing evidence that self-led learners are:

  • Highly-motivated.
  • Retain and use what they learn.
  • Learn more than passive learners.

As you progress your self-leadership, others will give you feedback. This opens another window on your behaviors and performance.

If your feedback-givers follow the feedback formula - what went well? What didn't go so well? What could be done better? - they can provide insights to enhance your self-understanding, skills and competencies. Regular, specific, objective, and evidenced feedback is essential. You can turn this into changed behavior.

Feedback can come from many sources. Your boss, your colleagues, your team members can all provide contrasting or complementary observations that give you the choice to maintain, modify or radically change your habits and behaviors.

This only happens, however, if you accept and listen to everything. Don't block or defend. You'll value some sources and pieces of feedback more than others. Criticism with suggestions for positive change is more useful than a bland "you're doing fine" which tells you little.

Performance objectives can also increase self-awareness. Whether they are given or received, they stimulate thoughts on how things could be done, providing you with opportunities to bring about change and improvement.

Self-awareness can also be heightened via well-designed and appropriately applied psychometric questionnaires. Three to consider are:

  • The Honey and Mumford Learning Styles Questionnaire (LSQ) gives you a battery of questions that helps you to measure your preferred approach to learning and makes your learning easier, more effective and more enjoyable. It provides tips and ideas on how to build your versatility to learn from a variety of experiences - some formal, some informal, some planned, and some spontaneous.
  • The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) provides insights into your preferences as defined by Carl Jung. It can help you to understand why you and others find some activities and approaches useful and engaging, and others stressful or difficult. It also indicates how these differences profoundly affect the way people look at, and deal with, the world.
  • The Belbin questionnaire, which helps you to understand your preferred team role - and helps you to shape teams to have the requisite preferences to achieve the task. Belbin found that one of his team role types - the Completer-Finisher - was key to getting projects finished on time.

These tools can provide you with the insight and applications to fully understand yourself and to help you to understand others -  thereby enhancing your associations and interactions, confident in your approaches and variations in style to build lasting and fruitful relationships.

About the author

Emerald Works

Emerald Works

At Emerald Works, we’re committed to helping individuals and organizations around the world realize their full potential by using evidence-led learning solutions that work.

We work together to build learning cultures that empower people to bring about real change for real impact.

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