Where a growing circle of business leaders comes to share, learn, and inspire organizations to put people first

Whirling Chief
Nº 100

Why Would We Want Self-Aware Employees?

The other day I was listening to Brené Brown. She shared about being asked to address ‘innovation’ at the workplace…without mentioning the word ‘vulnerability’ (her core area of study). She responded, “How?!” It made me smile.

Those who study any social science would know values like vulnerability, gratitude, and compassion are foundational to building trust and driving creativity.

It is such a curious phenomenon that we try to stay at arm’s length from any intrinsic topics when it comes to workplace; and yet, the concept of any organization is built off people. How can we talk about productivity, growth, innovation, and profit without mentioning humanity? Human beings are at the heart of everything we do. In our workforce, in our customer base, everywhere.

I have to admit: One of my main ‘fears’ associated with investing in Whirling Chief was also related to my personal brand. Looking back at my corporate experience, I could see that “successful” leaders were generally perceived as ‘all-work, deliver hard bottom line results, no-play, no-personal investment’ type of individuals. Therefore, I was worried that my brand image as a ‘kick-ass HR professional’ would appear ‘weaker’ by building a platform for professionals to focus on ‘human’ issues at the workplace.

I do wonder from time to time how many of us have worked for a business that valued self-awareness amongst its culture values, and promoted it actively across its leadership and workforce.

…But why would we even want self-awareness in the workplace?

Well, for one, if we know what drives us (from a personal mission perspective), and if we understand our core competencies, we can build on our strengths. At the same time, if we are aware of our tendencies and weaknesses, and have the skills to recognize our thought, emotional, and behavioural patterns, we can better control ourselves and guide others in certain situations.

There is a third reason, though: Self-awareness also drives diversity and inclusion by helping create and preserve a place of safety, acceptance, and collaboration with people.

If we are conscious of what we are good at, while acknowledging what we still have to learn, this allows for others to simply ‘be.’ It opens a space for others to show up and play to their own strengths. That space and unspoken exchange helps build trust and safety, and the continued practice of feedback iteration builds the foundation for improved conditions and innovation.

In our highly competitive corporate cultures today, all of this may seem counterintuitive. Many of us may still operate on the belief that we must appear as though we know everything all the time lest people question our abilities, diminishing our effectiveness as professionals or leaders.

Please allow me to tell you this is simply foolish.

As an I/O psychologist of 20 years, and the owner of a management consultancy that pops in and out of all kinds of organizations weekly, I can say with confidence which organizations thrive: the one that genuinely care about being authentic and making room for one another. Leaders in those organizations are the most humble, the funniest, the lightest, and probably some of the smartest people I ever come across.

So, the question for us really should not be, “Do we want to bring ‘human’ elements to the workplace?” The question should really be, “When are we going to have the courage to?”


  • 3 April 2017

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