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on Leading the Next Generation


Leadership Test Number One: Self-Awareness

Has this ever happened to you? You are waiting at a store counter, ready to pay for the items you’ve chosen and the young clerk pays no attention to the fact that you’re there. They are chatting with a friend, filing their finger nails, or lost in a texting match on their cell phone. You clear your throat, attempting to allow them to notice you without losing their dignity. They still don’t seem to care. When they finally look up, they saunter over to you, but don’t give any eye contact. As they interact with you—they behave as if you are intruding on their time and space. You almost can’t believe what’s happening, but you do because it’s happening more and more these days.

This happened to me last week, and I couldn’t help myself. I looked at the young staff member and diplomatically said: “I’m not sure if this makes sense, but usually if someone is trying to give you money, you should make it an easy and positive experience—at least as much as possible.” I don’t think he understood my words.

I find an increasing number of people today who fail leadership test number one: self-awareness. They have no idea how poorly they come across to others. Or, if they are aware, they just don’t care. This is a sure way to diminish your favor and influence with others. They get an “F” in the class called: People Skills.

It’s not just the kids either. Most people experience a curiously low self-awareness in our culture. USA Today published the results of a survey that asked adults to evaluate their driving skills. About two out of three people reported they thought they were either “excellent” or “very good.” Another 27% said they were “good” drivers, which means a full 91% grade themselves well in driving. Only 1% admitted they were poor drivers. I am sorry. This just cannot be true.

When moms and dads were asked to grade themselves in their parenting skills, they gave themselves an “A” and all other parents a “D.” This is mathematically impossible. Each parent cannot be excellent but everyone else they know is poor.

Four Steps You Can Take

It seems we all have blind spots—and half the battle to overcoming them is simple awareness; admitting that they exist. Here are steps you can take to address them.

1. Invite friends you respect to hold you accountable for your conduct. Give them permission to reveal to you the quirks and habits that could sabotage your growth.

2. Capture yourself on video as much as you can. Watch the footage and evaluate how you come across to others.

3.  Ask your supervisor, at work, to clue you in on your damaging patterns. In fact, invite a 360-degree assessment from bosses, colleagues and teammates under you.

4. Invest time daily evaluating your performance and other’s reactions at the end of the day. Ask yourself: If you were your own boss, what advice would you give?

Here’s to taking the first step toward healthy leadership: know thyself.



  1. Bill Black on August 23, 2011 at 6:55 am

    360’s are terrific…try to get at least eight and make them anonymous.  Most people, by nature, don’t like to hurt other people’s feelings so they might shy away from being candid and totally honest, especially if they consider you a friend or colleague.  So, make sure all participants know the sample size is large and their responses are confidential.

  2. Lee Morrison on August 24, 2011 at 7:18 am

    I gladly admit that I am a poor driver…I would give myself a C-

    • Tim Elmore on August 24, 2011 at 7:41 am

      Admitting it is the first step, right? 🙂

  3. Clay Morgan on August 27, 2011 at 9:12 am

    That cashier experience is universal. Maybe I’ll try to think of a clever and useful way to handle it next time. As for self-awareness, when I was 19-20 someone gave me the book Personality Plus by Florence Litauer. I had never thought about anything along those lines. That book set my brain on a new trajectory about how I saw myself and others.

    • Tim Elmore on August 30, 2011 at 9:13 am

      Thanks for the book recommendation – sounds like it made quite the impact on you.

      Let me know if you think of a creative way to handle the cashier situation – I’d love to hear another approach I could take next it happens!

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Leadership Test Number One: Self-Awareness