Transitioning to Senior Leadership: Identifying an Aware Leader

Downward Leadership Spiral

If you missed Part 1 and Part 2, read those first. Then come back here for more details on the shift from being Smart to being Aware.

One of the most important dynamics that needs to happen on a senior leadership team is that team members need to feel comfortable with each other engaging in intense dialogue and debate so that they can make the consequential decisions for their organization. If senior leaders aren’t doing this, they aren’t doing their jobs.

You can identify the leader who fails to make the shift from being smart to being aware by looking for the following. 

  • The leader typically starts discussions by advocating for her own position.
  • When another team member suggests an alternative, that smart but unaware leader get’s defensive.
  • She may become off-putting, or, on the other hand hand, completely withdraw from the conversation.
  • She has a difficult time not taking things personally, and isn’t aware of how her body language and style impacts her team members.
  • She might be able to see her dysfunctional behavior after-the-fact – when the meeting is over.  But, almost always, she isn’t able to see it real-time and do anything about it.
  • She has a difficult time understanding and appreciating the needs of other senior leaders and the functional areas they run. As a result, she begins to justify her silo-building behaviors of withholding information, being aggressive, or unnecessarily remaining in conflict.

It’s a downward spiral and the end result isn’t pretty.

On the other hand, you can also easily identify a leader who makes the shift from being smart to being aware because you’ll notice the following.

  • She has the ability to engage in dialogue and debate in a constructive manner and without taking disagreement personally.
  • She doesn’t shy away from difficult conversation.
  • She has a reflective ability to hold the vision of others in mind as she advocates for their positions.
  • And, she treats other people like human beings – as people with different pressures and priorities that come with running their functional area of the business.

Going deeper*

On the surface – leaders who have made this shift are composed, interested in others, and want to form strong relationships.

Beneath the surface, the shift is really about having a deeper sense of how dependent you are on others – how you seek their approval, or have a need to control, or a desire to protect and remain distant. As this awareness builds, you realize that the way to overcome this is not to try to control others’ perceptions but to develop a more affirming attitude toward yourself. As a result, you begin to develop an inner dimension of empowerment.

Next post

Of the four mindset shifts we’ll explore, this shift (from smart to aware) is the most important. Leaders typically obtain their jobs because of their technical knowledge. But, they are successful in those roles because of their awareness and ability to build relationships. In the next post we’ll explore some incredibly compelling research on the subject that you won’t want to miss.


*Some comments modified from Leadership Agility,