A lot of people are talking about leadership, such as everyone needs to be a leader, if you're a good leader, you'll be better in business, etc. But I've seen a bit of a disconnect with how that works and what that actually means.
This week, we talk about self-awareness for better leadership with Lucy Faulconer, a leadership coach with a background in psychology and management consulting.
• The problem with leadership is we associate it with being in a position and you've got a team of individuals who are reporting directly to you.
• You've got to be intentional around what you are aware of and what you choose to look at in life.
• Surround yourself with people who will support you and help you to identify your blind spots.
What are the causes of poor leadership?
What are the problems that you've seen with leaders out there?
Lucy: The main thing with leadership is that sometimes we don't understand exactly what that means, and we associate it with being in a position where you lead others and you've got a team of individuals who are reporting directly to you.
Actually, leadership is something that we all have. We are all personal leaders in our lives. How we own whatever is going on for us, what we want to create in life, how we want to move forward and maybe create a certain kind of life or a certain kind of business, where we want to take our career—that's leadership.
Why is self-awareness important for being a good manager or leader?
Everyone is a leader, and that could be a leader in your family or a leader of your own life. Do you think there are people who may have lost their way or need to be in check more?
Lucy: I see that constantly. A lot of people who come to me have lost, at some point, that sense of ownership and power of creating the life that they want to create. They come to leadership coaching because they want to get that back instead of knowing how they can create the life they want or have the impact they want in the world.
It’s about being aware of what you're doing and how you're impacting the elements around your life, whether it's your personal life or your staff, vendors, and clients.
Self-Awareness From an Ontological Perspective
How do you see self-awareness in leadership?
Lucy: I'm an ontological coach, so I come from a perspective that awareness is your connection to reality. Ontology is the study of reality: what exists, what doesn't exist, and the fundamental aspects of reality.
For me, awareness is being intentionally conscious of your consciousness. It is how you relate to what you know and understand what you don't know and don't understand.
Awareness is always intentional and directed at something. That's really critical for us to understand that awareness doesn't just happen. You've got to be intentional around what you are aware of and what you choose to look at in life.
This distinction comes from the Being profile, which is one of the tools that I use with my clients. It's based on how you connect with what's actually happening in your life, what's the real impact that you're having on people in your team and in your business, and maybe one of the things that you're looking away from.
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How do you measure self-awareness?
How do you measure self-awareness? If you feel that you're self-aware, but you see these people and think a guy is arrogant or someone is a cheap or sleazy type of salesperson. Is the way their consciousness sits and how they're reflecting on how they are a leader different from that of someone else who might actually be achieving more? Is there a bit of ego in there, and does that impact the self-awareness in leadership?
Lucy: In that case that you mentioned, there's a disconnect between what they actually think they're projecting and how they're being in the world, how they think they're being perceived to what actually is going on, and that's your relationship to awareness.
You might think that you're being really effective and that people are loving you in a meeting, but you're not checking. You're not asking the questions. You're not even asking for feedback from the people that you meet or you're not even enquiring enough to get the feedback even if it was staring right at you.
Is that because you're not asking the right questions or maybe your staff are scared of disappointing you?
What can get in the way of leaders who want to improve self-awareness?
What are the main things that get in the way of making sure that you're a good leader and that you've got a successful team?
Lucy: When you're leading a team, I would say the structures that you put in place can get in the way of making sure that you've got a successful team.
First, how do you create the conversations and the instances with your team where you can raise your own awareness of the impact that you're having on them and what they need from you as their leader. That can be the feedback conversations that you create or the instances after you went to meet a client and spent time reflecting on what worked and what didn't work. You're creating those conversations with your team.
There's always going to be judgment. We're always judging and we're always making assumptions of what the other person did and why they did them. But bring them more into the conversation as that's not the only way of looking at something (e.g., "This is how I experienced the conversation with the client"). Then, you're able to sit in that conversation and delve deeper into it (e.g., "Given that, how would we take it forward? Is there anything we need to adjust? Anything we need to change?").
You'll even start noticing what it takes: intention. That's where awareness comes back in. You have to be intentional about creating those spaces where you're challenging your own point of view and how you're being perceived. Be willing to take yourself on and hear what's actually happening to the people around you.
Does culture affect your self-awareness?
You're from Chile. Do you find that location or belief systems that might be ingrained in culture can adjust the way that leadership works? Is it generally the same or is it vastly different when you go to a different landscape?
Lucy: I think bringing in the cultural aspect is always critical. I know that there are things that I can expect from clients in Chile that are different from how it would unravel with a client in Australia. For example, in Chile, there's that Latin side, so we're more flexible around time; things will run overtime and everyone's okay with that. In Australia, time and how we manage time are very different. It's so much easier to hold people accountable for arriving on time. Bringing in those little cultural distinctions to how I deal with clients and how you have conversations with people is really important.
I've done some work in Sydney, Brisbane, and a bit further up in the Sunshine Coast. Everyone in Brisbane is comfortable with the speed at which I normally talk. I go up the Sunshine Coast, and they looked at me as if I wasn't speaking English. They're telling me to slow down, but I got to get stuff done. I guess that's just ingrained in me.
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Lucy: Being able to notice that is something that you bring into how you interact and how you manage your own time and what you might be missing out on. It's not as if it's the best way or there's a bad way of doing it. It's just noticing that if that's something you bring to the table when you're in a meeting and even when you go on holiday, you'll be missing out on things. It's probably okay if you're doing business, but if you're on a holiday, you want to be able to choose to be different with your time.
My holidays are definitely normally high impact, low stay. I'll see everything that I can possibly see in the shortest amount of time. I may not get to smell the roses, which is I guess what you're saying there. I'm too busy running from A to B to get everything crammed in.
Time and the way that you manage time is important, but the way that you manage problems can be equally important, and that comes down to leadership decisions in the way that you set up the ethos of the business. A client that we used to work with had a machine that they had maintained for quite some time. The maintenance costs $300 to $400 every quarter. They were told they need to maintain this machine every three months; it was critical to their business because it was the only machine that they had that built their products. They didn't...and that machine failed. It was costing them $10,000 an hour to get that machine back up and running. What are the lessons that can be learnt from that?
Lucy: I take that back to awareness, and I connect it with responsibility. If we go to awareness, it's part of the business that the manager or leader was looking away from. He probably knew it had to be done, but he chose to ignore it. That's the opposite of awareness—ignore. What are the things that you look away from in your business and then you become negligent about it?
If you didn't know, you should have known. The cost to that business and the people that the manager was leading was great. That's where the responsibility as a leader or as a manager comes in—being on top of how you relate to self-awareness, how you relate to what you know to be true, and what you're not even looking at because it can cost you $10,000 or a lot more, such as one of the members of your team leaving because you haven't had the right conversations with them at about the right thing at the right time because you are unaware of what's going on.
If the team is looking at the way that you're solving a problem by ignoring it, surely that speaks about the way that you're managing the team. If there's a problem the team brought up, it's very likely that you're also going to ignore it, and the team may not necessarily have the respect that they deserve.
How can a leader be more self-aware?
What would be the way for leaders to make sure that they are becoming consciously aware of how they can impact the situation in a positive way, as opposed to going on a downward spiral with the whole team standing around doing nothing in situations such as in our example in which the machine is being fixed? How can a leader become more self-aware and kick some bad habits?
Lucy: It goes back to the intention. If you own a business and you lead people who rely on you, then your responsibility is around putting in place structures that keep you checking in with yourself—what are the things that you're not looking at in your business?
For example, I'm part of the Alternative Board, and I sit with a board of directors where everyone has different experiences. I bring in my own problems and I get to discuss them with them.
But the main thing that I get out of it is that I become aware of their problems that I may not have been looking into in my business. For example, there's someone from the insurance industry, and the examples and the stories that he brings in keep me on my toes.
Surround yourself with people who will support you and help you to identify your blind spots. That's exactly what I do with clients, and that's why so many business owners out there are working with coaches. As a leadership coach, I hold up a mirror for them and ask questions that will guide them to look into what's going on in their business, their team, and their life so that they can identify the root causes of their problems.
Let's hold up the mirror, and I'll hold you accountable to keep holding the mirror up even if it's uncomfortable and you're so tempted to look away that you're going to be taking action around the things that are critical for your business and leadership.
It struck a note with me. I know that I've been guilty of it. I've got an engineering background and I'm heavily systematised with the things and the way that I do things. I can't just do something right then and there; I need to make sure that every single system, process, and everything is perfect. I have to have 98% planning and 2% execution.
For instance, people hate cold calling, public speaking, and going to networking events. I said I've got to lose weight to be the image that I want to be looking at myself for people to look at me and respect me as a healthy person because then I'm running a healthy business. I thought I had to have a perfect system, a script, to know exactly what I need to say whenever I'm calling up someone. But I know deep down, you just probably call up someone and see what happens.
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Lucy: What is stopping you from doing where you're not exploring what's possible because it's not perfect yet? How do you know if it's even going to work or not before you take that first step?
It doesn't need to be perfect, you just go and explore. It's bringing in this curiosity to go and find out, move that way, and then readjust if it works or if it doesn't work instead of having it all together.
I'll be honest, sometimes the train has left the station after I finished making it. There's no point. I've got all this trouble and now it's no longer relevant.
Lucy: It is knowing your pitfall. How do you take action and become responsible about knowing that it's going to get in the way for you?
Being self-aware and making sure that I'm in check. If I'm spending more than a certain amount of time on a certain task, I ask if this is actually the most efficient way that I should be doing this or if this is what I should be doing right now.
In 2007, I started the business. It's only 2010 when I got a bookkeeper. I've done bookkeeping for three years. I didn't want to do it, and I just ignored it. I was just negligent to it. "No, I'm not going to do it. I don't know how to do it."
Lucy: It's a great example. What it cost you was your peace of mind.
It took up a great amount of mental real estate. It was taxing.
Lucy: The peace of mind is something that really suffers when you're being negligent around something that you know you should be looking at but you're looking away.
It's like when you have to get an assignment in or some piece of work, and you do absolutely everything but that until the day before it's due. You cram it all in, hand it in and think it could have been so much better if you did it a couple of weeks before. But a couple of weeks before, you're finding every excuse—you mow the lawn again, tidy the house, etc.—but those are just avoidance tactics to not do what you actually need to do.
Lucy: And you come up with all the right stories to keep you exactly where you are. The thing is it's very hard to interrupt your own stuff. An example is when you're talking to other business owners and they tell you about how they're doing something and you realise that's obvious and then you ask yourself why you haven't thought of it. It's because we're on our own heads. So surrounding yourself with the people that are going to challenge the way you think, the way you view the world, gives you more possibilities of action.
The Alternative Board
The Alternative Board is really cool. I think it's good that you can have people that have just started in business or that have been in business for 40 years and you're all sitting down together and you're hearing from different walks of life. I guess the experience is really important. If you've got a business that's sending over a million dollars, is that different in the way that you should be reflecting? Is this something you need to keep in check over time, or is it once you've got a skill that you've learnt, like riding a bike, you carry it with you forever?
Lucy: I've been working with coaches around my self-awareness and then I became a coach in 2015, which was when I started understanding all of this world of coaching. I noticed that whatever the challenge I'm facing at that moment, that's what I need to deal with and become aware of and understand my own story and how I'm getting myself stuck in certain things. You get over that, and then maybe a year later you're facing something else.
Whatever I'm doing, if it isn't bringing me the results that I want, I'm going to take myself on and find someone who is going to take me out of my comfort zone to have a breakthrough.
I've been building my business for the last year and a half, and what's critical is surrounding myself with those people who make me really uncomfortable because they ask me questions that I'm not willing to ask myself. It may be because I'm not aware of them, so I can't even think of the question. Sometimes, it's because I can see it lurking around but I thought that's just too hard, so I just won't look at it.
I think surrounding yourself with people that are going to be keeping you accountable is huge. Having my own business and not having a partner in the business means I'm the one who's making the decisions, whether it be right or wrong. I'm either having the ship sail full of wind or the ship is sinking, and I know exactly whose fault it is every time. Things like the Alternative Board are really cool because it gives you that flexibility to have the accountability but also still run the business.
Lucy: We're not human doing. We're human being, so go one level deeper and ask who you're being around it. When you are talking about wanting to have everything perfect, for me, I go straight into vulnerability. Can you be with vulnerability, with not knowing, with not understanding how you're going to be perceived if you don't have it all handled? Go to the being, not only the doing.
Accountability will just keep you in the doing, and it's not only about that.
As an ontological coach, I work with Being profile. It's a way of looking at yourself that you don't normally get to because it's not in the behaviours. It's not in the doing. It's actually in who you're being. It takes you to a level that is quite confronting because you get to stand in front of a mirror and the first score that it will give you is your awareness score. That is, what's your relationship to awareness? And given that, what's the effectiveness you have in life? Any business owners out there who want to take themselves on and see something that they may not be looking into can give me a call.
It can't hurt. It's a process. It's only going to make you better in business for all the right reasons. Situations like the $10,000 an hour machine that went down could be avoided if you become better at understanding where you need to be focusing your energy and time and if you become more conscious about what it is that you're doing instead of just ignoring things.
Lucy: Whatever you're not looking at as a leader, you're going to be passing on to your team. That's going to become culture.
Recommended Book: The Bean Book
Is there a book or anything that has really impacted you and brought you to where you are now?
Lucy: The one I'm reading is called The Bean Book. It talks about the ontological perspective. That's pretty heavy reading. If you're looking at something that will just challenge you, I follow and absolutely love Brene Brown. She speaks about courageous leadership, vulnerability and courage, and how we bring that into business.
What does freedom mean to you?
What is business freedom to you?
Lucy: I have three children, so I love the thought that I can manage my own time so I can be around my children when I choose to be and still build a business. I'm truly passionate about it, and I know the contribution that these conversations can bring to people's fulfilment in life and actually what they are up to in life. If I can contribute in any way to making businesses better, that's the business that I want to create.
You're making people's mindsets better, so you're going to make their families better. It's going to make their time on Earth better.
Lucy: The first one that I'm taking on is myself, constantly making sure that I can build it and be responsible with how I want to build it.
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