This is one of my favorite passages from the Tao Te Ching: “Knowing others is intelligence; Knowing yourself is true wisdom.” Of course people often mistake awareness of their likes and foibles as self-knowledge. But as the Tao Te Ching goes on to say, “Mastering others is power; Mastering yourself is true strength.” True self-awareness is the ability to recognize and change your habits, and practices to align with your greater purpose and values in life.
Most everyone has had an experience working for a company that continually tries to address shortcomings by changing little things. When I did sales for a small business that had issues with high employee turnover they tried changing their hiring process, their training process, their bonus structure, etc. all to no avail. That’s because the problem wasn’t with the process, the problem was with the bosses and they’re style of organizational leadership.
There’s a great quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that captures the essence of this common problem, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Part of our natural learning process is to mimic the behavior of those around us. And there’s nothing more demoralizing than a leader whose actions contradict their words, yet that is such a common problem in many organizations.
True self-knowledge is the ability to recognize the discrepancy between what you say and what you do so that you may actively work towards repairing the discord. No one is perfect, but we all have the potential to learn, grow, change and better ourselves. In fact actively learning is imperative to successfully leading a team towards achieving greatness and creating the change you seek.
While the book, Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence Learning to Let Employees Lead, was published over 15 years ago, the leadership lessons are very relevant still today. Both of the authors struggled to see continued success until they realized that they were the root cause of the problems in their business! Belasco and Stayer reflect, “Most of my efforts in the early years were consumed with changing ‘them’ (employees and customers). I only came to realize later that ‘they’ behaved the way ‘they’ did because I behaved the way I did. If I wanted ‘them’ to change their behavior, I had to change mine first.”
So before you try to address a problem by blaming others or changing protocol or implementing a new process or trying a new incentive structure, take a step back and ask, “am I the one that needs to change?” That’s not an easy question to answer and admitting your own culpability in the situation may not come easily to you (especially if you’re uncomfortable being vulnerable). But you’ll have to push yourself beyond your comfort zone because that’s where true learning happens!
Are you leading your team in the right direction? We will be reviewing Flight of the Buffalo at the August 16th EntrepreNerds discussion and professional development workshop. Signup today to join us and we’ll provide the tools and learning environment to help you move from knowledge to action!