READ ON TO DISCOVER:
- Why being self-aware can affect your business’s bottom line
- How a laugh track can save you from a terrible boss
- What mistake legendary Ford CEO Alan Mullaly made that started him on his journey to self-awareness
Tasha Eurich is an organizational psychologist and the New York Times bestselling author of Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life. She recently joined Ryan Hawk, host of The Learning Leader Show, to talk about what it means to be self-aware in the age of social media, and why we should all strive to get to know ourselves better.
This conversation has been edited and condensed. To listen to Tasha and Ryan’s full conversation, click here.
Ryan: I want to think about becoming more self-aware in relation to studying people who have sustained excellence over an extended period of time. What are the common themes you’ve seen with them?
Tasha: As an organizational psychologist, I have worked with so many leaders who start out very un-self-aware. I’ve seen them make these dramatic transformations in understanding who they are, what they value, what they’re passionate about, and what they want to accomplish, as well as how other people see them and the impact they have on others. I’ve seen first-hand so many dramatic examples of people who have put in the energy and mustered the bravery that it takes to get [self-aware], and they’ve reached their rewards.
The research on this is very clear. People who work on their self-awareness and can make progress are happier, they make better decisions, and they have better relationships at work and at home. They get more promotions, and they’re more effective leaders.
The topic of self-awareness is something that [has] become a national sport to point out—”This person is self-aware,” or “This person isn’t self-aware.” But the reason I wanted to dig into this was [that] I felt like there was not a lot of substance behind those comments. What exactly do we need to do? That’s what my research program has been looking at. What are the myths around self-awareness? What can people actually do to become more self-aware?
“People who work on their self-awareness and can make progress are happier, they make better decisions, and they have better relationships at work and at home.”
Ryan: How does somebody know if they are self-aware? [And] how do you become more self-aware?
Tasha: Let me start with the data points. My research has shown that 95% [of people] think that they’re self-aware, but only 10-15% actually are. It’s not “I am self-aware” or “I am not self-aware.” What I encourage people to do is first, question that assumption. The bottom line on how to improve your self-awareness is not to wait for a lighting bolt to strike. It’s not to wait for a huge life event where everything becomes crystal clear.
People who have made really dramatic improvements in their level of self-knowledge work at it every day. It’s about gathering those daily insights so that you can tie it up together and see the progress you’ve made over time.
“People who have made really dramatic improvements in their level of self-knowledge work at it every day.”
Ryan: How do you get that across to the people who are not the self-starters [of the world] or are not people looking to learn?
Tasha: That actually leads to the way that we can cope with the many un-self aware people in the corporate world.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was very popular in the 70’s, and I really loved it when I was younger. And Mary, the main character, has this boss named Lou Grant who is just horrible. He would yell and scream and was really downright abusive on most days. But since he had a laugh track behind all of the mean things he said, they became instantly more tolerable and sometimes [even] endearing.
I thought about [that] when I was coming out of a meeting one day where my boss was being just horrible, being mean just to be mean. I made the vow [that] the next time I had a meeting with him, I’d imagine a laugh track behind all of the ridiculous, un-self-aware things he says and see what happens. It was something that helped me deal with him a little bit more successfully.
We have to focus on managing our own self-awareness journey, managing our own reactions, because most of the time these people aren’t going to reach out to us and say, “Help me see myself more clearly.” It’s important to be as practical as you can.
“We have to focus on managing our own self-awareness journey, managing our own reactions”
Ryan: In your book, there’s a story about Mike, who’s this brilliant, talented aeronautical engineer who his boss loved. Mike finishes his project, and he says, “Here it is boss, I’m quitting.” His boss [replies,] “What! I love you, you’re great! Why would you quit?” And Mike, the brilliant, talented aeronautical engineer says, “Because you drive me nuts. This is the 14th round of revisions.”
How [do] leaders build self-aware teams in organizations? Can you dive a little bit deeper there?
Tasha: This is actually a story of Mike’s boss, Alan Mulally, who turned around not one, but two of the world’s biggest companies—Boeing Commercial and, later, Ford. In literally five years, he came in as a CEO to 17 billion dollars of yearly losses, and when he retired—it was his last job—they were at twenty billion dollars of profit.
Alan Mulally was kind enough to let me spend some time with him and interview him for the book, and he told me that story about Mike. One of the things that he credits his success to is self-awareness. He said the biggest opportunity for improvement at work and life is self-, team-, and organizational awareness. He’s one of the best living examples that prioritizes this on a daily basis.
At the end of our interview he even asked me, “Hey how did this go? Do you have any feedback for me?” We both started laughing. It’s just such a great example of seeing him start with his very first employee, Mike, quitting abruptly to really saving two American companies is just about as inspirational and just about as good as a business case for self-awareness as you can get.
“The biggest opportunity for improvement at work and life is self-, team-, and organizational awareness.”
Ryan: What are some of the in-between parts of the story? What did Alan do specifically that helped him become more self-aware?
Tasha: The first is, he went out of his way to create a culture and a team where people could tell the truth. If you create an environment where people feel penalized for their mistakes, or they get in trouble for telling you the honest truth when you need to hear it, you’re never going to be more self-aware.
One of the ways you do that is to be vulnerable yourself. When I’m coaching early career leaders, they are [often] perfectionists, people who think “I’ve gotten where I am because I’m awesome at what I do, and you’re telling me that I should admit my weaknesses and my mistakes?” Usually, if I’m coaching them and I’ve established a little bit of trust, I’ll say, “Why don’t you try it for a week, and we’ll come back and talk about how it goes?” They come back and say, “I just had the first honest conversation with my team I think I’ve ever had, and it was because I started by admitting a mistake I made.”
Another thing Alan did [was] to institute something called a “business process review” at Ford. Every single Thursday at 7 am, he and his executive team members would gather in a room and would each have 10 minutes to provide a succinct but detailed presentation of the status of what their team was doing. What Alan would say was, “If I ask you a question and you don’t know the answer, or you come to the meeting and a metric isn’t where it needs to be, that’s okay, because I know that we’ll be here next week. And I know that by next week you’ll have started to address it.” What I love about that is that not only did it check his own leadership, but it gave him the chance to give his team feedback as well.
So in organizations, we don’t work on self-awareness just because it’s fun. It can be fun, it can be really gratifying, but ultimately you’re doing it to support your success as a leader and the success of the business.
On a personal level, I was pretty amazed to learn that Alan also did BPR [Business Process Reengineering] with his family. Every Sunday, they would get together and they would literally have a family BPR. They would give each other updates, they would give each other feedback. What’s really beautiful about that concept is that you can pretty much use it anywhere.
“If you create an environment where people feel penalized for their mistakes, or they get in trouble for telling you the honest truth when you need to hear it, you’re never going to be more self-aware.”
Ryan: You talk about some internal self-awareness tools, in the vein of mindfulness, where mindfulness is simply noticing what we’re thinking, feeling, and doing—without judgment or reaction. What else can you share about this mindfulness practice?
Tasha: If we want to be mindful, it’s not just about meditation. That’s one way that works for so many people, but let me give you an example of a non-meditative mindfulness technique called “comparing and contrasting.”
Mindfulness means actively noticing the present, but also drawing distinctions between the present and the past. So if somebody is just miserable with their job this week, they go in every day and say, “Wow, I’m miserable.” If you use the compare and contrast tool, what you might ask is, “What’s different about this week than last week?” And you might say, “Well, this week I’ve had to do two or three client presentations every day, and last week I spent the whole week working quietly in my office, and I really had a better time there.” Drawing that distinction between the present and the past might start to help you figure out the types of things that you enjoy doing.
“Mindfulness means actively noticing the present, but also drawing distinctions between the present and the past.”
Ryan: Let’s shift gears to a common thing we all see if we’re on social media—”selfie syndrome.” Intense self-focus not only obscures our vision of those around us, but it distorts our ability to see ourselves for what we really are. I’m curious, what does the data suggest in regards to rising narcissism?
Tasha: When I talk about “selfie syndrome,” [I’m talking about] this societal push that we’re experiencing towards becoming more self-absorbed and less self-aware. There’s a direct and immediate impact of our social media use on our levels of narcissism. It’s not correlation, it’s causation. There was one study where [researchers] had students either plotting their route to school on Google Maps or spending time on their social media profile. The people who spent more time on social media were immediately more narcissistic.
[Social media] really is a pull away from the idea of self-awareness. Every day, we wake up and we’re being tempted to join the “cult of self” where we’re all special and amazing just because we show up. The more we get sucked into that, the less we see ourselves as we really are.
Now, here’s what’s really interesting. When I studied these highly self-aware people [who] made these remarkable transformations in their self-awareness, I looked at the amount of time they spent on social media compared to the amount of time that the average person spends. 30% spent more time on social media than everybody else. I checked the data four times, and I said, “Okay, why is this happening?” So I started talking to them, and I learned that they actually use social media very differently than people who are not as self-aware. Somebody who has fallen prey to “selfie syndrome” might log on and post a selfie, or their latest professional accomplishment, or the fact that their baby just turned eight weeks old. Or, on the other hand, they could post something that is helpful to other people.
Researchers have called the first category “me-formers,” but the other category is called “informers.” The people who made dramatic improvements in self-awareness were informers. [They] go in and post an article that they think people will enjoy, or share the beautiful photographs that they take with other people to make their day better. So, one really simple way to resist the pull of the “cult of self” is to ask yourself, in your personal interactions and when you’re online, “How much time are you spending focused on you, and how much time are you spending focused on other people?”