Reflections on Leadership: Self Awareness…

Leadership image

Amongst the terms we tend to use frequently in organisations, the term ‘leadership’ is one that is common place. It often refers to ‘senior managers’, ‘senior management teams’, or those on ‘executive boards’. To some extent, this is correct in that it meets the nominal explanations of the term. However, it is important to point out that leadership is not just a function of those operating in senior positions. It also refers to any situation where we as individuals act or take decisions with regard to ourselves or others.

In terms of ‘what’ leadership really is, or what it is that is being led, we do need to develop a fuller understanding and appreciation of the term.

My intention is not to commence an academic escapade into the definitions of leadership, or to discuss the distinctions between ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ theories and practices. Not at all. There is plentiful research by human resource and business management academics that explain the differences in numerous literature. My intention rather is to simply reflect on what leadership actually ‘feels’ like from thefeelings2 perspective of the individual doing the leading – with the view to assisting those leading understand the challenges of leading – from within. From this particular perspective, we shall explore the meaning of leadership experientially. This will assist us check-into ourselves, allowing us to conduct an introspective benchmark for measuring our current leadership or leading capability.

Let’s begin with the topic of self-awareness. To unpack, here’s a story:

Remember the movie “Nemo”? Yes, I loved it too! Nemo was a percula clown fish that was caught off the shores of the Sydney harbour by a deep-sea diver and placed in a fish tank in a dental practice with other fish that had apparently also suffered the same plight. The entire plotFN2 of the film shows the effort Nemo subsequently takes, with the support of his eager compatriots (the other fish in the tank), to return back to where he came from – the ocean.

Self-awareness is a bit like the ocean. It is vast, bottomless, and unlike the water in a fish tank, is completely limitless. This is why Nemo did everything he could to free himself from the constrictions of the fish bowl and return back to where he came from.

To lead, in any situation, be it in the workplace, home, or socially, we need to be fully aware of who we are. This is particularly crucial in our relationships with other.

Reflective Questions:

Do you know who you are? Or put it this way: Is the sum total of who you think you are, your name (as in “Jude”, “Paul”, or “Mary”)? Or your job title (as in “Director”, “Senior Manager”, or “IT Consultant”)? Or perhaps your possessions (as in your house, the area where you live, the car you drive, or even your social interactions)?

Take your time to think about these questions. Respond within yourself.


Drawing on lessons from Nemo, at times, we can be like fish swimming in a fish bowl, content, as it were, with the distorted view of reality that comes as a consequence of our ‘natural’ constrictions. The water in the fish bowl is like the human mind, cut off from the ocean, the original source. In so far as we stay within the confines of the water in the bowl, we are not truly aware of our inner self – our pre-thoughts, mental patterns, mental movies,mentalmovies dispositions, habituations, energies, etc. These internal states or ‘meta-programs‘ are intricate to our neurological system and shape and directly affect our behaviour and decision-making, even if we are not aware of it. Called the mind-body connection, what we do (action), is in effect, a consequence of what we are thinking or have thought and stored away, like a computer, in our ‘mental library’ to be used at a later date. Of course, all of this activity is done unconsciously.

So how do we build self-awareness into our unconscious internal states?

There isn’t a prescribed method for becoming more self-aware apart from taking practical steps to be-ing conscious. However, I am sure many have heard of “Johari’s Window”? Created by Psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham (1955), the model divides human awareness into 4 introspective quadrants (or window panes):

  • Window Pane 1the part of ourselves that we know, as do others.
  • Window Pane 2the part of ourselves that is not known to others, but we know. 
  • Window Pane 3the part of ourselves that we do not know, but is known to others.
  • Window Pane 4the part of ourselves that is not known to self or others. JH1

The journey of self-awareness (otherwise called the process of ‘introspection’) whilst cutting across all window panes, requires a deeper understanding and reflection into window pane 4 – the ‘unknown’. It is suggestibly of this window that Socrates, the famous ancient Greek philosopher speaks when he advocates: “Man, know thyself”. (see Plato’s Phaedrus)

Through this statement, Socrates suggests a mastery of oneself, or to put it simply, to bring self-awareness in one’s internal state. Whilst this may appear to concern oneself only, upon commencing the process, we quickly realise that building self-awareness is not just about me, it is fundamentally about the other. Indeed, building greater self-awareness enables us to realise that what we think of others, how we behave, attend to, and relate with others, is in fact only a reflection of ourselves.

To conclude, here’s another story: Jean-Paul Sartre, a 20th century French philosopher once described the intricate and indistinguishable connection between the self and other. He summarised his thoughts by way of a simple question: “Have you ever tried to pick upsand2 a grain of sand from the beach?” If you haven’t, go ahead and try it! When you do, you will inevitably pick up multiple grains, not just one. Sartre used this analogy to depict the inextricable connection between ‘l’ and ‘Other’.

From a leadership perspective therefore, knowing who I am is crucial to effectively leading others. Put simply, leading others, is first and foremost about leading oneself. Indeed, as we journey through the process of self-discovery, it will result in a change in perception – of ourselves and other.

Happy journeying!

PinNB: This is the first of what will be 4 reflective topics on leadership. Our next topic will focus on self-development. Be sure to check-in!


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10 Core Strategic Competencies

I stumbled into a website which got me thinking about the competencies listed below. I suggest that they are essential to those needed for effectively navigating the challenges of the 21st century workplace:

1) Systemic Thinking:                                                                                                                           

The ability to think…outside the box, and to see the inter-connectedness between seemingly disparate things in a manner that brings about change to an organisation’s structure, functions, people, culture and general ‘feeling’. Systemic thinking is about facilitating an environment where diverse perspectives lead to great insight

2) Strategic Intent:

The ability to use insight to analyse, understand, and develop simple and clear solutions that solve problems – leading to the attainment of an organisation’s strategic objectives.

3) Ethical Mindset:

The ability to navigate the ‘politics’ of the workplace as it relates to business, opinion, hierarchy and relationships, ensuring the right thing remains paramount – and is performed at all times. Continue reading


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‘Thinking’ and Talent Sourcing…

Companies are about to be engaged in a war for senior… talent that will remain a defining characteristic of their competitive landscape for decades to come. Yet most are ill prepared, and even the best are vulnerable” – McKinsey, 1997

Ever since the phrase “the war for talent” was first coined by McKinsey in the late 90’s, talent sourcers, recruitment consultants and all those involved in the talent acquisition process have been self-challenged to think more creatively on how to attract talent from what has become known as a limited talent pool. The 3 key reasons for this ‘war’, according to a 2011 report by the Aberdeen Group are; increasing competition in the market place for top talent, a shortage of required skills available in the labour pool, and pressure in meeting organisations growth objectives. But are these really the key reasons for this ‘war’ or are there other underlying, and often unexamined causes?

Consider this analogy to help explain the point: If you place a pencil into a glass of water, what happens? The pencil ‘appears’ bent, does it not? Indeed, our thinking will initially tell us that it is in fact bent, just like a mirage in the desert will have us believe that there is water in the near distance. However, upon further examination, and as scientific thinking later tells us, it is not the pencil that bends, but the refraction of light, as it hits the pencil at an angle that causes it to appear bent:

The way we think about talent (what it looks like, where we expect to source it from, how it should typically present itself or behave, etc), tells us that there is a war, that there is a very limited talent pool to tap from. However, upon further detailed examination of our ‘rational’ presuppositions, of our expected ‘criteria’, we may realise that it is not so much that there is a shortage of talent, but a shortage in our understanding of what talent is. The ‘war’, as McKinsey terms it, is not only about ensuring talent management is a burning board level priority, but in addition, I suggest, is even more so, about the war in our minds…in our heads! How are we to really understand 21st century talent? Continue reading

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Diversity of ‘Thought’ – The mechanics behind ‘blue-sky’ thinking…

The beginning of freedom is the realisation that you are not “the thinker”. The moment you start ‘watching the thinker’, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realise that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of…intelligence…that…creativity arises…from beyond the mind

Eckhart Tolle

In our last discussions entitled ‘Diversity of thinking’, we explored the business case for workplace diversity and we suggested that the different ways we think, serve as strategic building blocks for attaining higher levels of intelligibility – an essential requirement (also known as ’intellectual capital) that keeps organisations competitive. We suggested that the argument for diversity of thought was in fact an argument for greater intelligibility, and also further suggested that the phrase ‘diversity of thinking’ had its roots within the 17th century philosophy of Rene Descartes’, who proposed that “all human beings are essentially thinking things”.

But…let’s take a few steps backward for a moment…

Is Descartes actually right? Are all human beings essentially‘thinking things’ as he suggests? Put is it this way; is there more to the actually ‘activity’ of thinking than we know, such that it questions our ‘casual’ usage of the term ‘diversity of thought’, and which may have direct implications on creativity levels in the workplace? I argue that there is. Indeed to a large extent, I think Descartes got it wrong! Continue reading

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Diversity of Thinking…

We have often heard the saying: “Complex problems require simple solutions”, but have we actually taken time to really think about what this statement actually means?? Does it just mean deliberately seeking out a ‘simple’ solution when we have a complex problem or does it mean something more??

‘Thought’ or the act of thinking is a fundamental characteristic or trait that typifies all human beings. We are by nature ‘thinking things’ according to Rene Descartes, the renowned 17th century philosopher. But thinking is never done in isolation. Thinking is always derived from the sum total of each individual’s background and experiences. This is what makes it unique or different – and herein lies the central thesis of our discussion: It is diversity of thought or the different ways we think, that provides the simple solutions to some of the most complex problems we face.

Burrhus Fredric Skinner, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University was well aware of this issue. In thinking about the different ways we think, Skinner argued that all human beings are necessarily products of their environment. For him, this is, at one and the same time, a uniqueness as well as a ’limitation’. What we know as a result of thinking, is derived from the socio-cultural, economic and political interactions each individual has within their specific environment, he argued. But it is also true to say that of all living things, human beings have the ingrained ability to constantly overcome these apparent limitations – through the effective use of rational intelligence. Continue reading


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Are Financial Institutions unconscious of ‘unethical’ behaviour?

Click on link below to see this interesting article by Joshua Price:

With thanks

Jude-Martin Etuka

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Cultural Diversity: The ‘Appearance’/’Reality’ divide

Click on the link below to see article at:

With thanks

Jude-Martin Etuka

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