HR Management & Compliance, Learning & Development

Leaders, Your Lack of Self-Awareness Is Affecting Your Employees

The return to now hybrid workspaces comes with a new reality that could undermine employee morale. For some, the ubiquity of Zoom windows introduced a desirable new flatness to workplace hierarchies. But the reopening of three-dimensional workspaces is making some employees worry that those old hierarchies might also spring back up alongside the office desk chairs and the espresso machine.

Consider this example: A client recently told me her excitement to meet her virtual colleagues in the flesh quickly turned into dismay when she returned to the office. A senior vice president (SVP) she had been working with for months completely ignored her as they shared an elevator. An unsuccessful greeting turned to silence, and her mind flashed back to a year of casual Zoom conversations that led her to believe they had a close connection. When they exited on the same floor, the SVP headed to a corner office, while she continued and plopped down at her small, centrally located desk, deflated and confused.

On the surface, company leaders may see this as an ordinary occurrence. To me, it initially seemed to exemplify the reemergence of workplace power dynamics. But I soon realized that the bigger takeaway from this moment is the importance of being a self-aware leader.

We’re Not All Self-Aware LeadersYet

Unfortunately, data shows that most of us are not innately self-aware. This reality is damaging because it can lead people to make irrational decisions and become less likely to receive promotions, and at the most extreme, it can impact company profits.

It takes more than just experience to reach peak self-awareness—explaining why, even at the senior levels of an organization, most people fall short. Becoming a self-aware leader, which involves everything from being able to see yourself clearly to knowing how others see you and understanding how your behaviors impact people around you, is not something that happens overnight or can be solved by attending a seminar on awareness. The shift to being self-aware takes time and is a continuous process. It’s something that leaders must work on by soliciting regular feedback from trusted colleagues and peers and practicing implementing that feedback when responding to and engaging with others.

Building This Skill Should Be a High Priority

This matters more than ever right now as businesses face an incredibly tight labor market. One trend emerging from the pandemic is “The Great Resignation,” referring to people quitting their jobs in droves, in many cases for opportunities that better align with their values. No company leader wants that, and the individual actions of senior leadership have more influence on company culture—and talent retention—than you may think.

In the case described above, a self-aware leader would know the pandemic has been tough for everyone and that people coming back to work are filled with emotions—excitement, nervousness, stress—and would be ready to meet employees where they are. This leader might return to the office more conscious of his or her place in the organization and make an extra effort to engage his or her junior colleague in conversation so that person feels truly welcomed. A little self-awareness in each employee interaction can go a long way toward creating an inclusive and engaged workplace culture, and leaders would be wise to remember this as they prepare to welcome back their workers.

Cameron Yarbrough brings 20 years of clinical and operational experience, along with an extensive background in mindfulness and psychotherapy, to his role as CEO. Before Torch, Yarbrough worked at Stanford GSB as an interpersonal dynamics facilitator and built a successful executive coaching practice working with high-profile executives.