Merge's Blog

Self-awareness: with size comes strength AND vulnerability

Self-awareness in leaders is a key component of emotional intelligence, of which self-confidence and accurate self-assessment are key characteristics. Self-confidence is certainty about one’s self-worth and capabilities, and accurate self-assessment is knowing one’s strengths and limits.  In fact, just earlier this year, I blogged about this very subject when I recounted a story from Indian folklore. With this knowledge in mind, leaders always walk a fine line between confidence and arrogance.  In today’s post, I want to discuss how that line between the two can blur as people have continued success in their careers.  The truth is that when you’re big, you tend to be fearless.  But your size can also make you more vulnerable.

self-awarenessConsider the Pacific goliath grouper, a saltwater fish that grows to 6-8 feet in length, and matures to about 400 pounds.  In fact, if they live long enough, these fish can grow to as much as 800 pounds.  But they rarely do.  Because of their size, they’re inquisitive and fearless.  And because of their size, they’re relatively easy prey for spear fishermen.  To add insult to injury, their normal habitat is shallow water, and they tend to spawn in large aggregations returning repeatedly to the same locations, a double and triple bonus to the spear fisherman looking for an easy catch.  I first learned about these giant denizens of the deep when I visited a fish farm on the Big Island of Hawai’i.  The biologist there laughingly described how their size essentially painted a target on their backs.

Which got me thinking about the importance of self-awareness in workplace dynamics.  As people gain success in their careers and/or their organizations (so increase in size, if you will), there is a tendency to become more fearless.  Sometimes being fearless is a good thing – for example, taking calculated risks, making difficult decisions, being contrarian – but sometimes it’s not – becoming arrogant, destroying relationships with subordinates, unwilling to listen to alternate viewpoints.  The former is valuable, the latter is detrimental.  The former you should cultivate, the latter you should consciously side-step.  The key is recognizing when you are crossing the line.

So is it easy to separate the positive outcomes of increased “size” from the negative?  Is it possible to achieve the benefits while avoiding the potential disadvantages?  Would love to hear your thoughts.  Please add your comments below.

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