5 Traits of the Aware Leader

The longer I’m in leadership, the more I realize I don’t always fully know the real health of my team or organization at any given time – at least as much as others do.

Don’t misunderstand – I want to know, but often, because of my position, I’m shielded from some issues.

I’ve learned, right or wrong – agree or disagree – that some would rather complain behind a leader’s back than tell them how they really feel. Others assume the leader already knows the problem. Still others simply leave or remain quiet rather than complain – often in an attempt to avoid confrontation.

I’ve made the mistake of believing everything was great in an area of ministry or with a team member, when really it was mediocre at best, simply because I was not aware of the real problems in the organization.

It can be equally true a leader doesn’t know all the potential of an organization. Some of the best ideas remain untapped for some of the same reasons. People are afraid of their ideas being rejected, so they don’t share them. They assume the leader has already thought of it or they simply never take the time to share with them.

If a leader wants to be fully “aware”, there are disciplines they must have in place. For example, as a leader, do you want to easily recognize the need for change and the proper timing to introduce it? That comes partly by being a more aware leader.

Here are 5 traits of the aware leader:

Asks questions

Aware leaders are consistently asking people questions and making intentional efforts to uncover people’s true feelings about the organization and their leadership. (Read a post of questions I wrote called 12 Great Leadership Questions HERE.)

Remain open to constructive criticism

Aware leaders make themselves vulnerable to other people. They welcome input, even when it comes as correction. They realize that although criticism never feels good at the time, if processed properly, it can make them a better leader. (You may want to read THIS POST and THIS POST about how to and not to respond to criticism.)

Never assumes everyone agrees

Aware leaders realize that disagreement and even healthy conflict can make the organization better. They expect differences of opinions on issues and they are willing to wrestle through them to find the best solution to accomplish the vision of the organization, even if that opinion belongs to someone other than the leader.

Never quits learning

Aware leaders are sponges for information. They read books, blogs, or they might listen to podcasts. They keep up with the current trends in their industry through periodicals and newsletters. They never cease to discover new ideas or ways of doing things.

Remains a wisdom-seeker

Aware leaders surround themselves with people further down the road from where they are in life. They most likely will use terms like mentor, coach or consultant. They are consistently seeking the input of other leaders who can speak into their situation, make them a better leader or person, and ultimately help the organization.

Great leaders are aware leaders.

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26 thoughts on “5 Traits of the Aware Leader

  1. This is a healthy list. I'll add an aspect to "Never Assume Everyone Agrees".

    It's good to have pushback on things. If you have nothing but yes-men then you could lead them down the wrong path and you'll never know it until it's too late. On the other hand, too much dissent is an organization killer. Disagreements must be properly contextualized. That is, there must be an explicit goal that everyone is cooperating to achieve. There must be some disagreement to serve as necessary necessary checks in the way that the goal is to be achieved. Disagreement turns into unhealthy dissent when unfounded suspicions that someone isn't on board with the goal arise. At this point, people debate devolves into accusations of evil intent. So keeping the goal at the forefront of the team's thinking builds trust that we are all striving for the same thing. Having that expectation up front keeps anyone who may actually have some evil intent at bay by refocusing them on the goal or by quickly uncovering their intent. This has the effect of unifying everyone who has the good intent of achieving the goal. This results in making disagreements fruitful and healthy.

  2. Great post, Ron! I have identified each of these areas as well – and I'm continually improving in each area. More than once I've been "blind-sided" when I should have been aware. The discipline that has helped me the most was redesigning my one-on-one meetings with my team – here's how I did it http://www.michaelnichols.org/one-on-one-meeting.

    Thanks so much for the reminders!
    Twitter: Michaelenichols

  3. Great Ron! Here's one I'm learning. "Discern the difference between intellectual buy-in and emotional buy-in." People may shake their head "yes" but if the leader isn't drawing out or allowing the right dialog their hearts say "no."

  4. Great Ron! Here's one I'm learning. "Discern the difference between intellectual buy-in and emotional buy-in." People may shake their head "yes" but if the leader isn't drawing out or allowing the right dialog

  5. Great post Ron. I'm learning that self-awareness is probably one of the most important practical elements to leadership. Thanks for putting some practical touch points on it for me.


  6. Ron,

    A+ post! So many great lessons and stories I have relate to these issues. But I will share one quote that I have used to encourage feedback from my teams in the past:

    "If all of us always agree, then only one of us is needed." -George S. Patton

    A leader not willing to receive or not looking for feedback from their team is probably not growing. A tree that is not growing is starting to die…

    Dave http://www.alslead.com