self-awareness and leadershipIt has become quite fashionable over recent years to find quizzes and self-assessments on a number of things; something that stands out to me are those based around personality. For example:

I would venture to guess many Millennials know if they’re INFJ or ENFP — and most importantly, what exactly those awkward letters pushed together mean.

We are a society that loves labels, which I believe has its pros and cons.

Do we all remember the London riots not too far back? I was desperate for answers back then — how does something like this actually happen in today’s day and age? — and discovered a Psychology Today article focused on the empathetic brain. I was disturbed, but not totally surprised, to learn that it doesn’t take much for Schadenfreude (“harm-joy”) to kick in.

When we feel like we’re part of a group, and become overly attached, we as a species are capable of losing control and stripping ourselves of our collective humanity. This has been proven throughout history, time and time again. Though it may seem that only extreme labeling could put us at risk of Schadenfreude, that’s inaccurate. We are all at risk of becoming more judgmental and less compassionate if we cling to labels and attach ourselves to a group.

On the positive side is self-awareness and awareness of others.

For myself, discovering Generational Theory, and taking those Briggs-Myers Personality type tests were very eye opening. I’m not kidding when I say that Generational Theory — or the historical theory developed by William Strauss and Neil Howe revealing generational patterns throughout history — was truly life changing. It opened my eyes. It helped me to understand myself and others better. It allowed me to better understand where we’ve been in history, and where we may be headed next.

There is a whole other side to labeling that we haven’t considered yet that I’d like to explore: How labels can be a powerful tool for leaders.

Continue reading below to learn more about how labels can help you on your leadership journey.

1. Better Self-Awareness.

Understanding your own personality, whether it be through self-assessment tests, learning about generational theory, or even meeting with someone who specializes in these tests, can help you to understand yourself better.

When I realized that I am an introvert and not just the “shy” kid I was told I was my whole life, a whole world opened up. I learned how to better care for myself in situations out of my comfort zone. I learned to accept that I’m just never going to be the person who loves conferences. The thing is, we still have to step out of our comfort zones — always — self-awareness is simply a tool to help treat yourself kindly in the process.

2. Awareness of Others’ Motivations & Behaviors.

Once we understand ourselves better, it’s inevitable that we should begin to look at others with a new set of glasses as well. Maybe the guy you work with doesn’t want to do presentations because he’s terrified of public speaking, not because he doesn’t want to do the work. Maybe that outspoken employee or friend who shoots from the hip constantly and drives you crazy goes home and replays what she said, regretting her words. This awareness of others’ motivations and behaviors allow for more tolerance and compassion.

3. They Can Show You Where You Need Work.

This is hugely important: if you know where you struggle, you know where there is room for improvement. For example: if you know you’re a bad listener, and listening is critical in leadership, then you can focus on becoming better at this. It’s pure opportunity!

4. It Can Limit You, If You Let It.

I’ve gone over this already, but it warrants its own space. Never use your personality as an excuse to remain in your comfort zone, to judge others, or to lose empathy. In fact, when you see that you are using it as an excuse, that should be a red flag that you should be doing the opposite.
Self-awareness isn’t easy, in fact, you may have times you wish you knew less about yourself because it can be a lot of work to always try to do the right thing, but don’t give up. Keep moving forward.