How 'self-awareness' can transform your leadership team

Is 'vertical growth' the key to changing workplace culture?

How 'self-awareness' can transform your leadership team

A growing body of empirical research suggests that self-awareness is one of the most important tools you can have in your leadership arsenal. But when world-renowned leadership development expert and author Michael Bunting asks his clients to practice self-awareness, he says 99.999% of them don’t know how to do it.

“When we do leadership work with clients around the world we ask, ‘do leaders need to walk the talk,’ and they all fiercely agree. We ask, ‘okay, what’s the talk you’re trying to walk as a leader each day?’ Only one in 5,000 people can answer that question,” Bunting says. “They have no consciousness of how they’re trying to show up or the patterns inside of them, or the emotions and thoughts that actually pull them away from their best intentions. So, then what do they do? If they don’t have vertical consciousness, then they blame and deny.”

Read more: The toxic workplace trend that’s stealing leadership integrity

Vertical growth is about cultivating self-awareness to see our self-defeating thoughts, assumptions, and behaviours, and then consciously create new behaviours that are aligned with our best intentions and aspirations. Bunting says that 95% of the time if we see a problem in behaviour in business, we assume it’s a skills gap and try to fix it with skills training. For instance, if a leader isn’t empowering people, then you teach them the skills to understand how to empower people.

“The result of this sort of training is very little behavioural change because that is what is called horizontal growth,” Bunting says. “The moment you give that person empowerment skills, you find it was never really the skill that was the problem – it’s where they’re deriving their self-worth and sense of value that’s the problem.”

What is the difference between horizontal and vertical growth?

Bunting says that horizontal growth is what can be called “adding skills to the existing mind.” Vertical growth is when we look at the fears, the attachments, and the assumptions that are hijacking our ability to execute on those skills.

Read more: Leadership capability key to making an impact

“Culture and behaviour are rooted in deep fears and convictions that we don’t normally look at, address, or talk about,” Bunting says. “Vertical growth is the skillset that allows you to notice the thoughts, notice the emotion, notice the physical urges in your system, and regulate them – know what they mean, know their history, and know where they take you.”

Four ways that vertical growth can transform leaders and organisations:

  • You help create an environment of psychological safety for your workers, where everyone in the organisation feels that they are able to speak their truth and be honest with each other without negative repercussions 
  • You get better at empowering others: vertical growth will help you to gain clarity around ways you can empower your team members to also reach their full potential
  • You get better at setting and protecting your boundaries: Mastering self-awareness will help you set better boundaries for yourself and give you the freedom to protect your boundaries without feeling guilty or insecure
  • Increased confidence: once you stop caring what others think and stop image managing, your confidence will grow exponentially. Vertical growth enables you to live aligned with your authentic values, which boosts confidence, rather than worrying about how others perceive you or dwelling on insecurities

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