When you’re consumed by a new concept, don’t be surprised when you hear about that concept from the least likely of sources. For me, that concept was being self-aware. The source? My job.
Last week, I attended a lecture in which one of my department’s leaders was the speaker. I wasn’t sure what the lecture would entail, and I went only because another coworker of mine (who had just joined our team a few weeks ago) was attending.
I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t interested in supporting my people. After a good internal whine-fest, I smiled and said, “Cool! You ready to head over?”
Once we arrived at the conference room, we were surprised to see that it was, instead of a large lecture hall, a smaller, more intimate venue designed to hold only about 20 people. We had run into our leader at the elevator of the building, and she’d laughed with relief to know that some of her team was going to be joining her at the lecture.
The facilitator, a manager from the North America Business Unit of our company, soon began the meeting. I quickly realized that this “meeting” wasn’t to discuss manufacturing practices or a new trend in the food science industry. Instead, it was meant to encourage discussion regarding “servant leadership.”
“Leadership,” I’ve heard of. “Servant leadership,” not so much.
Servant Leaders–What It Means to Self-awareness
I went, as I always do, to Google. Here was what the top result told me:
Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.
Okay, great. So…what does that mean?
I read further on the Center for Servant Leadership website, and found out that servant leadership is something of a process.
- The Natural Desire: “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first”.
- The Conscious Choice: “Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead…”
- The Best Test: “The best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons…”
These are the site’s words, but my takeaway is that, perhaps there is a cause you want to provide for. Or there are people you want to help. You make a decision to do what you need to do to help them. Maybe it’s through starting a charity drive, or serving as a mentor to those who need it.
Your work is beneficial. Your words become influential. You couldn’t really care less.
You’re not doing any of this for selfish reasons. You truly want to help, to see others progress and evolve.
At the time of the lecture, I didn’t know any of this. And yet, one of my leaders was presenting content on this topic.
Being Self-aware and Shaping Yourself
I will honor the main principle of the group’s confidentiality (“What’s said in the circle stays in the circle,” the facilitator started with a smile.). I will however, say that when my leader spoke, I was surprised by what I heard. It wasn’t some generic comment about how everyone is important, and believe in yourself, and leading is important, and blah blah blah.
Instead, I heard the story of a human being who, when doors opened for her after college when literally there had been no options before, recognized that she could not and did not want to lose opportunities when they arose.
The first sentence out of her mouth was, “I was the most extreme introvert you could meet.”
My ears perked; she continued. “However, I knew I had to fight through that shell. There were certain things I wanted to do, and I could not remain in my shell, staying indoors, reading all the time. I had to change that.”
As she recounted her journey to her current role as a high-profile leader, she paused. Her speech, laid heavy with her European accent, was calm and soft, but unequivocally layered with natural authority. “I think we as a people need to put more emphasis on being self-aware. We don’t spend a lot of time listening to ourselves.
“As we grow, we have to ask ourselves, what do we want to do? My family–my husband, my child–is scattered across the world; we are truly an international family. But I had to take this job opportunity and be where I am right now. If I wasn’t the best of me, I wouldn’t be able to help my family.”
I saw several heads across the room nod.
Self-aware ≠ Selfishness
For someone looking outside of the leader’s family, it could be easy to think, “Oh, you moved halfway across the world away from your husband and son, just to take a job? That seems a little selfish.” To me, it seems one of the bravest, most selfless act a person could do.
Our leader did not force her family to move with her to the States. Her husband had an established routine where he lived, and so did her son. What would have truly been selfish was if she told them to come with her, or even if she had ended any communication with her husband, perhaps declaring his refusal to leave his job as a slash against their love.
Hers is a strong family, one in which each individual is aware of the life and career he/she is striving to develop. In this stage of their lives, they must be apart to fulfill this stage. The separation does not weaken their bond, but rather strengthens it.
Our leader, in her talk, said that her family is everything to her. It is because they are everything, that she chose to take this job. Physical distance is exactly that–physical. The spiritual bond–the love–will remain strong as she grows in this new position and helps reshape our department as best she can.
How Self-aware are We?
I left the presentation with a newfound admiration and respect for my leader, one that I had admittedly wavered on before. It can be easy to hear someone say, “Oh, he’s a great leader/she’s a great leader.” But it can be difficult to understand what that means.
Recently, I’ve been told that I would be a good leader. I’ve had people reach out to me, look at me as if they expect something extraordinary to burst out of me. If I am housing the unicorn of Alien chest-bursters, it certainly would be new to me.
“What do you want?” I want to scream, feeling awkward and nervous under their anticipation. “What do you expect me to do? I’m just me! I’m nobody!”
I’ve prided myself on being a “super introvert.” I’ve told people I need my alone time; I need isolation and selective activity. People “exhaust” me.
Not only that…but people don’t like me.
I promised myself at the beginning of this year that my life would change not just for the better, but towards a permanent future of amazing, wonderful possibilities.
I meant this promise. I’m still doing everything I can to keep moving in a direction of physical, spiritual, emotional growth and fulfillment. But if I am to be truly self-aware, maybe calling myself a (proud) super introvert is not the most flattering aspect of myself.
I am not fully self-aware yet. I’m still not sure want to do in life, or even what I want out of life.
But, I want to.
And hopefully, that is moving in the right direction.
To conclude, here is one last quote from my leader, one that really, really resounded with me.
“We have characteristics that shape us, but we shouldn’t let that shape who we want to be.”