People Awareness

Intellectually capable leaders have people awareness. I believe that 90 percent of leadership is interacting with others; leaders must understand how and why people (including themselves) think and behave the way they do. If you understand people, you can better lead them and respond to their needs.

People awareness can be thought of in three concepts: self-awarenessother awareness (empathy), and cultural awareness.


Intellectually capable leaders know what makes themselves tick. These leaders know self and seek self improvement. They are familiar and comfortable with their strengths, and they are knowledgeable of their weaknesses in a searching and fearless way. They understand their motivations and currencies, as well as their emotions and behaviors.

Be honest with myself about myself.

Self-awareness starts with fearless honesty. If you are not willing to be honest with yourself, about yourself, then there is no point in further discussing self-awareness, and you probably should not be in a leadership position.

An obvious but important note: we are usually very good at identifying our strengths, and at downplaying, minimizing, and ignoring our weaknesses. To counter this natural bias, I recommend that when you conduct introspection, you spend four parts of time identifying weaknesses for every one part you use to identify strengths.

Yes, being brutally honest and critical about yourself and your shortcomings can be an unpleasant exercise, but only up to the point where you take accountability for those shortcomings, apply effort to overcome or eliminate them, and succeed. It is important to note that this process is not meaningless or purposeless self-flagellation; on the contrary, it is an attempt to identify those shortcomings that reside in us and our leadership, so that we can improve or mitigate them, and ultimately become better leaders.

Again, it all starts with honesty. Do you respect yourself enough to be completely honest with yourself? Are you committed enough to yourself, your subordinates, the organization, and the mission? Do you truly want to be that leader to which you aspire?

Understand my strengths and weaknesses.

Self-aware leaders engage in an iterative process of rigorous and honest introspection and self-accountability. They compare themselves and their performance to those standards to which they aspire, and are honest about their strengths and shortcomings.

Attempting to understand your strengths and weaknesses is a broad effort to identify which characteristics are resident in you in strength, which characteristics are absent or weak, which behaviors you perform well, and which behaviors you perform poorly. There are many tools available, to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses: 1) professional instruments, 2) the 360 degree appraisal, 3) self-assessment, and 4) work with a leadership development specialist.

  • Professional Instruments. Within the fields of psychology, education, and human resources management, a number of professional instruments have been developed to do this, including Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory and the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator.
  • The 360 Degree Appraisal. Additionally, an emerging tool known as a 360 degree appraisal may be effective for identifying strengths and weaknesses. The 360 degree appraisal is a performance assessment tool that allows anonymous feedback from supervisors, subordinates, and associates, and is designed to give a leader a comprehensive understanding of his or her leadership from all perspectives (not just from their supervisor’s).
  • Self-Assessment. Nobody knows you like you do, if you will be honest with yourself. Using an identified framework, such as a leadership model, values statement, industry performance standards, goals list, et cetera, review your recent performance. Pay close attention to those events that went especially well (mission accomplishment, good synchronization, et cetera), and those that did not (failure, heavy conflict, disorder and chaos, et cetera).
  • Coaching. There also may be great value in working with a coach or mentor who helps facilitate your leader development. If you are interested in developing yourself as a leader, and are considering working with a coach and mentor, perhaps I can help. Send me a message and we can talk about working together.

Understand my motivations and currencies.

Similar (and perhaps synonymous) to goals and objectives, motivations can be immediate, short-term, and long-term, and are usually the defining components of what propels our emotions and behaviors. Similarly, currencies are those tangible and intangible results (outputs) that satisfy a motivation.

The obvious currencies correlate highly with our basic and advanced needs in modern society: money, material possessions, power, status, attention, affirmation, and love.

Currencies can be immediate, short-term, or long-term. For example, immediate currencies could include: a smoke or coffee break, lunch, or required support in completing a task. Short-term currencies could include a day off, being put in charge of a big project, a special parking spot, a nice office, or health insurance. Finally, long-term currencies could include promotion to a desired position, specialized professional education or training, completion of civil college education, or retirement.

In many ways, currencies can be carrots that leaders use to accomplish the mission, when employing a transactional style of leadership.

Important note: In my opinion, in what can either be good and healthy or negative and dysfunctional, all relationships between people (to include leader and subordinate, supervisor, peers, network members, et cetera) are in some way transactional (I'll give you this, if you give me that). In leadership, transactionalism has a negative connotation associated with it (it was denouced as the evil that 'transformational leadership' was supposed to cure). I reject this negative connotation, and submit that, used properly, transactionalism is a fair and effective way to deal with others as a leader.

Understand and control my emotions and behaviors.

We must understand those emotions that affect and influence us, as well as our resulting behaviors.

We attempt to understand our emotions, so that we can control and employ them in a meaningful way. In my observation of the world, all emotions can be explained as some mutated form of either self-satisfaction or fear. Consider the following logics:

  • I ensure the well-being of my subordinates before I ensure my own. This reflects my commitment to my espoused value of selfless service. While potentially personally discomforting, I gain self-satisfaction from this 'selfless' gesture, because I am living in a way that resonates with my espoused values.
  • I provide income, take care of the cars, cut the chicken, and take out the trash for my Spouse. I listen to her stories about her friends, the TV show she watched, and the dream she had last night. Performing these acts makes me feel several emotions, to include a sense of love, connectedness, and providership. These emotions are clearly derived from the self-satisfaction I get from being a participating and contributing member to my Spouse and our marriage.
  • My subordinate made an error. I became angry. My anger stems from my fear that my subordinate's error will reflect poorly on him, myself, and the organization.
  • I forgot to follow-up with an associate on an important matter. This makes me angry at myself. My anger stems from my fear that my reputation is now damaged in the eyes of that associate, and that I have damaged part of my network through poor customer service (when you're a leader, everybody is a customer).
  • My peer does well with one of his operations. I become jealous. My jealousy stems from my fear that my peer's success will make my efforts and performance appear inferior.

I could go on forever applying these logics, but you hopefully see the point by now: the argument can be made that all emotions ultimately derive from self-satisfaction or fear.

In addition to understanding our emotions and behaviors, we should think about those factors that influence our emotions and behaviors, such as diet, sleep, exercise, and work and non-work related stresses. Consider the following questions:

  • When is the last time I ate. How has by diet been in the last 24 hours?
  • When is the last time I slept? When is the last time I got seven or eight hours of good sleep? Am I off my normal circadian rhythm?
  • How has my physical stress relief program (exercise, outdoor recreation, etc.) been in the last week?
  • How involved have I been with work in the last week? Have I had a day off (completely away from work, no email, no phone calls) in the last seven days?
  • How is my life outside my work right now? Am I having problems with my Spouse, kids, landlord, et cetera, that I am bringing into the office and unfairly projecting onto subordinates?

One final thought on emotions and behaviors: we are more inclined to think about situations - what happened, how we could have prevented, how we could have mitigated, where to go from here, what to do next time - when things go poorly. While there is obvious value in this effort, I would submit that there is just as much effort in conducting a similar post-event analysis (in the Army, we call them After Action Reviews) when things go well. Just as important as identifying modifications and enhancements (we call them 'improves') that are revealed from poor performance, we must also identify those elements which worked and must be employed again (we call them 'sustains'). In my experience, such post-event analysis rarely occurs in any sort of depth if things go well; instead, the team is usually busy celebrating or exploiting their success.

Others-Awareness (Empathy)

In all but the most time-constrained or urgent situations, intellectually capable leaders attempt to visualize the other party’s perspective, prior to decision or action. Especially for their strongest and most belligerent opponents, empathetic leaders try to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes.

How do we attempt to become empathetic? Simply apply steps two through four (above) to your thinking about others: attempt to understand their strengths and weaknesses, attempt to understand their motivations and currencies, and attempt to understand their behaviors and emotions.

Also, there may be value in considering the following sort of questions:

  • Do I understand this person’s value system? How does it compare and contrast to mine?
  • Do I understand this person’s situation in life?
  • Do I understand this person's mission and objectives? What is their espoused purpose? Do they possibly have a clandestine agenda?
  • If dealing with a specific event, do I understand this person’s reason(s) for behaving the way they do? What would I do done in their situation?

 Cultural Awareness

In addition to thinking about self and individual others, people-aware leaders consider the beliefs, values, and behaviors that are generally practiced by groups. This is commonly referred to as cultural awareness.

It is important to note that there are multiple ideas of what culture is; in addition to those traditional ideas of culture (nationality, ethnicity, religion, et cetera), a culture can be created when any size group forms and begins sharing common practices.

Very literally, each and every organization of any size can develop an organizational culture, which can be observed and studied, and its best parts be used to achieve your organization's mission. Consider, for a moment, the practices (values, symbols, behaviors) of the following groups: an Army platoon, a motorcycle gang, a semi-professional baseball team, a fire department.


So, what are we to do with all of this awareness: awareness of self, awareness of other individuals, awareness of other groups? You use it, to get the mission accomplished, and to take care of your people. Sustain and highlight the strengths of yourself, others, and the organization. Improve and mitigate the weaknesses of yourself, others, and the organization. Understand your motivations and currencies; ensure they are aligned with the mission and organization's. Channel your emotions and behavior toward mission accomplishment. Leverage other's strengths, motivations, currencies, emotions, and behaviors to achieve success and results. Celebrate and employ cultural practices that facilitate mission accomplishment, and mitigate or minimize those that do not.

I closing, please allow me to reiterate my notion that People Awareness is a key subordinate dimension of Intellectual Capacity, as described in my personal leadership model. People awareness consists of three concepts: self-awareness, others awareness (empathy), and cultural awareness.