The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?” is by David Silverman, CEO of McChrystal Group.
As a previous member of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Navy SEALs, I’m used to challenging, fast-paced environments where I am surrounded by the highest caliber of performers. After leaving the military and founding a consulting startup, my experiences have been no different, and in some ways, the learning curve has been even steeper. Becoming an entrepreneur and building a business from scratch has been incredibly challenging, yet undoubtedly rewarding.
When I sit back and reflect on my career, I notice one lesson that has been consistent throughout: the importance of self-awareness as a leader. It’s a lesson that is stressed time and time again in the military, and it is incredibly applicable to business leaders, especially in today’s dynamic operating environment. After graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy, the challenging selection process and training program to become a SEAL was an incredibly formative period. It’s an extreme environment, where you are tested and challenged in ways you can’t even imagine. The combination of adversity and your fellow teammates perspectives allows you to learn a tremendous amount about yourself: your strengths, your weaknesses, your leadership skills, and how you respond to failure.
But self-awareness is incredibly important in business as well. From my experiences of starting a business and growing an organization, I’ve had to make a lot of adjustments to my leadership behaviors. As your organization is changing and growing, your leadership skills need to change along with it. You can’t lead a team of 20 people the same way you led a team of 100 or 500. Awareness of how you are currently leading and what you need to work on to make it to the next level is absolutely critical.
Knowing who you are as a person and as a leader enables you to extract the best performance out of yourself. Your negative behaviors are almost certainly impacting your team. If you’re not aware of them or have no plan to address them, you’re holding back your team and limiting its potential — a big cost to your bottom line in today’s increasingly competitive business world. Leadership is about continuously assessing how you are performing, always striving to create the most value for both your clients and your team. Someone once described the role of the leader to me as this: A leader’s behaviors can either add chaos to the system or remove it. Always seek to remove it. This has always stuck with me. Remove your own chaos from the system and seek to be a steady, dependable force in your organization. The only way to do so is by maintaining heightened self-awareness; recognize your flaws and pull yourself back when they put you too close to the edge of chaos.
Read all responses to the Leadership Insider question: “What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?”
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The secret to dealing with difficult coworkers by Clark Valberg, CEO of InVision.
The best way to plan for a successful career? Forget the plan by Stephen Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA.