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The Power of Self-Awareness in Leadership: Recognizing and Communicating Stress

I once asked a leader of mine if he was aware of his “tell” when he was stressed out (spoiler alert, he didn’t – but you can bet those of us who worked with him did).

When I found myself leading a team, I quickly learned the profound importance of self-awareness and open communication. One of the crucial lessons around that was understanding and acknowledging my own signs of stress and sharing that with others. 

Why was this important? Well, let's just say I wasn’t always showing up as my best self during those times. My email and verbal communications became noticeably shorter, with pleasantries removed entirely. It became so evident that someone once confronted me, concerned that I was upset with them. Having trusting relationships within my team was a top priority for me. The last thing I wanted was for someone to develop an untrue narrative based on their perception of my actions.

But here's the real beauty of it – by openly sharing how others could observe I was stressed, they not only understood but could also offer support.

This had a profound impact for two reasons: 

  1. It reinforced the notion that I wasn’t alone, and I had a strong team to rely on, and 

  2. It provided me with an opportunity to check in with myself and make necessary adjustments.

Sharing vulnerabilities in this way can be daunting, but as I reflect on that experience, I realize how much was gained by it.

So, I ask of you, do you know what your "tell" is when stressed out? What is the impact that has on others?

If interested in learning more, here are two book resources:

  • "How To Work with (Almost) Anyone” by Michael Bungay Stanier, where he shares the importance of focusing on HOW to work together, not just WHAT you're working on.

  • "Insight" by Tasha Eurich, a book on the importance of seeing yourself clearly (which includes how others see you...).

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