The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out. Proverbs 20:5
As you know, the best leaders have a high degree of self-awareness. For instance, self-aware leaders have insight about how to deploy their strengths toward the challenges of their role and how to mitigate their weaknesses.
Proverbs 20:5 notes that the purposes of our heart lie deep within and must be drawn out if we are to have an awareness of them. In his book Impact, organizational psychologist and management consultant Tim Irwin discusses this drawing out process using the metaphor of three windows of self-awareness: the open self, blind areas and hidden areas. Irwin suggests ways to enlarge our open window while diminishing the blind and hidden areas.
The one “window” through which who we are on the inside is clearly seen by both ourselves and others is what Irwin calls our “open self.” Enlarging the open-self window increases our self-awareness, and the greater our self-awareness, the greater our personal authenticity and the more effective our leadership.
Take for example Bill Foote, cited by Michael Zigarelli in Management by Proverbs. Bill stood before 150 managers to deliver his first speech after becoming CEO Of USG Corporation, a building products manufacturer in Chicago. He opened by telling the traumatic and intensely personal story of his wife’s struggl with cancer, which had ended with her death one month before Bill was named CEO.
Now shouldering the new roles of widower, single parent of three young girls and chief executive, Bill Foote elected to stand before his management team and willingly disclose who he was. Later, The Wall Street Journal reported that: “As managers talked afterwards…the clear message was ‘if we have to go through a few walls for this guy, we’re going to do it.’”
The second of Irwin’s windows of self-awareness is what he calls the “blind” window. We’re all familiar with the concept of blind spots. Like a car that we collide with because it was in the blind spot of our side-view mirror, personal blind spots, unheeded, can wreck us. The blind window represents areas of our behavior, seen by others but not by us, that limit the effectiveness of our leadership.
To enlarge our open window by diminishing our blind window requires that we have people around us that we’ve given permission to speak to us with uncensored openness. A spouse maybe. A man was driving home from a gala at which he had received a prestigious award. He mused with his wife, “I wonder how many truly great men there are in the world today?” Her response: “One less than you think.”
Irwin’s third window of self-awareness he calls the “hidden” window. This window includes areas of our lives that, without intentional effort, neither we nor others see. Hidden defects may not show up for years, then all of sudden they manifest. Consider for example disgraced NY Congressman Anthony Weiner. Confronted with evidence of his lewd behavior, Weiner said, “If you’re looking for some kind of deep explanation for it, I simply don’t have one except that I’m sorry.”
Whatever Weiner’s hidden imperfection was – maybe simply the arrogance that often accompanies power – he needed to discover it, make it part of his open self, and then guard against it. That’s also what we need to do. How do we discover these hidden parts of our personality? Irwin suggests regular and thoughtful introspection. I’ve also found it helpful to allow God to expose my hidden areas as I meditate on his scriptures.
Dr. Jim Furr