Byron's Babbles

Knowing Yourself

Posted in Coaching, Disciplined Leadership, Leadership, The Disciplined Leader by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 19, 2015

  You’ve probably noticed it’s very hard to know ourselves; it’s easy to be distracted by the way we wish we were, or think we ought to be, or what others think we should be, until we lose sight of what is actually true. When you don’t know yourself it then becomes easy to become defensive. As John Manning (2015) pointed out in lesson 11 in The Disciplined Leader,  “Habitually defensive behavior creates an atmosphere in which people walk on eggshells and struggle to communicate—primarily with you. That’s dangerous for your business’s well-being because it can stifle transparency, ideas, and productivity.” I would argue we need to spend more time interrogating ourselves and getting to know ourselves to break down the walls of defensiveness. It is always good news when people interrogate themselves about their beliefs, values, and actions. It’s important to be a self-aware person. Too many people lack self-awareness, for too many reasons. Engaging in self-reflection isn’t a luxury; it is a necessity. 

 Most of us choose to focus our attention on the behavior of others. Some people get mesmerized by looking at themselves in mirrors. Neither extreme has a propensity for healthy introspection or taking balanced personal inventory. The sooner we are open to consciously examining and acknowledging who we are the sooner the traits that are unique to us can become strengths, or at least stop hindering our growth. As Manning (2015) pointed out, the problem is that we’re all defensive some of the time. We would have to admit we are better able to observe defensiveness in other people than in ourselves. Once we’re in defensive or reactive mode we can’t take in new information or see two sides of an issue—or better yet, seven or eight sides. 

 One thing I try to do when I find myself getting defensive is to ask for specifics. This will help clarify the other person’s point and show that you care about what they are expressing. Remember, however, asking for specifics is not the same thing as nitpicking. The key is to be curious, not to cross-examine. Don’t act like a lawyer even if you are one. Also, do not counter-criticize. This is huge because because this is one of the quickest ways to ruin a learning organization culture of openness and collaboration. Even if you don’t like what the person is saying you can thank her for initiating a difficult conversation. Then reflect and glean what you can for improvement. I always try to look at every conversation as a chance to grow, both personally and professionally. These touch points all become a chance to get to know yourself better.


Manning, J. (2015). The disciplined leader: 52 concise, powerful lessons. Oakland, CA: Barrett – Koehler Publishers, Inc.


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