The concept

‘Awareness’ – an absolute essential in the way we look at leadership development. As Maslow said, “What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” Even if the intent is not to “change people”, we do want to influence people’s behaviours – for the better, with a positive intent, based on trust, drive by values & purpose.

So how do people change, or learn? Contrary to children or youngsters, who primarily learn through mimicking what they see from others, adults learn mostly through the conscious act of reflection. We press pause, rewind, play, we watch the movie again, and we observe ourselves. And we become aware. In Johari window terms, we get to know that we know.

Then, we still have the choice to accept it: “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance” (Nathaniel Branden). When the truth is inconvenient – are we ready willing and able to face it..?

The basic premise for learning is therefore flexing the muscle of introspection, or reflection: without it, people shall not come to insight and take the responsibility or adopt the will to change their course of action. As the late Sir John Whitmore wrote, “Building awareness and responsibility is the essence of good coaching”.

Almost anything we do in our leadership interventions – be it with individuals, teams, or organisations, is therefore heavily geared towards generating awareness. And while we can take the horse to the water, we cannot force it to drink…so we shall always respect the person’s will to take action or not.

In practice

Here are 10 techniques that can help raise awareness in people:

  1. Ask open questions (classic ‘when / how / what / who / why’ can work well) about the situation. Focus on the person’s awareness – not your own. Don’t ask questions that just serve your own understanding!
  2. More specifically, you may want to search for extremes: what is the best that could happen? The worst?
  3. Conversely, what would be the risk of inertia: what would be the impact of doing nothing?
  4. Share survey results – either public statistical data or ad-hoc research
  5. Let the person create a visual representation of thoughts or feelings with regards to the situation, and once finished, ask for their reflection
  6. Share feedback with them – either your own or that from other feedback procedures e.g. 360° rounds
  7. Work with the body. Focus on physical awareness (pain, fatigue, breathing, pulse, movement, sensorial impressions…) and discuss where this may come from, or what this indicates
  8. Share own feedback or advice and give time to reflect
  9. Play games (riddles, quiz, enigmas, outdoor exercises) and ask to distill learnings
  10. Be silent and give time to think

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