· 2 min read · Features

Leading from the inside out: The inner work


What about measuring the inner workings of people? Could this hold the key to delivering even greater output and profit?

Analysing the behaviour of people in business, and particularly those at the top of an institution, is complex. This might explain in part why it has played second fiddle to the measurement of output for so long.

Most of us are not aware of our effect on other people and being self-aware is often viewed as the ‘soft stuff'. But it is some of the hardest to get right and should not be ignored.

Only we have the ability to know ourselves and to be self-aware. Organisations don’t consider this awareness – or lack thereof – when they are undertaking surveys, nor do consultants carrying out self-scoring questionnaires. But they cannot reasonably declare that they will improve employee engagement, teamwork, and the behaviour of buyers when their awareness of self has not been accounted for.

The evidence

Early indicators show that a lack of self-awareness can have a significant impact on the bottom line. A small study by Green Peak Partners found that ‘results at all costs’ executives have a negative effect on their business, and that leaders with a greater understanding of self-awareness bring to bear more impressive financial performance. Recruiting and retaining future leaders with strong interpersonal skills can only be a good thing.

Teaching and learning self-awareness

A recent World Economic Forum report noted that technology and socioeconomic forces are advancing at such a rate that employees’ skillsets are in danger of failing to keep up with the pace of change. To continue to seek and secure meaningful employment the only option is to adopt a policy of continuous learning.

We can only do so effectively if we can sense our own inner work, but the good news is self-awareness can be taught. In his book Emotional Intelligence psychologist Daniel Goleman describes this as ‘knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions'. Self-awareness is not simply what we notice about ourselves; it involves how we notice and keep tabs on our inner world.

What can I do?

Seek feedback. Take it seriously and understand that the views others have about us may be more accurate than those we have of ourselves. There is a time and a place for 360-degree feedback, but asking your children or strangers for an opinion is more courageous.

Seek out 'thin places'. As a Scot I am drawn to the Scottish culture of special places where the difference between self and context melts away. Push cynicism aside and try it. Worst case scenario is you’ve visited somewhere special.

Meditate. Focus attention and allow yourself to see the difference between things that are ‘real but not true'.

Cynical executives attending my events are often surprised by these recommendations, but pleasantly surprised at the challenge to their way of thinking. They see that if they are aiming for peak performance and are not supporting people to become more self-aware via the inner work they won’t get there. Adding emphasis to inner work, for instance through building a wellness programme, can be your differentiator.

With points of a compass like self-awareness, humility, knowledge, and good humour, we can navigate our environments more effectively and successfully. And – who knows – perhaps with more fulfilment and enjoyment along the way.

Scott McArthur is an executive coach and speaker