Leadership Effectiveness: Self-Awareness Critical To Small Business

Why do we do what we do?

Why do we micro-manage competent, skilled employees?

Why do we flee when we see a spider?

Why do we feel anxious when the boss looks at us funny?

Why do we get angry when we are stuck in traffic?

Why we do what we do can only be answered if we ask ourselves the right questions.

Professional and personal success can only result when we are willing to ask ourselves these questions.

Developing the skill of determining what these questions are is at the heart of success for smaller, entrepreneurial businesses.


Too many people dismiss "self-awareness" as some new age fluff.

This couldn't be further from the truth, however.

Self-awareness is simply the development of an understanding of why we make the decisions we make and why we behave as we do.

Self-awareness isn't about getting in touch with our inner child, but instead it is why we may behave as a child when faced with bad or unpleasant news.

It is an understanding of why we feel a certain way in different situations, which provides insight into why we react as we do when we feel a certain way.

In this regard, self-awareness is as important to a business owner or manager making important operating decisions as it is to a parent deciding if their teen can attend a party on Saturday night.

Making decisions without first clearly understanding what is driving those decisions can be a costly mistake waiting to happen.



As mentioned, self-awareness begins with learning to ask yourself the right questions.

The same is true for creating self-awareness for your business.

Too often in business, we think we already have the answer...

...Because "we have been in business for 20 years"...

Or, because "we have been doing it a certain way for years and no one seems to complain"...

Or because some don't even realize the questions have changed.

But the questions have changed...

Because the operating environment has changed....

And your customers have changed.

How you may have done business 5 or 10 or even 20 years ago may no longer be the most effective way to grow your customer base in an increasingly competitive industry.

Here are some key areas where you may want to focus the questions you need to ask.


If you are like many small businesses, you are likely using something called "best practices".

While "best practices" have their place when your business strategy is centred around catching up to your competitors...

Is your business still at a stage where playing catch up is your focus?

Consider how a practice becomes widely accepted as the "best" one...

One day, many years ago, someone (we will call him "Jack") came up with a new way of doing business...

A way that was very different from what his competitors where doing.

So, taking a leap of faith, Jack put his new way into action....

And it worked.

Jack's business began to take off.

Then, Jack's competitors started to notice that Jack's business was doing really well...better than theirs.

And they wondered how.

So, they examined what Jack was doing differently and (likely with some trepidation) decided to do what Jack did.

And they too found their business results reaching levels that were better than the average.

Soon, more and more businesses started to catch on to this new way of doing things and Jack's innovative approach (that many mocked at the time) became the accepted to way to get better than average results.

Jack's practice became the acknowledged "best practice".

Ok...maybe it didn't happen exactly this way but the concept is sound...

If you want to out-perform your competitors, you can't do exactly as they are doing and expect different results.

So, if your business isn't getting the results you want, examine how you are getting your results and be open to the idea that your current practices may no longer be the "best" ones for you.


A story was recently reported in the newspaper regarding a successful, wealthy local business owner who committed suicide.

People in the community were shocked and confused...why would someone who was so successful and wealthy do this?

The answer, it turned out, lay in the subjectivity of the definition of "success".

Yes, this individual's business was very profitable and, in turn, he had made a great deal of money and owned a mansion on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Yet, according to those close to him, he didn't consider himself a success.

The reason was that many years ago he started his business after experiencing a personal crisis

He got into business for the purpose of helping others who have had to live through similar situations.

While he was successful at this originally, his company began to put profits before people and focused on maximizing revenue even though it meant minimizing the number of people who could access his company's products.

So, as his personal wealth increased, so did his dissatisfaction with what he was accomplishing.

He had forgotten why he got into business in the first place but knew he felt like a failure. 

Like this person, most people start their business for a very specific, and often personal, reason.

Perhaps they want to do some good in their community.

Or, maybe they see a need their talents and ideas can fulfill.

Whatever their reason is, many businesses owners reach a point where they lose sight of this and begin sacrificing their original reasons to squeeze a few more dollars out of their customers.

This is where self-awareness needs to play a role.

At each stage of business development, from small startup to corporate juggernaut, your sense of success will depend heavily on how well you feel you are continually fulfilling your purpose.

A great exercise to start EVERY new week is to ask yourself, when you arrive at work on Monday morning, "why are we in business? What problem are we helping to solve? Who are we trying to help?"


Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin brand, has a great philosophy.

Put your employees first because if you take care of your employees...they will take care of your customers.

It is not surprising that he has a great reputation among his employees.

You too have a reputation among your employees...

The question is: is it a good one or not?

Your ego will likely try to convince you that, of course, it is a great one.

However, there are few places in business where a greater divide exists than between how business owners and managers view themselves and how their employees view them.

Not surprising, employees tend to have a far more negative view of their boss than the boss has of themselves.

How your employees view you will be primarily driven by how you treat them.

So, how do you treat your employees?

If you just asked yourself this question and came up with an answer in less than 15 seconds, you are likely listening to the answer provided by your ego....

Let go of this answer and ask yourself the question again...only this time give yourself a few minutes to answer.

Think of how you treat individual employees in individual circumstances.

When you are stressed out, do you unleash that stress on them?

When you are not happy with their performance, do you berate them, yell at them, or swear at them?

Do you act like you did them a favour by hiring them and therefore expect them to be grateful for the job?

Are you respectful at all times?

Do you trust them?

Do you put their needs before your own?

Are you fair in your treatment of them?

Now, ask yourself "why?"

Why do you blow up at them when things don't work out?

Why do you micro-manage them when they are smart and capable?

If they want to do the job their way...and the end result is the same as if they had done it your way...why does it matter to you how they do it?

This is practicing self-awareness in business.


Do you view your customers as a necessary evil?

Or, do you treat each customer, whether they are spending $10 or $1000 like they are spending $1 million?

Do you treat them with contempt?

Or, do you bend over backwards to accommodate their requests (as far as you can without harming others or the business)?

However you treat your customers, why do you treat them this way?

Why do you get angry when they make a complaint about your products or services?

Why do you let them walk over your employees, treating your staff like dirt?

What emotions are behind the behaviour and actions you show your customers?

What happened in your past that causes these emotions that ultimately result in how you treat your customers?

Remember, if it weren't for your customers...your business would not exist and you would be out of a job.

Be grateful for them...even the pain in the neck ones.


Self-awareness means understanding what drives your behaviour and underlies your actions.

While this understanding can indeed help you to be a better parent or friend...

Its value as a tool to aid in the progression of your business should never be underestimated.

Doing things just because "that is the way they have always been done" is a path to waste, inefficiency, and discord.

Leadership effectiveness means being open to new ideas, new perspectives, and new ways of doing business, whether that business is big or small.

If you want to master the skill of becoming self-aware, learn more about The Law of Cooperative Action Personal Mastery Program.