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Don’t be a Stranger to Yourself

| November 23, 2021

by Ron Kraemer

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Ron Kraemer.  He is currently retired.  Ron previously was Vice President for Information Technology and CIO at the University of Notre Dame. Ron may be reached at [email protected].]
A few months ago, I was doing some research concerning distinction in leadership. I scoured dozens of leadership websites, read a few books, and talked to many people who strive to really make a difference. I cataloged more than 120 noteworthy leadership attributes, but I kept asking myself, “What are the attributes that are most meaningful and impactful?”
Here are my top 3.

  1. Know Thyself
  2. Find Balance
  3. Listen

In this brief discourse, I just wanted to share some thoughts regarding “Know Thyself”.
The phrase “Know Thyself” is often attributed to Socrates. A form of the phrase was chiseled into a wall at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and may go as far back as Ancient Egypt. Among other things, “Know Thyself” is part self-awareness, part emotional intelligence, part perceptiveness, and part critical thinking. It includes knowing our weaknesses, knowing our strengths, and understanding what motivates us.
Investing the time to deeply and authentically consider knowing ourselves in not a trivial task. It takes strong character to be brutally honest with ourselves. It is easy to say, I recognize this strength I have, but it is often difficult to own a behavior that is leading to issues for ourself, the people we work side-by-side with, or those we serve.
When you truly understand your strengths, you will be better prepared to capitalize on them. When you truly own your weaknesses, you can work to mitigate their inevitable consequences or to at least better understand why they are weaknesses. When you really know yourself, you will be better equipped to deal with failures and celebrate accomplishments.
There is one other aspect to knowing yourself that may be most important to leaders. If you know yourself, you can work to surround yourself with others who have strengths that you do not possess. When you make new hires, you can identify candidates that will bring needed leadership attributes that are essential for your entire team’s success. After all, distinctive contributions in higher education information technology service is most often the work of the team, not that of an individual.
Also remember that knowing yourself is a fluid concept. Although there are some things that are “just you”, we all continuously evolve as we learn, change our surroundings, adapt to new situations, and work with new people. What we know, what we value, what we like, and whom we like to be with constantly advances and retreats. Complicating things, we must consider and address “who we are”, “who we think we are”, and “who we might become”.  As André Gide, the father of modern French literature wrote in Autumn Leaves (1950): “A caterpillar who seeks to know himself would never become a butterfly.”
Take the time and expend the intellectual capital to know yourself. You won’t always be thrilled with what you find, but I assure you that others already know the good, the bad and ugly of those they work with every day and they will respect you more if they believe that you are self-aware and working to be the best leader you can be.