Self-awareness is not standard material in MBA programs — and yet you teach it here at Rotman. Why is it such an important attribute?
When we go out into the world and try to solve a problem, we create a model in our mind of what the problem ‘looks like’ — the issues involved, the context, the stakeholders, etc. Most people don’t think about it much, but each of us is a sort of ‘modeling machine’, constantly trying to make sense of the world and figure out what’s happening. The problem is, if we don’t model ourselves very well, it’s like having a map and knowing what you’re looking for, but not knowing where you are on the map; you’re never going to find it. Self-awareness provides a map of oneself and therefore, a more accurate map of the world that increases the likelihood that your modeling of problems is effective.
Former Medtronic CEO Bill George has called self-awareness “the starting point for leadership”. How do you react to that statement?
I completely agree. In leadership positions, peoples’ actions, motivations and emotions — everything about them—is amplified and seeps into the organization. If you have some dysfunctional interpersonal behaviours, that is normal; we can’t expect people in leadership positions to be perfect. The key is to be aware of your issues and to understand the ways in which you are imperfect. By ‘leading yourself ’ in this way, you will be much more effective in leading others.
How do you define mindfulness, and how does it relate to self-awareness?
Mindfulness is an attentional state in which you are accurately gauging reality in the present moment. Being mindful means paying full attention to what is right in front of