Why self awareness is key to being in service of others

I am often asked, "what is the one thing you look for when working with executives?" I have one simple answer, "Self awareness". If we have self awareness, we also have the ability to learn, to reflect and to change. Without self awareness we are unable to see our role in a situation, how we are contributing to creating undesirable (or desirable) circumstances, and  are hindered in our capacity to make meaningful change.

I often use the words 'to be in service of others' and I'd like to explore the connection between this and self awareness.

First of all, let's define what 'being in service of' means.

Being in service is:

  • Genuinely caring and curious about the background context of others
  • Understanding needs, desires and concerns of others
  • Creating alternatives that improve the situation for others

Being in service is not:

  • Only caring about the context of others and ignoring your own
  • Forgoing your own needs to deliver on theirs
  • Making things more difficult for yourself while improving conditions for others

I have seen people in my profession embody all the traits of someone in service of others when working with or for people outside of their own organisation. I have also seen the same individuals display other tendencies (not in service of others) when collaborating with their colleagues.

Being in service of another does not mean taking a 'subservient' stance. This is a very important distinction. It does not mean letting go of what you need or are trying to achieve in order to make someone else happy. Being in service of another means to be genuinely interested in understanding  the other person, so you can contribute positively to their situation.

To be powerfully in service of other people, you need to be powerfully connected with yourself, your work and the outcomes you are working towards. You need to be committed to thinking creatively with a resilient stance, to enabling outcomes that work for you and what you need to achieve, as well as those you are working with, for and ultimately in service of.

This is the most important bit...

Working in this way requires you to know who you are being in the interactions you have with people. To know who you are being in any given moment requires self awareness. When you cultivate self awareness, you cultivate your ability to interact with others in a generous way. This ability to be present in interactions you have with people, to be deliberate in how you choose to be, enables you to be powerful in the service of others.


"Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between the stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight. The capacity to create ourselves, based upon this freedom, is inseparable from consciousness or self-awareness."

Rollo May


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