Auguste Rodin's "Thinker" sculpture

To lead others, first you have to lead yourself

By Joel L. Domingo, Ed.D.

Recently I came across a sign which read, “Our problem today is that we do not listen to understand; we listen to respond.” This profound insight reminded me of the importance of communication and understanding in leadership.

One of the topics we cover in our leadership curriculum in the School of Applied Leadership is the idea of cultural intelligence. One part of the course explores the concept of metacognition—thinking about thinking. The application to leadership is that you must think about and know yourself before you understand and think about others.

Put another way: To lead others, first you have to lead yourself.

Metacognition is the awareness of how we know and perceive

Too often, our actions as leaders are automatic, and come as a result of our experiences and how we view the world. Metacognition helps address how leaders need to be reflective, to be aware of themselves and their assumptions about the world, along with their motivations.

The results of not doing so could be disastrous.

It is in essence to do as the grade school maxim says, “Stop.  Look.  Listen,” or in the words of a popular song, “You better check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

Look at the world through different lenses

The view of the world (and of others) has been shaped by things like experience and environment, and the things we don’t even think about– how we act, speak, or behave.  Now take this idea and apply it to leading in different cultural contexts.  Behaviors that people take for granted in one culture (or setting) are often seen as foreign in another culture.

Perhaps the best way to see metacognition in action is to think about when you get back from a vacation or an unfamiliar place, or even meet a person for the first time.  If you stop and think about your experience, not only can you learn about that place or person, but it could prompt you to ask why you are even asking about those things in the first place – you are thinking about your thinking.

Metacognition means thinking about your thinking

Hopefully, as you reflect on your new experience, you will also reflect on previous experiences, and some contrasts and commonalities will be evident. The saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” to some extent may be true, but, the secret to applying metacognition to our own leadership is to prepare before you even get to Rome.

What about you? Have you given thought about your own sense of leadership?

#Leadership can change the world.  Learn more about master’s and doctoral degrees in leadership. Stop. Think. Lead.