MGMA 2020: Building self-awareness to become a better leader

October 19, 2020
Keith A. Reynolds

Organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich gives insight into how becoming a self-aware leader can help a practice thrive.

If the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has taught the healthcare industry anything, the greatest of these lessons is likely to be that leadership needs to be agile in decision making and keyed into the what their team thinks and need.

In the first general session of the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) Medical Practice Excellence Convention 2020 organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich spoke about how a physician leader with self-awareness can help their team to thrive no matter the circumstances.

Her definition of self-awareness is built on two forms of self-knowledge: one’s understanding of who they are internally and how well one understands how others see them. Both are needed for one to be self-aware.

Eurich says that she learned over 15 years of coaching CEOs and C-level executives that those leaders who are willing to take a hard look in the mirror and question their assumptions about themselves are always more successful even if they didn’t start out self-aware.

According to her research, self-aware people are:

  • Better performers at work
  • Receive more promotions
  • More effective communicators
  • More engaging and motivating leaders

She says that when it comes to healthcare, self-aware leaders tend to:

  1. Have higher wellbeing
  2. Lower burnout
  3. And organizations they are a part of deliver higher quality care and have higher patient satisfaction

“What I would encourage you to think about, when you think about this topic from now on, is (self-awareness) is not nice to have, it is a business imperative,” Eurich says.

When seeking to cultivate self-awareness, Eurich says it is good to start with a self-assessment and for people to think about what kind of leader they are. She recommended one should grade one’s self on what kind of leader they are, what kind of friend they are, what kind of a driver they are.

She says that research shows that most people believe that they are above average at all things, which bears little relationship to where they actually stand.

Eurich says one of the biggest barriers to self-awareness is that many people believe they already are self-aware.

“The more we think we are already self-aware, the less self-aware we tend to become,” she says.

To combat this, Eurich suggests something she calls the humility challenge which entails finding one chance to spotlight one’s own imperfections or challenges.

“The micro opportunities to show humility, as many of them as you can do on an ongoing basis really results not only in you being self-aware, but in your team being more effective and engaged,” she says.

When leading a medical practice, especially during the pandemic, Eurich says that external self-awareness, or understanding the way others see you, is slightly more important than internal self-awareness.

To foster this, she recommends getting feedback from a wide variety of team members because most people cannot see the areas in which their awareness falls short. She says it’s safe for most leaders to automatically assume they need to improve their external self-awareness.

In order to avoid unintentional, or well-intentioned, false feedback, Eurich recommends building a small group of people who have one’s best interest at heart and have the courage to tell one the truth especially when it is hard to hear.

Going further than building one’s personal self-awareness, Eurich also recommends building a self-aware team by fostering the same form of honest communication one seeks from their feedback group within the team.

While working on self-awareness can be difficult, Eurich says that it is important to still focus on it despite what all is going on in the world.

“Self-awareness isn’t about these bolts of extreme insight,” she says. “It’s about daily, small, incremental baby steps to get there.”

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