Leadership and Self-Awareness
“In India, most academic leaders are dropped into their positions without warning, so they have not had opportunities for reflection and developing self-awareness,” Tony Sam George, dean of social sciences at Christ University in India, said in a recent interview. With the support of a generous alumnus, who endowed a leadership chair at Christ University in April 2018, Dr. Tony and his colleagues in the psychology department are developing new training programs to prepare and sustain leaders.
Their training of senior leaders places a strong emphasis on self-awareness. That focus springs, in part, from Dr. Tony’s experience as a 2017-2018 United Board Fellow. “I realized self-awareness is a key to leadership,” he said. “How open are we to examining our blind spots?” At the program’s Summer Institute at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, he found that his level of self-awareness was enhanced through discussions with other Fellows, examination of case studies, team activities, and simulations. “What does my behavior in these interactions and simulations signify?” he asked himself, and that prompted introspection about his leadership style. “The group work methodology is powerful.”
Christ University focuses its training for senior leaders on the “self,” with a three-day program that helps participants identify their strengths, weaknesses, and leadership attributes – as perceived by themselves and by colleagues – and consider how their backgrounds and assumptions influence their approach to leadership. After the program, participants may continue their training through one-on-one coaching sessions. Leadership often can be lonely, so Christ University also has introduced a Leadership Conversation Forum, giving leaders opportunities to gather and share their challenges, success stories, or ideas on leadership.
Self-awareness and introspection also can be elements of a leadership style that facilitates whole person education. “At Christ, we focus on ‘authentic leadership,’” Dr. Tony said. “In Indian tradition, leadership is associated with power and position. But authentic leadership is based on caring for others. Leaders must put the care of others first and facilitate their development. This approach matches the ethos of our university.” Ethics also are important. “Ethical leadership emphasizes the right use of power, respects diversity, and establishes boundaries between personal and professional,” Dr. Tony said. “It appreciates justice and fairness and recognizes the best intentions of those under our care.”
“People often think leadership is intuitive,” Dr. Tony finds, “but there is a lot to be learned from research and data.” Rather than working from assumptions about leadership or simply replicating past practices, “we can intentionally look for the types of leadership skills needed for success in a certain set of conditions.”