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Self-Awareness Results in Better Leadership

As a certified executive coach, guiding organizations like the Chicago Cubs, Chicago Public Schools, and the U.S. Intelligence Community, Professor Brenda Ellington Booth is a teacher, coach, and mentor who knows there isn’t one right way to lead.

Through her Personal Leadership Insights course this quarter, she’s sharing her knowledge with MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises students. Booth’s class is designed to complement Laverne McKinnon’s Power of Pitching + Persuasion course.

Based on the notion of emotional intelligence, Personal Leadership Insights emphasizes self-awareness as an important component of being an effective leader—especially self-awareness in the context of others.

Booth focuses on discussions instead of lectures, providing what she calls the “scaffolding” for her students so they feel comfortable and confident bringing personal stories to every class to learn more about who they are.

“It’s hard to lead anyone else unless you can first lead yourself,” she explains. “It’s one thing to be self-reflective, but we use small groups to go through an introspective process in a collective environment where people experience things with one another.”

During the first few weeks of class, students participate in exercises, assignments, and assessments—including StrengthsFinder and asking for feedback from friends, family, and coworkers. This information serves as the foundation for deeper discussion on topics like behavior patterns, weaknesses, and even the dark side of strengths (when they may be misplaced or misused).

“As we give language to behaviors and thought patterns, students start to say, ‘I’m doing this…and now I know why I do it.’ Understanding what makes you upset and brings you joy can help you address situations from a more mature, measured place,” Booth explains.

All this information and feedback is examined through the lens of leadership: How will these personal patterns, strengths, and weaknesses impact students as they become leaders? Through this process, they gain a better understanding of what they naturally bring to a situation, their influences, and the values most important to them—and how to present the very best version of their authentic selves.

“The class helps students discover who they are—authentically and uniquely—so they can make the best decisions for themselves instead of getting caught up in ‘Should I do this?’ or ‘My classmate is doing that, and maybe I could do that, too,’ ” she says.

Drawing from her professional experiences, Booth also coaches her students throughout the quarter. During these student-led sessions, conversations focus on anything—from career paths and personal issues to workplace conflict or coursework challenges.

To bring the experience full circle, Booth ends the class by helping students create development plans that combine their assessment and discovery work with the type of leader they want to be—and a blueprint for how they’ll get there.

Booth says her goal is to help students not only understand the value they bring, but to also look for people and situations that will recognize and appreciate that value. The work done in class also supplies students with language they can use to talk about themselves and their strengths as they interview or move up the career ladder.

“Every week in class, you learn about different aspects of yourself,” Booth says. “It gives you time to reflect. We work in a very small, intimate environment where people go through this journey together. Something magical happens when everyone is doing the same thing at the same time, having unique experiences with their own self-discovery.”


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