A 1-question litmus test for self-awareness


I sort of off the cuff asked it. ‘Do you know why your people work for you?’

There was some fidgeting… visible. In less than one second, I realized… this person didn’t know. I also remembered what RS, a former client who also had an extensive sales background, had said to me. You only get eleven seconds to make a first impression. Before the next 10 seconds could fully elapse, a response came back: ‘Ask them.’

Hm. Defensiveness? What.

I had been reading all about defensiveness for the mental health series for S P A C E around that time, publishing the weekly e-mag with titles like S P A C E | ‘Midlife,’ S P A C E | ‘Regrets’, and S P A C E | ‘Less and less, more and more.’ (They’re in the shop, here.)

In an era of overwhelm, it’s so important to be fully aware of the triggers that each of us can have. This person’s response to a challenge showed me the company culture that he had created. Besides this, I watched with my own eyes how he undermined an employee, completely overriding her initiatives and “taking charge.”




Knowing when you don’t know, and being able to say that, is big

This exchange about the ‘do you know why your employees work for you’ question gave me enough information to understand: some people are quite uncomfortable getting in there and asking the hard questions. Questions like:

Why, though? Why do they work for my company? Do I even know?

If the answer is no, are you able to own that and do the big work to find out? Very few I’ve met seem to be. Honestly, it is a pretty amazing personality that can do that, and recognize that the doing of it needs to be done. Rare to find.

I come from a culture that loves to be ‘right’, and it’s something that I am thankful that I have grown away from over all these last ten years in Southeast Asia. Honestly, it’s a losing battle trying to insist on a thing when you don’t even know what you don’t know. Being right is temporary, and often, you find out there exist many solutions to a thing, all of which are valid. Are you able to recognize your way isn’t the way? Here is one of the quotes I bring up, often: ‘No, no, no. You’re not thinking. You’re just being logical.’ –N. Bohr




Try it. You can ask people why they work for you.

The ‘why do people work for me’ question is really general. I know.

Still, it’s a good litmus test for figuring out if someone is self-aware.

This is where the beginning of all good things begin, I understand, for organizations that claim they want to grow and grow their people at the same time really need. But why is it so hard to find it, then? Why is self-awareness such an elusive thing to get to have?  I think it’s going to get more valued as we get going through these next few years and decades; we have to be more aware of ourselves, and then, each other. If we want to stay relevant, and in business, I think. I think it’s possible to do this if you open up the doors for dialogue. I know that  it’s not easy but it’s not impossible.

Starting by asking people why they work for you is one way, for example. And there is so much more you can dive into about employees and their interest in meaningful work, and their own individual definitions of life’s or work’s purpose. Alongside today’s post I am reading about all the ways that insecurities can play out for people and how we hold ourselves back. That’s part of the less-than-it-could-be story, I feel, too. Maybe the CEO doesn’t know why employees come to work. But do the employees themselves know? Uh-huh. See what happens when you get down to it? Yeah. Murkiness isn’t cool.

So yeah. I am late to the party, but I found an early-pandemic article that is full of data and details about purpose at work and what both employers, and employees, can do to figure out what gives them meaning.

I’m really fascinated by this article.

Here is a link.


Click to read the article
Click to read the article