Don Follis: Self-awareness is crucial, but it's not all you need

Don Follis: Self-awareness is crucial, but it's not all you need

Why is it that some people seem to have closer and more enduring friendships and marriages than others? Why is it that some folks perform with seeming ease in the workplace, often quickly advancing? And why is it that some people seem to have less conflict in their life than others? Even when it does occur, they seem to be good at resolving it quickly and completely.

Having counseled hundreds of people, I know it is not because some have a higher IQ than others. Sorry, but a high intelligence quotient rarely translates into success either at home or in the workplace.

There is another kind of smart I heard last weekend when I listened to Phil Strout speak at the Vineyard Church at 1500 N. Lincoln in Urbana. Strout, the national director for the 600+ Vineyard churches in the United States, said the book of Proverbs refers to this kind of astuteness as wisdom. Strout said God made it indelibly clear to him that as national director of the Vineyard churches he is to earnestly pursue wisdom from God, as his principle order of business. In fact, he said the first order of business for everyone should be to relentlessly pursue wisdom.

Indeed, the writer of Proverbs calls the pursuit of wisdom nonnegotiable: "Get wisdom. Prize her highly and she will exalt you." (Proverbs 4:7-8) Very often when I talk with people about a conflict in their lives, I realize that they need a kind of deep wisdom that I now call "relational wisdom."

Attorney and author Ken Sande coined the phrase "relational wisdom." He calls relational wisdom "your ability to discern emotions and interests in yourself and others, to interpret them in the light of God's Word, and to use this insight to manage your responses and relationships constructively."

In Sande's view, relational wisdom is the fiber binding our relationship with God, ourselves and others. Thus, the wisest people always start by seeking God. They are both God-aware and a God-engaged. God-awareness is the ability to interpret all of our life in light of God's character, work and promises. God-engagement pushes us to trust and obey God. The two combine, causing us to remember that God is faithful in our lives.

From God-awareness flows self-awareness — always in that order. Self-awareness is our ability to discern our emotions, interests, values, strengths and weaknesses. The flip side of self-awareness is self-engagement, giving you wisdom to master your thoughts, words and actions so that they please God and advance his purposes. True self-awareness, then, is both humble and disciplined.

You're right if you think other-awareness flows from both God-awareness and self-awareness. Other-awareness is our ability to understand and empathize with the experiences, emotions and needs of others. True other-awareness always takes the step toward other-engagement, which is our ability to serve, work and resolve conflict with others. We cannot truly be other-aware without being compassionately other-engaged.

Oregon Pastor Don Bubna helps put relational wisdom in practice by always reminding people, "R before I, except after T." Bubna's catchy saying stands for "Relationship before Issues, except after Trust has been established."

How many times have we all been in meetings completely devoid of relationship building and thereby without much trust? The leader likely jumped in without even saying "Hi. Welcome everyone. How is everyone doing?" You sat there saying under your breath, "This guy is clueless." Sadly, both self-awareness and other-awareness got left at the door.

Conversely, how nice is it if, say, when you are in a church meeting and someone starts with a thoughtful prayer and then gives a little time for people to tell how they are really doing? But even when we believe we utterly trust each other — longtime friends and relatives — we run the risk of trust fraying if we don't intentionally work at genuinely caring for each other. Translation: Carve out time — yes, valuable meeting time — for sincere sharing or some kind of authentic relationship building!

I had a guy tell me of his boss transparently sharing about some serious struggles in her life at the beginning of a recent meeting. "That kind of authenticity goes a long, long way to building trust for her leadership," he said.

So, you want a meeting to pay big dividends? Take the time to listen to others' perspectives. Give them a little time on the front end to share their feelings and needs. If you affirm the value of people by doing this at the start of a meeting, you tell them, "Your well-being is important around here." They will see you model the indisputable importance of other-awareness.

The challenge from the Apostle Paul to the New Testament church of Philippi could not be clearer. "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Philippians 2:3-4

This week if you find yourself leading "yet another meeting," try taking a couple of minutes and asking people what they are most thankful for in their personal lives as 2014 commences. Or try going first and share something that you are struggling with in your life this winter. There's not one of us that couldn't be more transparent. But someone has to risk going first.

The point of all this God-self-other-awareness effort is to tap into the heart, where we can begin forging a personal bond that enables us to work wholeheartedly together to advance the mission of our organization.

Don Follis has pastored in Champaign-Urbana for 35 years. He directs retreats and coaches leaders via Contact him at, and you can follow him on Twitter at @donfollis.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (1):Religion