Extraordinary leadership — the kind that inspires and motivates over the long haul — comes with an uncanny awareness of both circumstance and self.

Most of us have known that rare individual who always seems to say the right thing at the right time. We think of it as a gift — being able to connect in even the most challenging moments.

We are drawn to individuals possesing this rare gift — eager to listen. Willing to follow. Expecting to be inspired.

We’ve also all witnessed that guy who seems clueless — eager to have the floor; but, words notwithstanding, with little to contribute.

Yes…I’m looking in the mirror. My earliest such personal recollection is a both-feet-in-the-mouth-moment in 3rd grade. While “performing” in a class dramatic presentation, I forgot my line. I was so preoccupied with my moment in the spotlight — how important my line was and how great it was going to sound — that, not only did I forget the scripted line; I improvised with something highly inappropriate. (Don’t ask for details; suffice to say I remember the sense of humiliation.)

There have been countless instances not unlike that one in 3rd grade when I would have paid any price for a second chance at really connecting.

Almost any price. It turns out that in order to really connect, one must get over one’s self.

A preoccupation with being heard is the most telling sign of one who is unaware of the tenor of the moment.

The Key To Self-Awareness

It sounds counter-intuitive; but self-awareness begins with a tenacious focus on others. It is the sum of strategic silence and intentional listening.

Wherever self-awareness is in short supply, mark it down — there is little listening, a lot of noise (because everyone wants/needs to be heard), and almost no real connecting.

And now we get back to where this started.

Those that inspire us to listen are, themselves, tenacious listeners. To borrow words attributed to the thirteenth-century Saint Francis of Assisi, they do not seek so much to be understood, as to understand.

The byproduct of this brand of listening? An awareness that informs when one should speak, what should be offered, and how a message should be delivered in order to maximize communication.

One-off communiques can certainly connect. But leadership that inspires an individual, a team or a target audience to seek your message and hang on your words is borne of crystal clear self-awareness.