Aid Worker: First, Know Thyself

The following article was adapted from Faye Dresner’s article, “Leader: First Know Thyself.” As I read it, it occurred to me that the term leader could easily be replaced with [aid worker] and the message remain directly relevant. In many ways, all aid workers, whether the volunteer or director, act as leaders as we strive for the self-awareness to be…

brave enough to listen,

strong enough to yield, and

courageous enough to give.


In countless publications, you can find a number and variety of definitions of leadership and ways to develop it. And while there are many ways to define leadership and many ways to develop the skills to be a leader, there is only one ingredient in leadership development whose importance is absolutely irrefutable, and that is knowing yourself.

A book called Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work by David Ryback says that “In the twenty-first century, the criteria for leadership will be not only knowledge and experience, but also healthy self-esteem and sensitivity to others’ feelings.”

The book goes on to say that “The emotionally intelligent leader knows how to create instant rapport with practically anyone. She’s confident, self assured…[and these types of leaders are] adept at reading the unspoken, collective feelings of the teams they oversee.”

What the book doesn’t say is that in most people those talents aren’t in-born. And they’re next to impossible to develop without a significant awareness of and ability to understand your own feelings, thoughts, and insights.

It is important to cultivate your ability to listen to the subconscious, internal messages you give yourself (which we all do), i.e. “I’m not smart enough, innovative enough, confident enough, etc.” Setting aside your unspoken emotions to consider another’s first takes a consciousness of what you are feeling. Then a leader must be willing to delay addressing their own feelings in order to deal with his subordinates’ feelings. This is not always easy.

There are so many examples of how a lack of emotional awareness impacts the ability to lead. We tend to see in others those negative qualities that we do not like about ourselves. Imagine how difficult it would be to manage or lead an employee whom you can’t stand being around?

Try this – think about those co-workers [or partners] that aggravate you the most and why. Then consider whether or not those qualities are ones you possess. Ask your trusted advisors or mentors who are willing to be honest with you to help you with this exercise. You might be surprised at what you learn. If nothing else, you may see those troublesome people in a different light.

“Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about inspiration—of oneself and of others. Great leadership is about human experiences, not procedures. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. It is an attitude, not a routine.” ~Lance Secretan

Opening your heart and thus becoming an effective [aid worker] is a conscious, intentional process that takes effort, persistence and a willingness to examine your thoughts, motives and emotions. Self-awareness is the first step in transformation so if you are interested in becoming a better [aid worker], the process starts with you. Ask your trusted advisors to support you on this journey. While it may not always be smooth or easy, the rewards of self-awareness and the ability to exercise emotional intelligence are well worth it for you as [an aid worker] and for those whom you [attempt to help].


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