When I meet a leader for the first time to discuss coaching, I often hear these words “I’m a very self-aware person.” To my ears, that’s an indication that they are actually quite the opposite. To be self-aware means knowing how you come across to others. When we hear someone say they are very self-aware, we hear it as a lack of humility. This means that if you have said those words, you don’t understand how you come across to others, and by definition can’t be very self-aware. So how do you know if you're self-aware? Take our free assessment and find out.
You see, I come by self-awareness blindspots honestly, ever since about 10-years ago when I was sitting in the executive chair. I had a crucible moment and I knew I needed help and sought out a coach, started a meditation practice and worked with a great deal of intention to develop awareness about how I show up for and impact others. Lord knows, I am far from perfect. But I am intentional, conscious and have a great deal of humility about who I am, how I got here and where I’m going.
Merriam-Webster defines self-awareness as “an awareness of one’s own personality or individuality.” To be self-aware we need to be abundantly clear about the values that guide our lives, our own emotions and the things that can trigger them, and who we are as individuals and leaders. All this together shapes the actions we take in this world and how we show up for other people. To put it another way, self-awareness works to make leaders more cognizant of their actions, emotions and biases. This trait is critical for leaders to understand because it has proven to be one of the most important competencies a leader must have to be truly successful.
If you have any doubt that being self-aware leads to being a more effective leader, you can research the work of Daniel Goleman on emotional intelligence (EI). Self-awareness is one of the key elements of EI, which may be defined as a person’s ability to identify and manage their emotions, as well as identify and influence others’ emotions. Developing self-awareness as a leader is the first step in developing EI, as it will strengthen not only individual performance but organizational performance as well. Ultimately, the immense amount of understanding, trustworthiness and wisdom that self-aware leaders possess equips them with critical skills for success. What leaders model to their teams through their actions will be replicated by their teams. So, a self-aware leader who also has high EI will spread these skills to those that they influence. In other words, self-awareness by one leader can improve the effectiveness of an organization.
Outcomes of Self-Aware Leaders
One of the most important outcomes of self-awareness is a level of humility. Cam Caldwell Ph.D., author and professor at the University of Illinois, states that “Humility is a correct understanding of oneself, and that correct understanding leads to a better understanding of others — because once we [know] ourselves, we better learn to appreciate others as well.” If we can’t understand others, or don’t have a desire to understand others we will unintentionally create an environment where our teams will just be order takers and not innovators. They won’t feel safe to share their ideas and solutions if no interest in their perspective has been expressed by the leader. It’s really remarkable that we can send these messages to our team so unintentionally. The messages are subtle and our team members may be responding unconsciously. But the messages are sent regardless and often leaders become frustrated about why they don’t get more from their teams. With self-awareness, a leader would be curious about the ideas and perspectives of others by saying things like, “I have some clear ideas about how to solve this, but I want to hear yours too.” Or, “I don’t know the answer and I need your help”. This helps create an environment where everyone feels comfortable acknowledging what they don’t know and asking for help. These intentions and expressions of humility and curiosity will send a message to a team that they matter – and, as we know, the collective intelligence of a team is better than that of any one team member.
Developing self-awareness will strengthen your EI and help you develop humility which are two of the most important characteristics of leaders.
How can you develop self-awareness?
Developing self-awareness takes time and intention. You can start by engaging in a reflective exercise such as meditation or journaling. You can also employ a coach to help you identify ways in which you show up for others. This will give you some evidence to work with and help you to direct your attention to one or two areas to develop.
As a start, take our self-awareness quiz by clicking the button below to see how you score and what you can do to improve.