Have you ever thought about the image that you reflect? Do you know what kind of leader others see you as? The role of self-awareness in leadership is a critical skill for being an effective leader.
We all like to believe that when we say something or do something, that everyone understands what we mean and what our intentions are. But this frequently doesn’t happen. Misunderstandings happen all the time. What makes the misunderstandings even worse, is that many times we are not aware that confusion has even taken place.
Self-awareness is one of the skills that helps prevent misunderstandings. It teaches us to pay attention to the way we think, feel and behave. It also teaches us to pay attention to those things that trigger our habitual responses so we can manage ourselves toward positive responses.
Ten separate studies of nearly 5,000 participants show that only 10-15% of people that believe themselves to be self-aware actually are, but that’s not all. Multiple studies have found that higher-level managers and executives are less self-aware than their lower ranked counterparts – all the more reason to watch what you say and do at the office.
The Importance of Self-Awareness in Leadership
When we are aware of how we are perceived by others and how we impact the behavior of others, we are more likely to succeed than those who are not self-aware. Most of us are guilty of believing that we are better leaders than we really are because we have good intentions, however, managing a group of people based on intention and assuming others can read our mind often leads to disaster.
To be an effective leader, we can’t assume that people automatically understand what we mean and what our intentions are. [Remember, when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me (ass/u/me).] The more we can become self-aware, the better we are able to ensure that our messages and meanings get through as we intend. When people understand us, they can follow us and getting people to follow us is one of the foundations of leadership. Just as we tend to make judgements on whether our employees are self-aware, they are making the same judgements about us. These judgements are one of the factors that others will use in determining how they rate us as a leader.
“Self-awareness gives you the capacity to learn from your mistakes as well as your successes. It enables you to keep growing.” Lawrence Bossidy
The Benefits of Self-Awareness in Leadership
Minimizing misunderstandings and confusion are just one of the many benefits of being self-aware. Here are a few other benefits that will improve your leadership ability.
When you are aware of your intent you can make sure that you are articulating that specific intent, rather than just randomly speaking and hoping your message get across. You must be aware of what you want to say, before you start to talk. By being aware of how others are responding to your intent, you can determine if your message is getting through or of you need to adjust your communication approach.
Too often we let relationships grow or fail without paying much attention to our intention for wanting or needing that relationship. We must be clear about why we are forming a relationship, what we are willing to give to it, and what we hope to receive from it. That awareness is what helps us nurture the relationship and understand our reactions when it is not progressing as desired.
Clearer Decision Making.
It is easy to let our emotional reaction to a situation dictate how we respond. Having self-awareness allows us to identify our emotions. When we can recognize our emotions, we can then determine if that is the best response or if we need to take a more rational approach. The ability to know when we are leading with our head or our heart and being able to chose which one will lead us when, allows for clearer decisions.
The source of procrastination is frequently brought on by distraction. Becoming aware of what is causing our distraction is what allows us to address that issue – either by acting or planning when action will be taken – and then move on. If we learn to address procrastination, that frees us up to be productive.
“Self-awareness is the ability to take an honest look at your life without any attachment to it being right or wrong, good or bad.” Debbie Ford
Strategies for Self-Awareness in Leadership
Knowing the importance of being self-aware is the first step. The second step is activity engaging in strategies to help us become more self-aware.
Know Your Triggers.
All of us have certain things that push our buttons. Not all of us are actively aware of what these buttons are. It could be a certain topic, a certain word or phrase, or even a certain tone. These are the triggers that automatically put us on the defense or create some other strong negative emotional response. The more we are aware of what our triggers are, the more we can control our emotional response.
Keep an Open Mind.
Rather than immediately responding to something, pay attention to what it is your feeling. Try not to judge your feelings, but simply recognize what they are. Use your active listening skills to explore the intent of those presenting the situation, and then examine your emotions and intent before you respond. Be open to understanding both the issues and the emotions you are receiving and giving.
Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses.
You must know when to ask for help and when to take the lead. Being aware of your weakness doesn’t make you weak, it shows that you know how to utilize those around you to get the best possible results. Knowing your abilities allows you to work effectively from that space and maximize your efforts.
Embrace Your Intuition.
Being aware of your emotions, doesn’t mean that you push them aside. Our gut intuition and emotions can help make us aware of things that don’t show up on paper. You must be aware of what your intuition is telling you and know when to listen to it.
Being able to practice self-discipline shows that you can maintain your focus and set boundaries. Self-awareness is a skill that needs to be practiced so that it becomes a habit. It takes discipline for any skill to become a habit, and self-awareness is no exception.
“Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.” Ann Landers
Leading with Self-Awareness
When you lead from a place of self-awareness, you are less likely to make rash decisions based solely on emotion. You are able to notice how you feel about a situation and use that in conjunction with other factors to determine how you want to respond to a situation. This also makes you more open to receiving feedback and constructive criticism in a more positive fashion. These are all things that can make you a stronger leader.
The more you understand the power of self-awareness, the more you can model it and coach it to your employees. Self-awareness strategies can be used to reduce arrogance, to improve sales techniques, better presentation skills, and to manage feelings during employee reviews. When you can demonstrate your own self-awareness, employees will be more receptive to mimicking those same skills. Self-aware employees can communicate more clearly, improve their peer relationships, make better decisions, and are generally more productive.
Putting It All Together
Self-awareness in leadership is key to being a good leader that people want to follow and partner with. Being self-aware allows us to be consistent in what we feel and say. It helps us make sense of our emotional reactions and understand what we need from our relationships. Self-awareness allows us to lead with a sense of purpose and openness, which instills trust in those we lead. Improve your self-awareness by taking a training on understanding your perspective lens.
Revised October 2022. Origianlly published under The OD Pro in May 2020.