Self-Awareness is Crucial for Leaders
Self-Awareness is Crucial for Leaders

We do not learn from experience but from reflecting on experience.”  – John Dewey

Do you know how others view you as a leader? Regardless of where you are in your career, self-awareness is a key building block for effective leadership. Being conscious of our strengths and weaknesses helps us develop and provides insight into how others perceive us.

The Importance of Self-awareness for Leaders

good leaders have self-awarenessIn my experience, many leaders make the mistake of underestimating the value of self-awareness – if they consider it at all.

There are two kinds of self-awareness: internal and external.

Internal self-awareness is to be able and willing to look inward, and reflect on understanding one’s own behaviours, values, and motivators.  It is self-understanding: who you are, your strengths, weaknesses, goals, and most honest feelings.

External self-awareness is the understanding of how others see us, and how our impact is felt.

Uncertain times can bring out the best in us as we use our skills and strategies to accomplish important goals. However, under pressure, uncertainty also exposes weaknesses that undermine our effectiveness even though in more typical circumstances these traits could be strengths.

Like everyone else, a leader can have a flawed perspective and imperfect behaviour. It’s inevitable that any leader will have blind spots that could limit his/her/their perception of certain situations. But with conscious effort and a commitment to personal growth, a leader can increase their self-awareness and become a more effective leader.

It stands to reason that leaders with accurate self-awareness are better equipped to engage with their teams effectively, communicate openly and honestly, exercise sound judgment when making important decisions, and foster a collaborative atmosphere that ultimately leads to improved outcomes.

The Benefits of Self-awareness for Leaders

Genuine self-awareness is part of emotional intelligence, which can enable you to become more mindful of how your decisions, behaviors and words affect those you’re interacting with and leading. It encourages thoughtful analysis and creates an environment of understanding between you and your team.

Being aware of our own feelings and emotions gives us insight into why we think and behave the way we do. It also allows us to honestly identify our strengths and weaknesses, making it easier to gauge what resources we need to lead.

Self-aware leaders can identify areas for their own improvement, build up the people around them, and encourage better interpersonal relationships within their organization. By being tuned into their innermost thoughts and behaviours, leaders can better empathize with those around them, creating an inclusive environment that encourages collaboration and creativity.

In essence, having the capacity for self-awareness should ultimately help leaders maximize potential on both personal and professional levels.

Self-awareness: the Challenge for Leaders

“Reflective thinking turns experience into insight.” – John C. Maxwell

Quite simply, leaders who lack self-awareness will struggle to get the most out of their teams. They cannot recognize how their own behaviour affects their direct reports/followers. Without understanding how others perceive them, leaders can’t identify what motivates others, nor gauge how best to communicate and engage with their teams. This not only limits how successful a team can be; it can also cause disconnection, and create resentment between a leader and their team.

Disconnected leaders tend to rely heavily on external validation and are unable to see beyond their own perspective. They reward the “yes men” cheerleaders who only ever voice agreement while those who speak up and voice their perspective when they see problems are often ignored – and worse (e.g., these past blogs on workplace scapegoating and does my boss like me? describe some consequences of problematic leadership).

To overcome this leadership challenge, it’s important for those in charge to take the time to appreciate and understand who they are and how their behaviour impacts those around them. Fortunately, self-awareness is something that can be developed.

Developing Self-awareness

Reflection is an essential part of developing self-awareness and honing leadership qualities.

well-dressed man, but does he have self-awarenessStart by taking the time to evaluate your areas of strength and weaknesses objectively. Be prepared to have an open dialogue with trusted colleagues, mentors, or an executive coach about perspectives on behaviours that may have a negative impact on others in ways that you didn’t fully appreciate. Cultivate relationships with people both within and outside of your industry or field of expertise, and observe how their behavior impacts those around them.

Additionally, creating leader feedback loops and setting personal goals around learning and development will help strengthen this skill set so that it becomes a more natural part of your leadership style. Self-awareness is a necessary component of leader growth and effectiveness; by incorporating strategies such as advancing knowledge, soliciting advice and implementing leader feedback, you can take key steps towards developing this important leadership trait.

The Role of Feedback in Developing Self-awareness

As leadership roles develop in complexity,  leadership self-awareness becomes more and more crucial. Feedback from employees and team members is essential, as this will help you understand key areas where you could/should make improvement.

Suitable tools that can accurately measure leadership competencies include 360° evaluations which requires you to consider feedback from your superiors, peers, and direct reports, and leadership assessments.

A leadership assessment is a smart way to understand your capabilities and prepare for success. These psychometric tests will help you recognize the strengths in your leadership style so that you can capitalize on them with confidence. Additionally, a leadership assessment allows for proactive planning for difficult situations by providing insight into how to anticipate potential missteps or roadblocks along the way.

Armed with accurate and precise information about how your behaviour impacts others, you can capitalize on your strengths – and minimize the potential for tactical missteps. You can become more aware of the culture that you are creating within your organization and use this information to interact more successfully with others.

If you enjoyed this article, check out this related blog “Leaders and the Self-Awareness Gap.”


If you’re interested in executive coaching, a leadership assessment or becoming a more inclusive leader, please reach out today for a free and confidential initial consultation by phone, email, or via direct message on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.


More than career coaching, it’s career psychology®.


I/O Advisory Services Inc. – Building Resilient Careers and Organizations TM.

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