The Importance of Self-awareness in Leadership

Out of all the characteristics required from a good leader, self-awareness is regarded as the most important capability. That is according to an article published in MIT Sloan Management Review, entitled “How To Become a Better Leader.” What is the reason behind this? And what are the benefits of self-awareness in leadership?


What exactly is self-awareness?

The dictionary defines self-awareness as “awareness of one’s individuality or personality.” The tricky thing about awareness is, for most people, developing this attribute is easier said than done. Professor and author Cam Caldwell, Ph.D., from the University of Illinois in Springfield, says self-awareness requires conscious effort to “understand who we are, who others are, and the universal rules that apply in life and our commitment to the future.” For anyone struggling to develop this attribute, especially leaders, Caldwell says it takes both “work and willingness to recognize the reality is truth.”


Benefits of Self-Awareness in Leadership

Self-awareness (or lack thereof) in the workplace is probably one of the most overlooked qualities in a leader. People with this quality see themselves with clear eyes – they know their inadequacies and vulnerabilities. They understand their strongest qualities and lean into those abilities.

Someone who understands his own abilities and limitations also knows how to communicate effectively. A self-aware leader understands the importance and impact of the people around them. They can read between the lines and recognize lies. More importantly, they are conversationally and emotionally intelligent.

A self-aware leader admits their mistakes and shortcomings and learns from them. He accepts feedback and uses criticism to be better. He provides motivation; he knows how to inspire struggling employees, and applaud those who are doing a good job.

A self-aware leader is direct in his approach, clear in his communication, and skilled in setting expectations for the people he leads.

A leader with self-awareness stays composed in times of crisis and stressful situations. They are consistent in their performance, and people want to follow their lead.


Benefits of Self-Awareness in the Workplace


Helps you make better choices – Good leaders are able to manage their own behavior and relationships with others. They have the self-knowledge to utilize their best qualities and compensate for their natural tendencies to make better decisions.

Affects the organization’s finances – Organizations that perform better tend to have more self-aware leaders. They make better financial decisions and they are more mindful of their impact, not just on the current situation, but also on the future of the organization.

Helps you understand what you can bring to the table – Having knowledge, skills, and experience in the industry, as well as the personal characteristics, allows a good leader to be better at undertaking his responsibilities within an organization.

Realistic in expectations – Part of good leadership is inspiring your team to work hard and be better. However, a good leader also knows how to balance what they want for the team to accomplish and what is realistic.


Key characteristics of a self-aware leader

Do you know what defines a self-aware leader? These are some of the characteristics that s/he must possess.


  • Adaptable – he assesses situations and responds accordingly by changing behavior and mindset
  • Discerning – he makes wise decisions when handling different situations
  • Empathetic – he listens and understands the needs of others and relates to his people as he leads
  • Humble – he understands his strengths and weaknesses, he doesn’t brag about his successes and he corrects his shortcomings
  • Observant – he pays attention to what’s going on around him and takes cues from his environment
  • Perceptive – he anticipates the outcome of any situations
  • Reflective – he sees his own actions, words, and thoughts, and communicates these well with others
  • Self-controlled – he manages his own words, actions, and emotions


How to improve self-awareness to become a good leader?


Understand who you are

As said earlier, a self-aware leader knows his strengths and weaknesses. Thus, to be self-aware, you have to know yourself. Understand that in a workplace where circumstances always change, you are the one that must stay constant. Determine what is right and wrong using your internal standard, recognize your emotions and handle them.

Know how your actions affect others

As a leader, your words and actions speak volumes in the workplace. Observe how your words and actions affect people. Identify what factors cause them to react in a certain manner.

Get feedback from people you trust

It is difficult, if not impossible, to separate personal bias when assessing yourself. Thus, the best judge for you will be the people around you, especially those you trust. Ask for their inputs and opinions about your leadership to get a broader picture of who you are as a leader.

Practice mindfulness, and always consider the people around you

Empathize with everyone as much as possible. Consider other people’s feelings as you communicate with them and make decisions that impact them. Pay attention to their emotional needs. Know that you are sending a message to other people without even saying a single word. You communicate your feelings with your demeanor. Your mood is the energy you show to the world. So be mindful of your body language.

improve self-awareness to become a good leader


Be receptive of your traits

As said earlier, you need to know yourself and identify your strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, you need to be mindful of the circumstances that cause you to exhibit certain traits. Recognize right from wrong, and always what is good.

Keep an open mind

Stay curious and be open to new ideas. Don’t hesitate to entertain alternative viewpoints. Some people look at different situations with their own perspective, their viewpoint may offer you fresh ideas you haven’t thought of before.


Foster the benefits of self-awareness in leadership

Developing self-awareness in leadership takes time and constant work. But as with skills, it can be mastered. You can seek professional help to help you guide through the process and get an unbiased, objective, and outside opinion. The investment you make will go a long way in improving your ability to become self-aware, which in turn will make you a better leader.


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