Self Awareness

Oct 19, 2021 | Executive Coaching, Leadership

Self-Awareness for Leaders: Why It Matters And How To Cultivate It

Written by Dan Grisoni

Many of my coaching clients who are interested in self awareness for leaders want to learn the difference between being a boss and being a leader.

Most answers to this question revolve around empathy: bosses tell others what to do, while leaders inspire them to do it. Leaders demonstrate integrity, passion, and confidence, while bosses rely on authority and, sometimes, intimidation.

The core characteristic of leaders, though, is self-awareness.

Self-awareness empowers all the other leadership traits. When we understand our thoughts, how they translate into action, and the effects of those actions on others, we’re better able to motivate our teams.

So, how do you develop self-awareness, and how can you leverage this crucial trait into your management style?

Why is self-awareness an important component in leadership?

Self-awareness includes both introspection and honest identification of your thoughts, emotions, and actions. It also entails the capability to turn those reflections into tools for personal growth. When you accurately assess your feelings, you can avoid bias and make clearer decisions. This is called emotional intelligence, a concept developed by Daniel Goleman and expanded by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. The latter found that 83 percent of top performers exhibit high self-awareness — a key component of emotional intelligence.

For example, people who are low in emotional intelligence often confuse insecurity and fear with anger. This may lead to passive-aggressive behavior such as micromanaging. If you’re able to perceive your insecurity, you can better process it and find opportunities to develop confidence. This goes hand-in-hand with empathy: In addition to accurately perceiving others’ emotions, you can express your own in a productive way, so you can better motivate your team.

Self-awareness is also a component of self-leadership. To overcome the limiting biases and beliefs that hold you back, you must first identify them. Many aspiring leaders have internalized others’ expectations of what it means to be a leader.

The truth is that your unique talents and competencies are what define your leadership style. Self-awareness gives you the insights you need to pursue your goals with confidence.

Characteristics of self-awareness in leadership

Characteristics of self-awareness in leadership

What are some examples of self-awareness?

Self-awareness can be hard to describe. How do you know if you’re self-aware? The best way to develop this skill is to question yourself. Regularly challenge your assumptions and do emotional check-ins. What’s driving your actions? What motivates you most? How do you feel about your daily tasks? Emotional intelligence coaching can help you with this.

Some people assume that emotional intelligence is the same as maturity. Others describe it as charisma or even manipulation skills. But what self-awareness really is, according to author Brent Gleeson, is the ability to be in tune with yourself and with your surroundings, as well as the thoughts and emotions experienced in both.

Self-awareness may look like:

  • Reflective Self-Esteem: Understanding what jealousy or insecurity looks like for you and being able to dismiss those feelings and embrace self-confidence instead
  • Poised Receptiveness: Actively pursuing feedback in addition to accepting it, and being able to overcome feelings of rejection
  • Open Mind: Welcoming new perspectives as well as criticism of your ideas, and being willing to question your long-held beliefs and assumptions
  • Diplomatic Appreciation: A practical sense of recognition and insights into others’ efforts, how they interact with your goals, and vice versa
  • Self-Questioning: The ability to recognize your biases and assumptions and reconceptualize your observations and feelings

These are just a few examples. In a nutshell, self-awareness revolves around the ability to honestly assess your own emotions and leverage that authenticity to better empathize with others.

What is self-awareness as a manager?

As countless leadership experts have discovered, empathy and emotional intelligence are critical leadership skills. They set apart the leaders from the bosses, the influencers from the followers. When you can craft messages that resonate and give guidance that motivates, you can deeply connect with people and inspire them to do their best.

That all starts with empathy, which stems from self-awareness. If you’re not sure what you’re feeling or why it matters, how can you authentically express those ideas to others?

Becoming a good manager requires self-awareness – here are those characteristics of self-awareness as they might appear in a manager:

  • Reflective Self-Esteem: Overcoming concerns about colleagues’ criticism, and instead embracing your unique competencies for professional development
  • Poised Receptiveness: Asking your team for ideas and feedback and cultivating a conversation that leads to even better ideas
  • Open Mind: Using your empathy skills to understand team members’ diverse perspectives, concerns, and goals, so you can better inspire and guide them
  • Diplomatic Appreciation: Giving credit where it’s due, expressing gratitude for your team’s efforts, and motivating them on their next endeavors
  • Self-Questioning: Challenging your assumptions about people’s work styles and needs so you can create an empowering environment for them

When you adopt self-awareness as a key paradigm of your management style, you’ll achieve better results. Being able to express your ideas and guidance in a way that resonates with your team helps them achieve clarity, which promotes confidence.

Many self-aware leaders find their workload lightened as they get more in tune with their team. In short, you’ll feel less pressure to manage everyone’s tasks, and instead, rest assured that your team is on board and empowered to do their best.

good leaders need self awareness

Want to Be a Good Leader? How to Cultivate Self-Awareness

Step One: Know Thyself

Make it a habit of reflecting on your thoughts and emotions. How are you feeling throughout the day? It can be helpful to keep a diary or bullet journal to log your emotions. Do you get “hangry” around lunchtime? Do you find yourself most sensitive to criticism in the morning?

Once you know your patterns, you can start to (a) process and dismiss negative feelings and (b) know how to schedule yourself for better results. (Tip: If you always find yourself grumpy on Monday afternoons, don’t schedule meetings for that time.)

Step Two: Practice Gratitude

Our society sometimes focuses on the negative, from sad news articles to toxic content on social media. Take a moment every day to write down some grateful affirmations. Who on your team helps you achieve your goals? Which of your skills are you thankful to have? Unlearning negative beliefs helps you shift the focus to the positive — which you’re better able to leverage in your leadership efforts.

Step Three: Listen First, Speak Later

Another crucial leadership skill is active listening, which feeds into self-awareness. When you’re speaking, you’re not paying attention to your thoughts and emotions, so you’re more likely to let your biases shape your ideas. By contrast, active listening is the art of focusing fully on someone else’s speech.

This opens your mind to their perspectives and encourages you to sit and process your feelings about what they say. And of course, you must pursue feedback that can help you identify your blind spots and improve your ideas.

Step Four: Question (Your Own) Authority

Remember that success is impermanent and fleeting. You worked hard to achieve your position, but you may lose your credibility at any moment. This isn’t meant to scare you but rather remind you that leadership is something you do, not something you are.

By showing up every day with the goal to continually improve yourself and motivate your team, you’ll become a far better leader than someone who gets complacent in their role. So, question your authority and keep an open mind for new challenges and perspectives.

Step Five: Leverage Your Core Competencies

Common traits aside, no two leaders are alike. Everyone has skills and modes that best enable their success. The flip side of knowing the “down times” you identified in Step One is to know your “up times” in which you’re most able to inspire others.

What are your deepest-held passions that resonate with your team? What type of tone and rhetoric best expresses those passions to them? Self-aware leaders understand their high points and how to capitalize on those moments to motivate their audience.

great leadership starts with self awareness

Conclusion: Great Leadership Starts With Self-Awareness

Anyone can develop self-awareness skills through regular practice and a bit of soul-searching. The more you shift your management approach toward empathy and emotional intelligence, the better you’ll achieve self-awareness. Plus, refining your self-awareness promotes a more empathetic and empowering management style.

In others, self-awareness and empathetic leadership create a healthy cycle of continual improvement — for both yourself and your team.

To grow as a leader, focus on cultivating your self-awareness. Although it’s possible to go it alone, an executive coach can help speed up the process by providing you with exercises and practical recommendations that open your eyes and mind.

An executive coach is your thinking partner so you can gain greater clarity and awareness, grow personally and professionally, achieve results, and ultimately propel higher.

Eager to get started? I’d love to help you advance your career by becoming more self-aware. Book a call today to talk about how you can improve your leadership skills through executive coaching.


About Dan Grisoni

Dan Grisoni is a sought-after high performance coach and trainer. For over 20 years Dan has been helping managers and leaders become influential and inspiring so that they can live, matter, and thrive, 365.

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