Self Awareness Is Key To Being A Great Leader - Do You Have It?

To be a truly great leader requires self awareness. Actually to be successful at anything- love, parenting, work- requires a good level of self awareness. It’s a trait that just doesn’t get enough air time.

A self-aware leader is both conscious of her internal state and understands the impact of her interactions with others on others. Recent research on leadership by Cornell’s School of Industrial & Labour Relations found that ‘a high self-awareness score was the strongest overall predictor of success’ for future leaders. This alongside Daniel Goldman’s work on EQ, usurps the more traditional notion that a real leader drives results at all costs, has all the answers all of the time, never makes mistakes, shows no sign of weakness and is always right.

This raft of evidence-based research highlights that the best leaders deliver bottom line results without any of those traditional characteristics. In fact, findings show that a self-aware leader actually delivers better results by building strong, rankless and authentic relationships. Never shying away from conflict, she opens challenging conversations that are candid and kind but focused on growth. Failure is treated as a learning opportunity and the culture is one where all questions are welcome. Using words and time to build relationships, she is acutely aware that the higher up a company you go, the more you depend on the people around you.

Staff retention is high as culture is built by a motivated and engaged team. With no rose-tinted glasses and no delusions, about self or others, the self aware leader views their people as working with them, not for them.

Ask yourself: Does your team work with you or for you?


Admittedly this overall picture of a self-aware leader is pretty perfect and few, if any, leaders truly display all of the competencies.

It’ s also easy to read through the profile and give yourself a near perfect check sheet and therein lies the real challenge - How ready are you to be 100% honest with yourself about yourself? Are you ready to look at yourself in such an unbiased and honest manner that you build clarity around your needs and wants? Are you willing to use this information to help you own your career and ultimately your leadership style?

If so,  the clarity that emerges will provide you with the skills to be a better leader, to actually deal with conflict, to communicate more effectively and to manage perceived and genuine threats. This level of self-awareness also prevents a ‘protect my space’ attitude that is so often coupled with a lack of empathy.  

If you are ready, there are some simple but searching questions that encourage you to reflect on your actual level of self-awareness.

  • How do you feel going to work? Do you feel excited and derive meaning from your role?
  • Is your life vision and professional goals aligned?
  • Do you know your actual strengths and challenges?
  • Are you truly honest with yourself about them?
  • Do you exhibit a gracefulness about your strengths and challenges?
  • Do you ask for and accept support from your team members?
  • If so, what members of your team do you go to for support and why?
  • What ongoing strategy do you have to grow, learn and improve on your strengths and challenges?
  • When things aren’t going well how do you act and react?
  • Can you name and manage your emotions when under pressure?
  • How do you treat your team at times of high stress?
  • When you walk into a room does the conversation continue or stop?
  • Can your team challenge and push you professionally without fear of reproach?
  • Do people tend to agree with you all the time? If so why do you think that they do?
  • Do you use your words to encourage and motivate your team? How do you know they are received in that manner?
  • Do you understand the impact of your influence, your words, actions or inactions on others?
  • Do you ask questions or issue demands?
  • When faced with managing conflict what do you do?
  • How much time do you spend building relationships with your team?
  • Do you take time out to think?
  • Do you micromanage or delegate?
  • What are your staff retention rates like?
  • What proactive steps do you take to encourage the individuals on your team to grow?
  • How do you encourage talented people, even those who are potentially better than you, to grow?

Irrespective of the picture that emerges, break into the information quarantine around you, and about you, in order to own and understand it. Since self-awareness is not an innate quality, but a skill, you can improve it with practice.

A great first place to start to learn more about your strengths and values is The VIA Survey of Character Strengths. It is a free, simple and reliable self-assessment which provides you with a wealth of information about your core characteristics. If you are keen to grow as a leader, put in place a learning plan based on the outcomes of the VIA. To achieve this, you might decide to work with a coach, a sponsor or a mentor.


One small step at a time, begin to build a vision for yourself of the type of leader you want to be and begin the process of designing your own version of success.

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