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Self-Awareness in Leadership: How Knowing Yourself Makes You a Better Leader 

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Often when we’re faced with the prospect of having to step up to the role of a leader, we can feel an immense sense of pressure. To be strong, decisive, direct, knowledgeable, and all-knowing. The list goes on. When we take on a position of this kind, it can feel incredibly daunting. People have certain expectations of what it takes to be a leader, and if you can’t meet those standards then you mustn’t be up to the job. What if we turned this idea on its head? What if those who tend to tick all the ‘expected’ boxes can actually limit their ability to do the role justice?

In this article, we’re going to take a look at self-awareness in leadership, and how knowing yourself has the potential to make you a better leader altogether. We’ll explore what self-awareness is in leadership and what it actually looks like, why it’s a hugely important quality to have in order to be a great leader and the advantages of mastering the art of self-awareness.

Understanding Self-Awareness in Leadership

The role of a leader can often get confused as being some sort of dictator-like position where the person in charge has an attitude that screams “my way or the highway.” This perspective couldn’t be further from the truth. True leadership is having the emotional intelligence to recognize that you won’t always get it right. Mistakes are meant to be made along the way because they teach us how to manage the ups and downs that come with being an effective leader.. 

This is where self-awareness comes in. As self-aware leaders, when we’re able to take a good, hard look at ourselves in the mirror and question our own thinking, values and actions, we’re not only able to encourage growth, adaptability and honesty within ourselves, but we also cause a ripple effect of self-awareness on those we are tasked with leading. 

The Importance of Self-Awareness in Leadership

You may at this point be asking yourself, why is self-awareness important in leadership? When we think of what it looks like to be a successful leader, naturally we imagine someone who is hard-working, dedicated, highly motivated and driven in their chosen field. While all these skills are generally representative of a good leader, being self-aware is a characteristic that seems to get left behind to the detriment of the organization.. 

Arguably, we may neglect self-awareness because it can open us up to the things we don’t particularly like about ourselves. Looking at both our strengths and our weaknesses requires vulnerability, which is difficult for anyone. Effective leaders are willing  to self-reflect to determine where they aren’t meeting their own expectations or the expectations of others  in order to make better decisions.

When you take a step back and honestly assess yourself as a person and as a leader, the results speak for themselves. You become better at assessing your blind spots and handling your emotions in stressful situations. You listen to others more, acknowledge your own biases and are more open-minded to differing opinions. The bottom line is, self-aware leadership aids in your connection to yourself and to others. 

Advantages of Self-Awareness for Leadership Success

There are a whole host of advantages to being self-aware in general, but even more so when you’re in a leadership position. From the ability to build strong relationships to approaching sensitive situations with empathy, self-awareness makes you the type of leader you most aspire to be. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest advantages of developing self-awareness in a leadership role.

Helps to Establish Trust

Most people don’t take kindly to being spoken down to. When ego comes into leadership, trust in your decision-making shuts down. Relatability is key when you’re in charge of a task, campaign or team. If the people you set out to inspire and guide feel as though they are on a different playing field than you, a sense of separation is created that erodes trust and connection. When people can see that you can own up to your mistakes or shortcomings and learn with humility, trust can truly flourish. 

Works to Promote Learning and Development

Recognizing that we are all a work in progress is a crucial element of self-awareness. Letting go of perfectionism, learning from mistakes and taking unpleasant outcomes on the chin all assist us in our own learning and leadership development journey. If we are open to the fact that we are constantly in a state of growth, it humanizes us as leaders and creates a space for others to do the same. By setting an example of self-awareness through our actions, we confirm to others that growth is a process and that real success can’t be attained without mistakes. 

Improved Decision-Making

It is near impossible to make decisions for a business, organization, or team if you have only yourself in mind. As a leader, selfishness just isn’t a viable option. When you’re in charge of leading a group, the success of the outcome you are trying to achieve is heavily dependent on how willing you are to work collaboratively, use your communication skills and rely on the insight of others. Allowing people to have a say, considering unspoken needs and advocating for a healthy work-life balance can all play a role in your decision-making. 

Open-Mindedness Opens Doors

Whatever environment we walk into as a leader, it is difficult to entirely push aside our values, beliefs, and opinions of how we think things should be. While we are not saying that leaders should get rid of their stance entirely, it is important to go into situations with an open mind and a willingness to listen and learn. We are constantly in a state of learning – we can’t learn if we are closed off from the opportunity of learning from others. In a leadership role, considering and potentially adopting  other perspectives  allows us to be more inclusive,  ultimately achieving an outcome that is best for everyone. 

An Increased Sense of Empathy

When we’re stuck in our ways as a leader, compassion and sensitivity toward the emotions and needs of others can often go out the window. If we are too inward-focused and not willing to embrace self knowledge, we can miss out on social queues and indicators that others are struggling and looking to us for guidance. Where leaders fail is when they have no patience or understanding of the emotions and needs of other team members. The fact is, people do have lives outside of work, just like leaders do. 

When leaders are able to empathetically take the needs of others into account, they build relationships and gain insight into how they can better support their team in the future. Plus, empathy establishes trust between leaders and their people.

Improving Self-Awareness in Leadership 

It’s as simple as this: if we are unable to reflect on who we are as people and how that translates into our role as a leader, we won’t be able to achieve the kind of success we hope for. It is only when we can welcome the benefits of self awareness in leadership that we can embody great leadership. 
When you can look outside of yourself, rather than focusing solely on yourself as a leader, you can gain a whole new perspective on what goals best serve the organization, as well as the most efficient and effective way to get there. By seeing yourself as a part of a collective, rather than a “one-man-band,” you have the ability to motivate others to get on board with your plans and, in turn, exceed your initial expectations together. 


Aish Hinton

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