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Self-awareness in Leadership: A Guide to Authentic Growth

Andrew Langat
May 17, 2024
An illustration of a leader reflecting thoughtfully, symbolizing self-awareness in leadership.
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"There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one's self."–Benjamin Franklin.

Successful leaders are not just about charisma, knowledge, and vision. They have a crystal clear understanding of themselves and exude a confidence that inspires and motivates those around them.

One of their stand-out leadership skills is self-awareness.

A Harvard study, reveals that this trait helps leaders more than an MBA.

So, what exactly is self-awareness?

What is the importance of self-awareness in leadership?

And what are the traits of a self-aware leader?

This article will answer the questions, and delve into more aspects concerning self-awareness in leadership. Let's learn more!

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What is Self-awareness in Leadership?

Components of self-awareness in leadership

Self-awareness is the ability of a leader to deeply understand the things that make them unique as an individual. Nobody is born with self-awareness; it's a virtue that you build up over time, and building self-awareness will be key to becoming an effective leader. This includes the following components:

  • Personality: A deep understanding of inherent traits and how they influence decision-making.
  • Strengths and weakness: understand where the strength lies and where they need to improve.
  • Emotion mastery: The ability to identify, understand, and manage their own emotions, as well as recognize how their emotional state impacts their interactions with others.
  • Impact on Others: How your actions, words, and overall presence are perceived by your team, colleagues, and stakeholders.
  • Willingness to confront uncomfortable truths: the ability to look into the mirror and engage in self-reflection, and thereafter be open to feedback—no matter how uncomfortable —to uncover areas of improvement.

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Types Of Self-Awareness.

A Havard Business Review article by Tasha Eurich explains that Self-Awareness is categorized into two: Internal and External Self-awareness in leadership.

Internal Self-Awareness.

It means having a clear understanding of your own emotions, passion, and values. It means being in tune with your personality traits such as motivations, thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Eurich further suggests that internal self-awareness is crucial for personal and professional development.

Example: As a leader, you recognize that when you feel overwhelmed you tend to make rushed decisions, that may appear logical in the short term, but counterproductive in the long term. By being internally self-aware, they can identify early signs of overwhelm (increased heart rate, difficulty concentrating), etc and take a step back to compose themselves before making a decision. This allows for a more thoughtful and strategic approach.

External Self-Awareness.

It is understanding how others see us, and how our behavior impacts others. External Self-awareness is key for effective leadership, self-regulation, effective communication, and building strong relationships.

External Self-awareness  will allow you to understand how your words and actions affect others, and what we must do to make adjustments.

Example: As a leader you have noted that when you deliver a critical piece of public feedback to an employee, desired behavior does not follow. By being externally self-aware, you will recognize that the delivery is not apt, and hence you change tact. This could involve privately offering specific suggestions for improvement alongside the criticism or starting with a strengths-based compliment before addressing areas for growth.

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Why Is Self-Awareness Important in Leadership?

Leadership can be challenging, and self-aware leaders have attributed their success to their self-awareness. Therefore, there is a need to cultivate self-awareness of ineffective leadership. Here are some benefits of self-awareness in leadership:

1. Enhanced Performances.

Developing self-awareness in leadership will give you valuable insights into what you need to work on, especially regarding performance and satisfaction.

Self-reflection will help you to master your strengths and address your weaknesses. This will positively impact your performance because it will help you have a higher standard of performance. Also, your team will improve because you will be leading by example.

2. Building Authentic Relationships.

The more self-aware leader are the better the relationships with their team members. Such self-care of leaders inspires trust and creates a pleasant working environment with open communication channels. This strengthens a team's relationship and achieves organizational goals assisting members to shine individually or as a team.

Leadership effectiveness and authenticity are enhanced when a leader is self-aware, and their leadership style allows them to understand other people's perspectives.

3. Better Understanding of Yourself and Others.

Self-awareness helps you dig in and understand your beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses. Leaders who have gained this insight about themselves are more likely to navigate challenges and avoid blind spots.

They can better navigate dynamics and understand the impact of their behavior on others, creating a productive and positive work environment.

4. Higher Emotional Intelligence.

Another aspect of self-awareness is managing your emotions and recognizing those of others. Emotional intelligent leaders will create a positive organizational culture, building trust among your staff and team.

A highly emotionally intelligent leader can easily adapt to change, solve conflicts, provide constructive feedback, motivate, and inspire their team members.

For more Insights: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership.

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Cultivating Self-Awareness in Leadership.

The path to improve self-awareness is a continuous learning process and in route to personal growth as an authentic leader, you will need some tips to cultivate self-awareness in your leadership style.

Here are some ways you can try:

1. Seek the right mentor or coach.

Choose a coach or a mentor who has expertise in leadership development, and can provide the necessary support needed to help you on your self-awareness journey.

As a leader sometimes you need help to fix some of your weaknesses, and some individual coaching sessions will help you shape and address them.

2. Seek Feedback(and act on it)

To achieve personal development and self-confidence you have to be open to receiving feedback, especially constructive feedback. Solicit feedback from your peers, superiors, and team members. Ask open-ended questions.

For instance, "What strategies can I personally make to change Organizational culture?"

Accept feedback that can positively impact the bottom line. Take up the lessons learned and apply them to your leadership style.

3. Acknowledge Your Strengths and Weaknesses.

Effective leaders will admit that they are not perfect, they leverage their strengths and acknowledge their limitations. This is self-awareness at its finest, for you to grow and develop, such steps are important.

In your quest to be a good leader don't be afraid to lay out areas that need improvements.

4. Observe the Impact of your Leadership.

As a leader, your actions, words, and behaviors can affect those around you.  A great leader knows how to keep their team members engaged and motivated so that they don't appear discouraged and confused.

Observe subtle things in leadership style that can be a drawback and find key adjustments, social skills are a major tell of a good leader. If your employees or team hold you in high regard and respect you then they can always strive to perform at a higher standard. Therefore, look within and see what you may be lacking.

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Self-Awareness and Authentic Growth.

The correlation between self-awareness and Authentic growth is key. For a leader to achieve success looking within is a major priority. The journey to authentic growth has its benefits, including:

1. Better Decision Making.

Remaining objective while making decisions is a big sign of growth on your part, you will make more informed decisions. Having greater self-awareness will empower you to consider more than one perspective  and make decisions that impact positively impacting your performance and the organization in the long run.

2. Stronger Bonds.

When you look within and understand yourself, you can better connect and understand with others. Connecting with others is vital for building trust and fostering a positive work environment. This leads to stronger bonds with colleagues, team members, and superiors.

3. Increased Confidence.

When you spend quality time developing self-awareness, you will better understand your limitations and capabilities. This will help your self-confidence in your leadership capabilities and allow you to lead with authenticity.

Self-awareness has a ripple effect, it isn't just about self-improvement. When a leader prioritizes self-awareness in the workplace, they create an environment where authenticity is championed. A leader will set an example if he or she openly reflects and learns from their mistakes, which can inspire the rest.

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How Can a Leader Continuously Improve Self-Awareness?

Cultivating self-awareness is a continuous process and as a leader, you should be open-minded to allow yourself to continually learn.

Here are some tips that can help you out:

1. Evaluate your Starting Point.

Before starting your self-awareness journey, assess where you are first. Evaluate where you are at the moment vis a vis where you are headed.

Utilize tools or resources like the 360-degree assessment to gauge your level. Use some of your peers, superiors, or team members, because they interact with you daily, and you will receive first-hand feedback on your self-awareness level.

When cultivating self-awareness, have goals of where you want to be in a few years, what you have to start, continue, or stop doing,  how you want to be regarded by others, and what will your actions and words look or sound like.

2. Build a support network.

As a leader, you cannot do it alone. A good support network will help you translate your vision and propel the organization to success.

You will encounter some turbulent times along the way. There will be times when you have to have tough talks or encounter challenging events, and for you to overcome them you will need to first build trust and a reliable team both inside and outside the organization.

A support network offers you guidance and sometimes criticism, especially when you realize that you are not as self-aware as you think. The support team does not have to be big, at least three people is enough.

The team does not have to be within the organization, you can have individuals from outside. The most crucial part is that they keep you accountable at every step you take, and are not afraid to call out your mistakes. Any of your friends or relatives that are dependable can fit in the team.

3. Develop Listening Skills.

One of the key leadership skills is listening, if you want to be accountable in your position as a leader, your primary goal should be developing your listening skills.

To develop, ask yourself:

  • Are you paying attention well?
  • Are you disturbing other people?
  • Are you requesting further information?

When you have answers to such questions, it will act as a self-regulation barometer where you are willing to hear other people's perspectives. Please encourage them to share both good and bad news to get their input.

4. Evaluate and Reassess your progress.

Assess your progress and achievements in becoming a more self-aware leader. List the areas of your self-awareness that need improvement, and as you work on them give yourself a score.

Be honest, and don't give yourself good scores when underperforming. If you have enrolled in training programs, take an exam after every self-awareness course to gauge yourself, or you can ask any of your instructors to gauge your progress.

Decide which two or three areas you want to focus on, and then monitor your progress to see how your level of self-awareness is improving. Find out whether other people agree with your evaluation. Remember that your assessment represents your exact performance.

Inspiring, isn’t it ? Want to learn more about connecting self-awareness to professional development? Get in touch today.

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Let Highrise teach you more about Emotional intelligence in leadership

At Highrise, we are cognizant of the fact that Self-awareness is a continuous journey that eventually leads to good leaders.

Through our interactive coaching approach, we shall enable you to identify blind spots, and how to use several strategies in becoming a better leader.

Check out our membership today and begin the journey toward becoming a better leader.

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Andrew Langat
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Andrew Langat is an experienced content specialist in Leadership, Productivity, Education, Fintech, and Research. He is an avid reader and loves swimming as a hobby. He believes that quality content should be actionable and helpful.