What is self-awareness?

Good leadership is grounded in self-awareness. If you are self-aware it means you have made (and are constantly updating) an accurate appraisal of your personality, of what motivates you, your strengths and an understanding of the importance of unconscious bias. Without self-awareness, your effectiveness will always be limited. You will be unable to properly balance all the conflicting demands made on you, or manage them for the best outcome.

Dr Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 describes self-awareness as our ability to accurately perceive our emotions and stay aware of them as they happen.

Why self-awareness is important

Self-awareness is one of the fundamental leadership components of Authenticity, which lies at the heart of the Institute of Leadership & Management’s five dimensions of leadership, alongside Vision, Collaboration, Ownership and Achievement. It is the sum of, and interplay between, these dimensions that contribute to great leadership, because leadership is multi-dimensional and complex - far more than a collection of qualities possessed by any one individual. 

At the Institute, each one of these leadership dimensions is represented by an inspiring individual who reflects the spirit of that dimension, which we refer to as a Companion. Management philosopher Charles Hampden-Turner is our Authenticity Companion and explains that, “authenticity points to inner conviction being consistent with what is communicated and the impression made on others.” 

However, if the basis for great leadership is authenticity, what does that mean in practice and how do we become a more authentic leader? If we want to lead, influence and inspire, we have to start with ourselves. 

Identifying our strengths and gaining an insight into our weaknesses is helpful, not because we should remain ‘fixed’ in those behaviours, but because knowing our blinds spots – both good and bad means we can capitalise on our talents and work with people with complementary attributes. 

There is a large number of reliable personality and leadership tests online, do not be put off because you do not believe in labels, or their validity. The results of such tests provide some insight, something to talk about with colleagues, an opportunity to stop and think. All such reflection and conversation increases your knowledge of yourself and helps you better understand the impact you are having on those around you. 

Top tips for becoming more self-aware

  • Never stop trying to learn about yourself and what makes you tick. Test your own self-awareness using MyLeadership, our flagship e-learning tool. 
  • Question any strong reactions to people and events before you automatically act upon them.
  • Consciously adapt your leadership style to different situations. 
  • Be an observer of yourself: watch your thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Notice what you see, reflect - what does this tell you?
  • Invite feedback from others and reflect on what you are told. But remember, feedback is a gift - receive it gracefully. 
  • Think about the end-game in any situation and recognise when it becomes more about you, rather than what needs to be achieved.

To develop your leadership skills further, try our self awareness learning resources for free!