Here’s a hard truth. Just because you have something you want to give doesn’t mean it’s worth giving. Jay Shetty puts it more poetically, saying, “If you have muddy water, you can try to distribute it to the whole world, but all you are distributing is muddy water.” Doing so would indicate a complete lack of self-awareness, which could cause problems down the road.
Sadly, far too many people don’t seem to possess self-awareness. Tasha Eurich, the author of Insight, explains, “Our data reveals that 95 percent of people believe they are self-aware, but the real number is 12 to 15 percent. That means, on a good day, about 80 percent of people are lying about themselves—to themselves.”
It’s impossible to lead others and positively influence them when you lack self-awareness. You won’t be able to enact positive changes to your team or the workplace environment. As the lack of self-awareness grows, the entire organization will be filled with selfish and unempathetic people. When this happens, company failure is inevitable.
Gaining self-awareness requires leaders to take daily action tied around self-reflection. As Shetty explains, “If you’re not self-aware, if you’re not going through the process of self-reflection, if you’re not growing every day, and becoming less egotistical, less greedy, less angry, less envious, then all you are giving to everyone else is envy, greed, anger, jealousy, competition, and negativity.”
Clearly, self-awareness is a skill all leaders need to develop, and it needs to happen right away.
This article will teach you:
- What self-awareness is.
- The benefits it can provide for leaders.
- The best ways to increase self-awareness for effective leadership.
What is Self-Awareness?
Self-awareness is the ability to step outside yourself and view how others might perceive your actions, words, and behaviors. On the other hand, it is also honestly assessing things like your nature, personality, character, thoughts, feelings, lifestyles, emotions, and expression of individuality to see if they line up with who you are and what impact you have on people.
Self-awareness is also one of the four domains of emotional intelligence. Because of this, it is a skill people can develop over time since it doesn’t always come naturally. Like a muscle, for it to grow stronger, it’s something a person needs to exercise.
The Benefits of Self-Awareness for Leaders
To be a leader means to be self-aware. As Daniel Goleman once said, “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” Leaders have much to gain from developing their self-awareness since it leads to the following benefits.
- Creates strong relationships. Self-awareness helps leaders build crucial relationships with their coworkers. By becoming self-aware, leaders understand how they treat others. This, in turn, grows bonds among the team. As relationships grow stronger, everyone will have high job satisfaction when working with you.
- Increases performance. Self-awareness occupies one of the four domains of emotional intelligence (EI). EI plays a significant role in building companies with top performers. According to Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, 90 percent of top performers in a company possess above-average EI. Once leaders develop their self-awareness, they can teach this skill to their team. As a result, they’ll turn into better performers.
- Helps leaders embrace their purpose. When leaders become more self-aware, they understand why they were put on this Earth. Knowing their purpose helps them create a vision for the future that can inspire and guide others. Those without self-awareness will find achieving a vision impossible since they won’t be able to motivate, inspire, or serve anyone (including themselves).
- Keeps leaders from wavering in their beliefs, values, and identity. People who don’t have self-awareness are lost. They allow outside forces to act upon them rather than being the ones initiating the action. They follow trends because they don’t have a firm sense of who they are. Weak leaders lose buy-in because no one wants to follow someone who lacks direction.
- Influences good decisions. Becoming aware of their goals, thoughts, and feelings helps leaders with the decision-making process. They have a clear destination in mind and base their decisions on that. A lack of self-awareness often means reacting based on emotions without considering other factors, which can hurt companies and employees.
5 Ways to Increase Self-Awareness
1. Practice the Two Types of Self-Awareness
To become a self-aware leader, you must focus on all aspects of self-awareness. There are two different ways to be self-aware, so focus on growing in both areas. Oftentimes, people can be strong in one type but weak in the other.
The two types of self-awareness are internal (private) and external (public). Internal self-awareness means how you view privately view yourself. It represents how you see your emotions, values, purpose, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses and how they impact you and others. A person can develop this type by identifying their core values and noting how they influence their actions.
External self-awareness is how you believe others view yourself. The external type represents an understanding of how other people perceive us according to the same aspects above. The greater the understanding, the more you are skilled at empathizing with others. You can develop external self-awareness by paying close attention to how people act around you, noting, in particular, their non-verbal language.
2. Make Self-Awareness a Habit
As John C. Maxwell teaches, “You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” In terms of self-awareness, you need to practice it every day until it becomes a habit. Once you’ve gotten to the point where you no longer have to think about self-awareness to practice it, you’ll know you’ve gotten to a healthy destination.
Activities you can try to practice self-awareness:
- Visualization exercises
- Mindfulness exercises
- Breathing techniques
- Reading books on the topic
- Artistic activities (drawing, painting, etc.)
Example: To increase his self-awareness, Steve starts each day doing ten minutes of meditation, followed by a yoga session. He then writes down goals for what he wants to accomplish that day and keeps that list with him. During his lunch break, he reads a book on how to improve his confidence. Throughout the day, he takes five-minute breaks to clear his mind and practice breathing exercises. At the end of the day, he writes in his journal about all he did, focusing on his accomplishments in raising his self-awareness.
For more on effective goal setting, check out some SMART goals examples.
3. Ask for Feedback and Gain More Perspective
When it comes to self-reflection, you can’t rely only on yourself to come up with the answers. Doing so could lead to creating a false narrative of why things happened. It doesn’t reveal the truth but instead hides it.
But how do you know when to do this? One indicator is when you notice you’re overthinking things. If the thought consumes you, you need to break the cycle of negative rumination as quickly as possible by gaining perspective.
To gain perspective:
- First talk to a trusted business coach or mentor. They will give you helpful, honest advice on how to best move forward.
- Reach out for feedback from coworkers whose opinions you value. As you do so, practice active listening.
- Listen with the intent of understanding what people are saying.
- Don’t take a stubborn defensive stance right from the start.
- Be open to new possibilities, and be willing to throw out any preconceived notions.
Example: After the latest marketing campaign fell short of expectations, Ashley, the marketing director, defended herself vigorously in the company meeting. Afterward, she took a step back to analyze where she might be at fault. She spoke to a close mentor, who gave her advice on who to turn to in the company for deeper information on why the campaign failed. She then had honest conversations with her marketing staff and data analysts. As she did so, she discovered that she was so eager to push out the new product that she failed to target the right audience. Ashley made sure to be aware of this potential weakness in the future.
4. Learn From Your Mistakes but Also Your Wins
It’s long been common wisdom that people should learn from their mistakes. Successful self-awareness follows this principle since it helps people understand which behaviors, thoughts, and actions they should avoid. But while you focus on what not to do, you should also note what you need to keep doing. Additionally, notice what thoughts, behaviors, and actions contributed to successful outcomes, and make sure you carry those with you.
Whenever you experience a big failure or victory, take the time to review what happened. Then, go into detail about what you did and where you can improve or stay consistent. Ask yourself reflective questions and write down the answers.
Questions to ask yourself after failing or succeeding:
- What did I learn?
- How can I improve?
- What was the purpose of this experience?
- How can I repeat the positive outcome in the future?
- How can I help others around me?
- Are there more accurate ways to measure my success or failure?
Example: Stan and his sales team managed to hit their end-of-year sales goal. Next year’s goal promises to be even more ambitious. So Stan takes a day to review all he did in the past year to achieve success. He writes down that some of the positive things he did include weekly one-on-one meetings with team members, out-of-work activities to boost morale, and daily meditation practices. Stan also notes that he could improve in daily communication with his team members and setting clearer weekly and monthly sales goals for himself. With these things in mind, Stan is better positioned to reach next year’s goal.
5. Show Gratitude
Being self-aware also means taking time to reflect on what you have. This means counting your blessings and reaching out to thank people who have made positive contributions to your life. Showing gratitude doesn’t always come easily, but it helps people stay humble and recognize the good things, even when life gets you down.
To show gratitude:
- Keep a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal allows you to write down ideas for thanking each person in your life. It also helps you come up with ways to honor them.
- Express it in unique approaches. Showing gratitude means approaching people in different ways. One person may appreciate a phone call, while another would cherish a letter sent through the mail. If possible, try to communicate in person.
- Give specific feedback. Don’t just express a generic “thank you” to people. Be specific in how they have helped you. It will mean a lot more to them and remind you of what they did.
- Take the appreciation quiz. This quiz will help you know the best ways to communicate with those around you. As a result, expressing your gratitude will be more effective and feel more earnest.
Example: After reaching a career milestone, Danielle wanted to thank everyone who made it possible. Using a gratitude journal, she wrote down the influential people in her life and the expressions of gratitude that would mean the most to them. Over several weeks, she reached out to an old mentor over the phone, took a former boss out to lunch, stopped by her parents’ house to visit, and sent a gift to a supportive friend. During each interaction, Danielle showed her thanks by telling each person precisely what they did to help her and how much she appreciates them.
A Self-Aware Leader is a Greater Leader
Dr. Merida L. Johns puts it best: “Self-awareness is the companion of good leadership.” Becoming self-aware is a crucial step on the path to practicing servant leadership. By showing self-awareness, leaders can better serve, care for, and guide their team through good times and bad.
A servant leader will also help others grow into self-aware leaders. This will lead to great leadership throughout the organization and promote an emotionally intelligent work culture free of conflict.
For more information on the importance of emotional intelligence and resolving conflict, check out the following articles.