Leading with Self-Awareness: Know Yourself to Help Your Team Thrive


Effective leadership requires many skills and qualities, but most of them link back to people. As a leader, your role is to inspire, empower and guide
people towards a goal. However, leadership isn’t only about other people – it’s also about you.

In order to help your team thrive, you need to know yourself. To do that, you need to begin with a clear understanding of what self-awareness is and how
it influences leadership.

Defining self-awareness

A component of the broader concept of emotional intelligence (EQ), self-awareness is defined as: “the ability to understand your effect
on others, play to your strengths, and admit your weaknesses”.

Based on the findings of a large-scale study,
a team led by organizational psychologist and researcher Tasha Eurich divided the concept of self-awareness into two categories:

  1. Internal self-awareness: “how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions
    (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others”.
  2. External self-awareness: “understanding how other people view us, in terms of those same factors”.

This distinction is particularly relevant and useful when discussing leadership. If a key part of your role is to guide and inspire others, it isn’t enough
to have a clear understanding of how you impact your team – it’s also important that you understand how they view you.

Avoiding self-awareness blind spots

Building on the definitions developed in its research, Dr Eurich’s team developed a model comprised of four self-awareness archetypes found among leaders:

Low external self-awarenessHigh external self-awareness
High internal self-awarenessIntrospectors: They’re clear on who they are but don’t challenge their own views or search for blind spots by getting feedback
from others. This can harm their relationships and limit their success.
Aware: They know who they are, what they want to accomplish, and seek out and value others’ opinions. This is where leaders
begin to fully realize the true benefits of self-awareness.
Low internal self-awarenessSeekers: They don’t know who they are, what they stand for, or how their teams see them. As a result, they might feel stuck
or frustrated with their performance and relationships.
Pleasers: They can be so focused on appearing a certain way to others that they could be overlooking what matters to them.
Over time, they tend to make choices that aren’t in service of their own success and fulfillment.

Source: https://hbr.org/2018/01/what-self-awareness-really-is-and-how-to-cultivate-it

Do any of these archetype descriptions sound familiar? If you take an objective look in the mirror, which one best describes you?

Unless you fall into the Aware group, there is likely a blind spot in your self-awareness. For example, if you’re an Introspector, you may tend to charge
ahead and push through your plans at work rather than trying to build support within your team. By failing to recognise how others view this behaviour,
you may miss opportunities to get everyone working together towards a common goal and instead end up with an unhappy team.

Taking action to build self-awareness

Based on its research, Dr Eurich’s team estimated that only 10–15% of people are self-aware. The good news is that self-awareness can be honed with practice, so even if you currently have blind spots, these can be
overcome. Here are a few strategies for boosting your self-awareness:

  • Ask for feedback and be open to it, even if (especially if!) you don’t like the what you hear. When possible, do this both formally
    through planned team feedback sessions or surveys, informally through casual conversations with your team.
  • Challenge your assumptions. Make an effort to identify underlying assumptions in your views, habits and plans. You don’t necessarily
    have to change them – making assumptions isn’t inherently bad – but you should be aware of them.
  • Make time for yourself outside of work. Taking a break and stepping back from work can help you better understand your values, passions
    and needs. This in turn can boost your self-awareness and ultimately make you a better leader.
  • Work with a coach. Find someone outside your workplace who can provide objective feedback and constructive guidance. Self-awareness
    can be learned and strengthened, and an experienced coach can guide you through this process.

Becoming a more self-aware leader

Leadership is first and foremost about people. However, to bring out the best in your team, you need to begin with a solid understanding of your own strengths,
weaknesses and impact on others. By taking steps to deepen your self-awareness, you can enhance your effectiveness as a leader and help your team thrive.

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