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Self-awareness in Leadership: What is it and Why is it Important?

To what extent would you like to improve your happiness, influence, decision-making, and leadership skills? The most crucial skill you can hone is the ability to examine yourself critically. It's the driving force behind your efforts to improve as a person and as a leader.

Increased influence, broader perspective, and more robust relationships are just a few examples of how self-awareness can benefit its possessor. What is self-awareness, and how can I cultivate it?

Self-awareness, what is it?

Being self-aware means paying attention to how your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors do or don't measure up to your own personal standards. Self-aware people are better able to take an unbiased look at themselves, control their feelings, act in ways that reflect their values, and grasp other people's perspectives.

Self-aware people are able to step back and assess their own motives, emotions, and mental states.

As most of us tend to interpret events based on how we feel, this ability is quite unusual. Gaining insight into oneself is crucial for leaders, as it enables them to evaluate their progress, determine where they can improve, and make adjustments as needed.

Practicing self-awareness

Two different levels of awareness

Self-awareness can be broken down into two categories: public and private.

Self-awareness in public refers to knowing how one comes across to the general public. Awareness like this makes us more likely to act in ways that are generally accepted by society.

There are advantages to being self-aware, but there's always the risk of going overboard. People who score higher on this trait may be overly concerned with what other people think of them.

Private self-awareness on the other hand is Awareness of one's own mental state on a personal level, through the use of introspection. Those who are self-aware on a more personal level are introspective and approach their own emotions and responses with an open mind.

Consider the possibility that you tense up in anticipation of a big meeting. One example of private self-awareness would be to notice the physical sensations and correctly attribute them to your anxiety about the meeting.

When our awareness of ourselves crosses the line into self-consciousness, we become hesitant to reveal certain aspects of who we are. A false persona takes shape in our minds.

Related: How to Become a Better You

Why is self-awareness so valuable?

Self-awareness has been studied by the Eurich group. According to their findings, introspection helps us better understand ourselves by revealing our true beliefs, motivations, emotions, and underlying strengths and weaknesses. We are aware of the impact we have on other people.

Studies conducted by Eurich show that those who are in tune with their own minds tend to be more content and successful socially. Besides feeling more confident in themselves and their social interactions, they also report greater happiness in their careers.

The way others see us can be deduced from our focus on the outside world. Knowledge of one's own perceived qualities increases a person's capacity for empathy toward those who hold different beliefs. Leaders who have an accurate picture of themselves are more likely to inspire confidence in their followers and gain their respect.

The value of knowing oneself

The benefits of improving one's own self-awareness are numerous, as we discussed earlier. Each case is unique in its particulars.

The following are some of the more obvious advantages of self-awareness:

  • To put it another way, it gives us agency.

  • Improved decision-making skills are one of the benefits. It boosts our assurance, allowing us to express ourselves directly and purposefully.

  • Allows us to see things from different angles.

  • It sets us free from preconceptions and prejudices.

  • It aids in fostering stronger connections between us.

  • It improves our capacity to control our feelings.

  • Stress is reduced, and happiness is increased.

Self-awareness gap

In today's leadership parlance, self-awareness is essential. Only about 15% of the population actually meets the criteria for self-awareness, despite the fact that many leaders will boast about it.

Many of us were taught that it is inappropriate to express our feelings, so we learn to bury them deep inside. When we're feeling down, nothing good comes of it.

Either we bottle them up inside and stew in anger, resentment, depression, and resignation, or we take them out on other people and behave abusively as a result.

The inability to reflect on one's own actions can be a major limitation for leaders. Executives typically gain confidence and self-assurance as they advance in their careers, according to research conducted by Adam D. Galinsky and colleagues at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

On the negative side, they often become more insular and unwilling to hear out alternative points of view.

Canadian researchers examined the neural activity of those in authoritative roles in a separate study. They discovered physiological evidence supporting the hypothesis that individuals' capacity to empathize with others declined in direct proportion to their level of authority.

They lose the ability to empathize with others and put themselves in others' shoes. These leaders, who fundamentally don't believe they need to change, are instead demanding that their followers make adjustments on their behalf.

Related: How to Regain Your Confidence

How can I evaluate my level of self-awareness?

You shouldn't feel bad about yourself if you're not among the most self-aware people. The iNLP Center's self-awareness assessment consists of 12 multiple-choice questions that will give you an idea of where you stand in terms of self-awareness and how you can grow in this area. Mike Bundrant, a neuro-linguistic trainer and life coach, created the test based on his own research.

To help you zero in on the qualities for which you are most known, the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS) is available for no cost on the official VIA website.

It evaluates you on a total of 24 strengths across six categories. If you take the test, you'll get a report detailing your five greatest strengths and some initial steps toward developing them further.

Related: Discover Your Core Values

How to develop greater self-awareness

Consider your mental image

Imagine yourself as your ideal self. The skills, abilities, accomplishments, and goals that we aspire to reach are all reflected in our ideal selves. To wit: (Higgins, 1987; Markus & Nurius, 1986). As you work to improve yourself by focusing on your talents, your idealized future self can help you keep moving forward even when you encounter difficulties.

Pose the "what" questions

The ability to reflect on one's own thoughts and actions is fundamental to developing a healthy sense of self. But the Eurich group says that's because most people aren't doing it properly. Unfortunately, we are often asking the wrong questions.

We use the "why" question to try to find a solution to our own internal conflicts. But we can't find out because we can't access our subconscious to ask it. As a result, we often rely on speculative solutions.

The "why" question can lead us down a dangerous path of pessimistic thinking. The flaws and doubts we dwell on are our own. Let's say Amy is a new junior executive who struggles to contribute during team meetings.

She may rationalize her silence by telling herself, "I don't speak up at meetings because I fall too low in the corporate food chain." No one cares what I have to say.

When we ask "what?" we enter the neutral and open space of considering all the potential causes and effects of a given result. For instance, rather than wondering, "Why don't I speak up at meetings? " we could instead inquire:

  • Asking, "How were the relationships in the room?"

  • How did my physical sensations make me feel at that time?

  • What triggered my old self-limiting narrative that I'm not good enough?

  • How can I get over my inhibitions about raising my hand in class?

With this level of introspection, we can see our actions and beliefs for what they really are. Through introspection, we can identify and question narratives and habits that no longer serve us, clearing the way for growth and change.

The ability to make different decisions that lead to different outcomes comes from asking the right questions. Amy decides to formulate a strategy now that she knows she can get past this obstacle.

  • To better prepare herself to contribute at an upcoming meeting, she plans to learn more about the agenda and objectives.

  • She won't waste time worrying about what other people think of her but instead will pay attention to the conversation at hand and ask pertinent questions when the time is right.

  • Stepping into greater self-awareness, she will recognize the physical signs of fear and anxiety, give them a name, and make the conscious decision to not let them consume her.

Intensify your mental fortitude.

The amygdala, also known as the "primitive brain," was the first brain region to develop in humans. It acted as a warning system, alerting people to the need to take cover or strike back.

That part of the brain is skilled at anticipating danger and reacts before we can even name a negative emotion. Our breathing becomes shallow, our stomach knots up, and the muscles in our neck tense up.

Your body's reaction is a tripwire signaling the pre-frontal cortex to register or name a negative emotion. Understanding the emotion in the moment is possible through mindful attention to one's physical experience. Mastery of this skill alters neural pathways.

To make good choices, it's essential to give your emotions a name. When we give in to the intensity of our emotions, we risk making hasty choices with negative outcomes.

By giving words to our feelings, we gain a "third-person" vantage point from which we can step back and assess the situation with greater objectivity.

Let's drive this point home with an illustration. You, the thoughtful person that you are, are having a discussion with someone and getting some unfavorable feedback. Your heart starts to beat faster and you begin to feel unsafe. Suddenly, you think to yourself, "I feel like this person is attacking me."

Nonetheless, you reign in your emotions long enough to hear the other person out before you explode. You realize that they were onto something and you strike up a new conversation that ends up being mutually beneficial.

Inquire of others what they think of you.

Now that you know you don't have to fear criticism, try soliciting the opinions of those around you about how you perform in specific scenarios. The most useful feedback will come if you provide as much detail as possible. Do something bold and ask them how you can improve your behavior.

Maintain a diary.

Keeping a journal is a fantastic method of keeping tabs on both your inner and outer lives. Furthermore, you'll be better able to identify patterns that are beneficial or detrimental to your goals and objectives. Consider the following as possible jumping-off points:

  • Which of my actions from today do I have cause to celebrate?

  • Tell me about the difficulties I encountered.

  • Why did I feel the way I did?

  • What was my reaction? Would I have done anything differently, looking back?

  • In what ways did I rely on my best qualities to stay motivated to improve?

  • What do I plan to do tomorrow?

Be present and mindful.

Being mindful is a skill that can be honed. It aids in observing one's internal and external states. Mindfulness training, including meditation, is a fantastic method for gaining control over one's emotions and actions.

Leadership that is grounded in self-awareness

Exemplary leaders put in long hours, are dedicated to their professions, and are laser-focused on achieving their objectives. The best leaders can be held back by a flaw they don't even realize they have.

As a result, they are lacking in self-awareness, the most important quality in a leader.

Great leaders are distinguished from average ones by their level of self-awareness. Awareness of one's own strengths and weaknesses is essential for progress in the leadership realm. True mastery, however, does not come easily or quickly. For some people, the process of self-awareness can be quite unsettling.

And that's exactly why we're here. For you to be your best, we will show you how to develop the kind of self-awareness that is characteristic of effective leaders.

Related: Styles of Listening and How to Improve

What does self-aware leadership entail?

First, let's define self-awareness and its components. Being self-aware means being cognizant of and accepting one's own thoughts, feelings, and abilities. The knowledge of our own limitations aids in the process of problem-solving. The benefits extend to our relationships with others; this helps us become better companions, collaborators, and teammates.

Leaders who are self-aware have a deep comprehension of their roles and those of their teams.

This is a highly effective method of leadership because it encourages team members to be themselves at work. Because it encourages introspection, self-awareness in leaders is crucial. When a manager is in tune with their team's needs, employees are not afraid to speak up, share ideas, or seek assistance.

A great leader also needs to be emotionally intelligent. It teaches leaders how to identify and control their own feelings. Among the five factors that make up one's emotional intelligence, self-awareness has been shown to be an important one. In order to develop our emotional intelligence, we need to improve our social skills, learn to work effectively with others, and establish healthy boundaries.

Let's recap the four hallmarks of a self-aware leader before we go any further:

  • Humility, both in oneself and toward one's peers

  • A curious, open-minded, and eager-to-learn growth mindset

  • Capacity for extending mercy and understanding when others slip up

  • Confident in their own abilities and willing to take responsibility for their actions

Insights into developing your own self-awareness as a leader.

So, you want to improve as a team leader and be someone others look up to, which means you'll have to learn to look within yourself for motivation. Self-awareness as a leader has many positive outcomes that extend far beyond the individual. With a mind that is both open and aware of its own biases, better decisions can be made.

Additionally, your team members will begin to trust you more as they observe your willingness to hear them out.

As a future influential figure, you should examine your own motivations and values. Knowing yourself better prepares you to put that knowledge to use in the professional world. Six strategies are outlined below.

  • Think about how your choices will affect other people, such as their ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

  • Give yourself and others permission to feel and show their emotions.

  • Incorporate your personal values into your work life.

  • Focus on learning about the experiences and perspectives of your team members.

  • Don't be afraid to share your thoughts and feelings.

  • In times of emotional strain, it's important to be open and honest with yourself and those around you.

We recognize that some of these suggestions for increasing one's own awareness may seem overwhelming at first. However, you can get assistance from a professional who can direct you in developing personally effective methods to raise your level of self-awareness.

Internal and external self-awareness

Everyone varies in how much they know about themselves. It's possible that some of us are naturally more in touch with certain aspects of ourselves than others. There are two types of self-awareness, namely, introspective and observant.

Let's start with an overview of what it means to have an internal awareness. We have a great deal of introspective insight with this type. We have an intimate understanding of our own beliefs, motivations, and experiences.

By understanding our own capabilities and limitations, we can improve our decision-making processes. A healthy dose of introspection is essential for building character strengths and achieving personal success.

Realizing how other people perceive us is the essence of external self-awareness. The beliefs, characteristics, and aspirations of those around us shape their impressions of us. Leaders with a healthy dose of external self-awareness can foster a workplace where everyone works together more effectively.

It's possible that these leaders understand that they come across as too demanding and harsh. Knowing this, they will be better able to soften their tone and make others feel at ease in their company.

Perhaps we need to go on a journey of self-discovery to learn who we are, but we will eventually get there. The insights we gain from each type of self-awareness are distinct, even if the outcomes are similar.

When there is an imbalance between internal and external self-awareness

It's easy to believe that external self-awareness relieves us of the responsibility of cultivating internal self-awareness, or vice versa. Striking a balance is essential, though. To comprehend each one, you'll need a unique set of methods and expertise. The way others perceive us should be weighed against our own internalized self-image.

Both forms of introspection exist simultaneously. There's simply no way to separate the two. As a result of privileging one over the other, we risk stunting the development of our overall sense of self-awareness.

One of the difficulties that leaders face when trying to apply self-awareness in the workplace is developing both types. We need to keep an open mind as we explore our identities and listen to how others see us.

There's a chance we'll have to work on our own self-management skills, too, depending on the results of our investigation. There is no guarantee that we will ever stop wondering about our identity and how others view us.

We constantly have new coworkers, workplaces, and even job responsibilities. Our perception of ourselves and the world around us also improves.

You require feedback more than ever at this time.

People may feel uncomfortable when receiving feedback, but this feeling is quickly replaced by excitement at the prospect of growth. Feedback is highly valued by corporate heads because it allows their companies to improve and avoid making the same mistakes twice. It's essential for any leader who wants to grow professionally and contribute to the success of their organization.

Meetings, emails, and self-evaluation comments are all channels through which we receive input from others. Yet some leaders have trouble seeing the forest for the trees when it comes to taking in comments. They don't like being told they're not perfect or that they've messed up, but constructive criticism is essential for personal growth.

It reveals whether or not we are good communicators and whether or not we need to work on our level of organization. Hearing the thoughts and experiences of other people is essential to developing an external sense of self.

One of the hallmarks of a good leader is the ability to take criticism and implement change. In this way, they are able to spot patterns or recognize certain behaviors that they might have missed otherwise.

The only way to improve as a leader is to devote ourselves to lifelong education. The only way to improve is to actively seek out criticism, as unpleasant as it may be.

Related: How to Craft an Impactful Mission Statement

Instead of asking "why," try asking "what"

It is important to consider how we phrase our questions. It's possible that questions that begin with "Why?" will yield useful information now. It's possible that no matter how much research we do, we'll never find a solution we're happy with. It's possible that rather than gaining insights that deepen our understanding of who we are, we'll spend more time dwelling on the past and feeling guilty.

The question word "why" compels us to assume things that aren't necessarily true. As in the case of a less-than-rave review of our work. As we ask ourselves, "Why are my managers unhappy with my work?" we flood our minds with negative thoughts. Self-doubt is a mental drain that does nothing to help us solve our problems.

We have a solution, though. To rephrase the sentence, replace "Why" with "What," and work from there. The question word "What?" causes a response and motivates us to take action.

As a result, we are asked constructive, empowering questions. Rather than asking "what went wrong," we could ask, "what can I do to improve my skills and use this as a learning opportunity to produce better work for the future?"

We are not weakened by this inquiry. Through the process of learning to love oneself and concentrating on improvement, a strategy is developed. Despite acknowledging our error, we refuse to be defined by it.

Harmony is the key to self-awareness.

Leadership that is grounded in self-awareness takes more than one person to pull off. It occurs when members of a team put the needs of the group before their own.

Self-aware leaders care more about the success of their teams than they do about their own reputations. They accomplish this by regularly analyzing their performance and making adjustments.

Listening to employees' suggestions is one way in which effective leaders can improve workplace collaboration. As a result, they are able to ask insightful, growth-oriented questions and make the most of teamwork opportunities.

Attitudes, values, and self-awareness have all been found to play crucial roles in teamwork. Not expensive machinery or an endless supply of cash propels teams toward success, but rather the people who want to make work that matters to them.

The bottom line is that if we want to become more self-aware, we need to embark on a quest where we do a lot of introspective listening and questioning.

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