Self-Awareness Tips for Successful Leadership

Self-Awareness Tips for Successful Leadership

Self-awareness is more important than one might think.

“How do you plan on using your leadership coaching education?” This question was recently posed to me by the CEO of an executive search and leadership consulting firm. We met while I was taking classes at Northwestern University for a Leadership Coaching Certificate. I explained to her that I started the program with the intent of becoming more effective in helping leaders accelerate their learning and performance; yet, I confessed that I thought the greatest benefit of the program was an increased self-awareness.

She responded excitedly, “If self-awareness is all that you get out of the certification, let that be enough.”  Her reasoning was that when her company sources executives, the first and most important trait they evaluate is self-awareness. In her experience, self-awareness is the number one trait that predicts an executive’s success.

Since that meeting, I have done more reading regarding self-awareness. I came across the book Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More than We Think by Tasha Eurich. Eurich confirms the executive search CEO’s advice by citing studies with empirical evidence that found: 1) Leaders who are unaware score 36% lower on decision quality, hurt team coordination by 46% and increase conflict by 30%; 2) Companies with large numbers of unaware employees perform worse financially; 3) Leaders with self-awareness are more successful and promotable, and some research indicates it is the greatest predictor of success; and 4) People who score higher on self-awareness are happier.

While self-awareness is important, most of us shy away from personal reflection and asking others for feedback. As leaders, the higher we move up in a leadership role, the more critical it is to become self-aware; however, this self-awareness can be harder to achieve because people are afraid of telling us the truth. So, what can be done?

First, understand that self-awareness is both the ability to know ourselves and how we like to work, and how we come across or impact others. To be truly self-aware, we need to gain insight from ourselves and others.

One simple exercise Eurich recommends is taking 5 minutes at the end of the day to reflect and journal answers to the following questions:

What went well today?

What didn’t go well?

What did I learn today?

How can I apply what I learned to tomorrow?

Over time, we should see trends in our reflections to learn more about the way we like to work, when we are our best and when we were not.

Getting feedback from others is more complex because it takes courage to ask colleagues, bosses and team members for feedback. Yet, if we do not take this step, we may never really get honest feedback from the people at work.

One recommendation I adopted to gauge my own self-awareness is from Eurich’s book. I found 2 to 3 people at work who I trust to give me honest feedback and asked them specific questions about my leadership style. For example, because one of strengths is collaboration, I occasionally shy away from conflict. Yet, I know I need to speak up in meetings to voice opinions. Eurich recommends taking that hypothesis to a trusted advisor who attended the meeting. To understand how I come across to others, I ask my trusted advisors how they perceived my responses and actions. Asking for this feedback has helped me to be more courageous in speaking up and helped my understanding of how to better present my thoughts without being tied to an opinion.

Self-awareness takes work, and, can initially be a bit painful. Yet, I am reminded of the saying, “No pain, no gain.”

What are you willing to do in the next 60 days to become more self-aware?  I am curious to get your thoughts. Feel free to post a reply here or email me at