If you want to improve as a leader, first look in the mirror because it starts with self-awareness. Research shows that self-aware leaders are perceived as more authentic and transparent, have more engaged and productive teams, and enjoy better relationships with those teams. But how do you get there? How do you become self-aware in the first place?
How to improve self-awareness as a leader
The first step toward improved self-awareness as a leader is rigorous self-assessment. Yet clear-eyed, honest self-assessment is tricky given the biases we use to protect ourselves from reality and self-criticism. To help, here are four questions to get you started on a self-awareness journey.
Question #1: What don’t I know about the things I don’t know?
We must confront an uncomfortable truth at some point: we don’t know everything. We don’t have the answers for everything. But the good news is, as a leader, it’s not your job to know everything. It’s your job to assemble and grow your team, people with unique skills, specialties, and expertise. Great leaders tap into and leverage this collective knowledge to inform decisions and map the course for their company and industry. Accept that you don’t know everything and don’t have to. Be honest about your knowledge gaps.
Question #2: How much honest, unfiltered feedback do I really get?
Probably not much. Few leaders are fortunate enough to get genuine and constructive feedback about their performance and even critical issues within the company. Yet honest feedback from your team is one of the only ways to know how you’re doing as their leader. Ask yourself, how much of that kind of feedback do you really get?
If you find yourself thinking, “My people can come and talk over anything, anytime with me,” or, “My job is to care about results. If some get offended along the way, so be it.” Chances are you’re not getting the kind of feedback you need—nor allowing it to happen.
If that’s the case, try these tips to get more authentic and helpful feedback from others.
Question #3: How much empathetic listening do I practice on a regular basis?
As leaders, we naturally seek to take command, direct conversations, or focus on formulating our answers rather than actively listen to the other person. Every leader needs to talk less and listen more.
Even better is empathetic listening. To listen empathetically, we strive to recognize verbal and nonverbal cues, including tone and body language. In other words, we receive information from all of our senses, not just hearing.
To listen empathetically also means we listen deeply by engaging not just our minds but also our hearts. We allow our intuitive wisdom to help us discern what’s not being said. When leaders listen empathetically, people feel more fully seen, understood, and heard.
Question #4: What is my level of willingness to change?
Most of us have worked hard to become good leaders. We’ve gone to training and leadership programs, learned and practiced new skills, read books, taken leadership assessments, and had coaches and mentors. After all that effort, it’s natural to go on autopilot and think, “I’ve got this.”
The problem is no matter how successful or talented we are; we will still make mistakes and develop bad habits. In addition, business environments steadily change, sometimes so subtly that we don’t notice. That means that what once worked may be ineffective, and we must adapt. But are you willing to change?
Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.
– Carl Jung
I’ve learned as a coach that a leader’s capacity to change is directly related to their willingness to change. Leaders with a high degree of willingness have 1) a learning mindset, 2) a thirst for trying out new solutions to traditional leadership issues, and 3) a desire to refine their leadership competency. They also commit to a discipline of leadership practice. Do these traits describe you?
Developing self-awareness can be awkward and uncomfortable. We may even be embarrassed at what we learn about ourselves. A willingness to change helps you preserve and maintain your optimism despite this.
Like many qualities of a good leader, self-awareness is not a fixed trait. It’s a skill that can be learned and cultivated intentionally. Start by asking yourself these four questions. Your goal isn’t to answer immediately or to have a perfectly formulated response to each question. Your goal is simply to start becoming aware. The deepest work is in the art of asking and attuning to what arises so that you can take leadership of your leadership skills and, in turn, best lead your company forward.
Need help gaining self-awareness
If you want help gaining self-awareness or are curious about leadership coaching, call me at (425) 488-7747 or email me. I offer blended (virtual and personal) professional leadership coaching and leadership team development programs anywhere in the USA and globally.