Self-aware leaders know how their values, beliefs, and personal histories shape their perceptions of reality, leading to a better understanding of those around them. But learning how to be self-aware as a leader is a challenging process. Start with these steps.
Everyone alive has their own perception of reality. That much is hard to deny, as people can’t help but perceive the world through their own personal lens. Recognizing and appreciating the differences in these various perceptions can be difficult when we can’t perceive each other’s unique views, but this ability is foundational in developing self-awareness — a critical skill for today’s leaders.
Self-aware leaders understand how their individual values, belief systems, and personal histories shape their perceptions of reality. They regularly take inventory of themselves and those they’re tasked to lead. It might seem obvious, but self-awareness is all about self-reflection: weighing your behaviors in relation to your values and those around you. Without this critical skill, you risk allowing biases to sneak into your decision-making and might even instill fear and stress within your internal hierarchy. Without some level of awareness of self and the value of others’ uniqueness, it becomes impossible to build a diverse, innovative, and motivated team.
Recent struggles in nearly all industries over the last few years have certainly helped move the needle of self-awareness for leaders. No doubt you’ve found yourself on some kind of inner journey during these hard times, reflecting on what’s most important in life and making adjustments accordingly. It stands to reason that the same level of contemplation would benefit you in the workplace and inform and improve your interactions with employees and peers.
It’s easy for any of us to fall back into survival mode when faced with struggles such as inflation, supply chain delays, talent shortages, and so much more. But it’s also important to make sure that some of that self-reflection sticks with you through the hard times: It will make you a better leader.
How to Become More Self-Aware as a Leader
Learning how to become more self-aware is a challenging process for everyone who undertakes it. More often than not, you have to get out of your own way to make progress on this front. But it’s well worth the effort, as self-awareness can often lead to much more effective leadership and team management.
Here are three ideas to get started on your journey to becoming a more self-aware leader:
1. Embrace a learning mindset.
Ego is the enemy of good leadership. Though it might enable you to act more decisively, an overdeveloped or inflated ego can be a problem — even going so far as limiting your growth and blinding you to your natural limitations. Therefore, the first step to self-awareness is coming to terms with the fact that no leader knows everything or ever will know everything. Every leader will be wrong sometimes, including you. When you abandon your ego and embrace a learner’s mindset, you tap into your curiosity and begin to view every new challenge or experience as an opportunity to grow.
It’s just as important to make the same allowances for your team. Every so often, it’s good to let go and allow team members to innovate on their own. You’d be surprised at what employees can learn and accomplish without your involvement in every decision. They might even find some great answers to team problems. This isn’t to say you should wash your hands of all duties; it’s still important to lead with good intent and explain any risks and limits they need to work around. But trust team members to develop their own ideas and solutions. Be self-aware enough to know that good ideas can come from everywhere.
2. Enlist the help of someone you trust.
Sometimes, even the best of us get too close to a situation to see it clearly, especially when it comes to self-reflection. It can be difficult to “observe” yourself. It’s common for biases and insecurities to sneak in and skew our perspective. You might overlook or overly focus on your faults. These are only a few reasons why all great leaders need mentors. A mentor can be a boss, a respected colleague, or even a friend if they’re able to reflect on you with a kind and critical lens. Even when you’re the mentor offering support to mentees, enlisting the help of a mentor or coach can be beneficial to you professionally and personally. The people you trust and respect most are often able to offer unbiased observations of your behaviors and pose challenging questions about your decisions.
As mentors themselves, self-aware leaders use their understanding of emotions, personality differences, and individual needs to inspire and motivate each member of their teams. A mentor offers the same opportunity for you to learn how to receive and provide feedback in a manner that’s both constructive and empathetic — not patronizing or disrespectful. By asking a mentor to help you in self-reflection, you’re opening yourself up to criticism on a regular basis. It’s not necessarily comfortable, but it will allow you to glean how to do the same for the variety of people on your team with greater tact and compassion.
3. Take a practical view of personality assessments.
A lot of leaders view assessments such as the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator or the DiSC assessment as “The Truth.” If the test says you’re an INFJ, then you’re an INFJ — and should approach all situations or challenges as such, no matter the context. The problem is that the letters only tell you who you are now, not who you can be. Though personality tests are no doubt informative and often helpful in self-reflection, round out your understanding of yourself with other assessments, including the Leadership Circle Profile. A systematic development assessment such as the LCP can offer more direction on how to expand your mindset and become a more self-aware leader.
The LCP stands out from other assessments because it measures both your creative competencies and reactive tendencies, giving you a snapshot of your root behaviors and mindset. This focus can help you figure out what might be getting in the way of your intended leadership impact and identify any deeply held perceptions (or misconceptions) of your leadership ability. Perhaps you’re unaware of your aggressiveness or self-protection, but there’s a way to find out. With that information, you can move forward to make the necessary adjustments and become the best “you” you can be.
The self-awareness of leaders is often directly tied to success. “Knowing thyself” is a critical leadership skill that helps foster trust and build a culture where individuals across multiple backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, and ages can thrive — including you. As a leader, you can learn to connect with yourself and others in new ways that can benefit you, the company, and employees all at once. Don’t be scared to let go of your ego and explore something new about yourself; you might be surprised by what you discover.