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The Importance of Self Awareness in Leadership

Are you a great leader with the skills and abilities to drive change, motivate the team and deliver growth? Most leaders believe they have the intelligence, aptitude and expertise for success. The question is, does the team you lead agree? In this article, we explore the importance of self awareness in leadership.

Leadership Skills & Self Awareness

It takes a healthy degree of self-confidence to reach a position of leadership. You need to be assertive, assured, driven and bold. Yet this can easily tip into the realm of an inflated ego. Then you become a leader who believes you know best and your decision is always right.

So, are you self aware? By that I mean do you have a clear understanding of your skill and skill gaps? Are you honest about your impulses, motivations and personality flaws? Is your estimation of your abilities in line with reality?

In research on the correlation between self-efficacy and work-related performance*, scientists Stajkovic and Luthans identified common traits in leaders. The research suggests that leader’s perception of their abilities in complex tasks was widely mismatched with reality. When it came to handling conflict, mentoring others and creative thinking performance fell short of self-estimation.

Leadership Roles Stand You Apart

Part of the reason for an inflated ego is that the leadership role sets you apart. You’ve earned your position and others have invested in you to take the helm. They are confident that you will make the right decisions, implement change, drive growth and succeed. So, you must be better than others.

Can you admit that someone else in the team is more capable or has a better suggestion? It’s a risk, that might be viewed as a sign of weakness. So, you have conviction in your decisions and persuade others to follow your path. It’s easy to become blinkered and block out challenges or alternative perspectives.

Yet, the leaders who stand apart are those who understand their team. They are curious and keen to recognise the skills, experience and motivations of the workforce. And, they work especially hard to understand those who are different to them. For example, how to encourage introverts to share opinions or how to manage neurodiverse employees.

In short, it’s inspiring every individual to use their skills to contribute to a vision and achieve the desired outcomes. As such, leadership success is reliant on emotional intelligence, collaboration and a genuine interest in others.

Gain Self Awareness from Others

If we can’t rely on our judgement, how can we gain self awareness? Research conducted by Conelly and Ones, in Another Perspective on Personality** suggests we need to ask others. Their study showed that gathering feedback on performance was much closer to the real picture.

Now, in most workplaces, leaders conduct appraisals and other feedback on the performance of team members. However, it is far less common for the role to be reversed. So, when was the last time that you asked for honest feedback from those you lead?

The next question is, how can you be assured that they will be honest? We all fear negative consequences if we are truthful and speak up. Even with ‘anonymous’ feedback methods, there are ways to work out who said what.

The Benefits of Leadership Coaching

The issue of trusting employees to give honest feedback is one reason why leadership coaching is an effective development tool. As a coach, I help build skills, strengths and confidence, yet I also challenge unhelpful behaviours and actions. My role is to hold people accountable and if a point is avoided or dismissed, I’ll address it again.

My role is to be honest. As part of this, I equip leaders to reflect and consider what could be done differently, so they don’t get stuck. The coaching process builds self awareness and I believe this is an essential leadership skill.

I’m not alone, researchers have shown that a high level of self awareness equals high levels of individual and organisational performance. This is one of many points raised in The Role of Self Awareness in Developing Effective Change Leadership*** by Higgs & Rowland.

Let’s be clear, no individual excels in everything. We all have as many weaknesses as strengths and there are tasks where others outshine us. There are days when things flow and days when nothing goes right. Equally, there are people that we get and people that we struggle to understand. Admitting this is not a sign of weakness and it does not diminish your skills as a leader. It’s the starting point for personal and professional growth.

Putting Self Awareness into Action

Gaining self awareness, through team feedback or leadership coaching is one step. However, it is only of value if you use this insight. The aim is to alter your attitude, adapt your behaviours and learn from experience.

The process should also help you identify and develop the skills, behaviours and achievements of others in your team. This is the route to great leadership that benefits the team and organisation, as well as yourself.

* Self-efficacy & Work-related Performance

**Another Perspective on Personality

*** The Role of Self Awareness in Developing Effective Change Leadership

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