The Importance of Self-Awareness in Leadership

by Zach Montroy, SPHR

You’ve likely experienced being on a team with a leader that lacks self-awareness. They’re the type that have a difficult time recognizing how their emotions, words and behaviors affect other people. They tend to have difficulty engaging the hearts and minds of those around them. They also usually have a hard time empathizing with others, leading to an inability to “read” other people and often being “misread” by others.

What Is Self-Awareness?

Self-awareness is the foundation for understanding your own emotions and their impact on your actions, performance and interactions with others. It’s the ability to understand emotional triggers and remain in control of your behavior in response to those emotions. It’s also the ability to constructively channel your own emotions—as well as the emotions of others—into actions that are beneficial for your team or company.

One of the most important skills you can build as a leader is your emotional self-awareness. Being aware of your emotions equips you with the ability to navigate the challenges that will inevitably arise. Do you have the awareness to admit mistakes? Can you handle conflict in a constructive way, or is your emotional gauge inaccurate, making it difficult for you to pick up on cues necessary to guide decision-making?

Self-awareness, vulnerability and authenticity allows you to handle many of the challenges you will encounter in leadership roles and will help you gain credibility with your team. In a recent study, Korn Ferry Hay Group found that leaders with high degrees of self-awareness had teams with high energy and high performance 92% of the time. In contrast, leaders who lacked self-awareness created negative climates in the team environment 78% of the time. Self-awareness is an essential skill for high-performing leaders. Not only does this skill give you the ability to mitigate the impact of negative emotions in the workplace, but it also equips you to be open to input such as general feedback, innovative ideas and creative solutions.

Ways to Build Self-Awareness

Reflect | Take time to consider potential interactions and anticipate appropriate responses. Oftentimes, our schedules are booked and we’re moving from meeting to meeting. Taking time out of the day to self-reflect helps before you’re in the midst of navigating the situation.

Act the way you want to feel | Practice mindfulness. Take a moment during a charged emotional time to meditate on things that will counteract your prevailing mood. Being in tune with your emotions gives you the power to change your emotional reactions. Try it. For example, the next time you’re experiencing intense pressure, be mindful of that and talk yourself down, relax and smile. Becoming emotionally agile will help you quickly adapt your emotional response when necessary.

Body language | Become more aware of the way people wear their emotions by observing body language and social cues. Often, a person’s emotional state is manifested physically through body language, facial expressions or mannerisms. Ask subtle questions to gather more information and to better understand if you’ve read a person or situation correctly. As you practice understanding body language, you’ll become more socially and emotionally aware of others.

Ask for feedback | Enlist the help of a trusted friend or advisor, one who will provide candid feedback on how your emotions impact those around you. Not only will this help you understand the affect your mood, emotions and body language have on those around you, it will also help you better understand the benefits in managing your emotional responses to those around you.

“There is one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader. That quality is self-awareness, the awareness of what motivates them and their decision making.” -Anthony Tjan, Author of Heart, Smarts, Guts and Luck

Need Help? Schedule a call with our team to learn how we can guide you on crafting a coaching plan to build your emotional intelligence and self-awareness as a leader. 

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