Increasing a leader’s self-awareness can pay dividends by improving their performance as well as the performance of the teams they lead. Like self-awareness generally, leadership self-awareness starts with an ability to understand one’s own emotions, and how those emotions affect their interactions with others.
Self-aware leaders have more insight into their strengths, values, and limitations. This internal self-awareness provides a source of authenticity and confidence that allows leaders to be more assured when making decisions. Additionally, leaders with heightened self-awareness have a better understanding of how they’re perceived by others. This external self-awareness allows them to modulate their emotions and behaviors to perform better as leaders, have more empathy, and get the most out of their people.
Self-awareness – the foundational leadership competency
Self-awareness is the building block of emotional and social intelligence which is more than twice as important as IQ in determining leadership success. Self-aware leaders perform better on other emotional and social intelligence competencies such as organizational awareness, adaptability, and conflict management. These executives are better able to engage people in a manner that builds relationships, trust, and team cohesion.
The connection between leadership self-awareness and team performance
Cross-functional teams execute the majority of the work in most organizations. As such, leading effective and productive teams is a critical success measure for most leaders. Research shows that executives with elevated self-awareness lead teams that are more engaged and satisfied, perform at a higher level, and generate better financial results. Conversely, teams with leaders low in self-awareness have more negative energy, are less harmonious, and experience less camaraderie.
But it’s during times of conflict that self-aware leaders make their greatest contribution to team health and productivity. Tension and strain are a natural feature of any social dynamic and teams are no different. By developing strong relationships with individual team members, self-aware leaders can resolve conflict by improving inter-team communications, bridging differences of opinion, and co-creating solutions that consider the perspectives of multiple team members.
Additionally, research shows that teams of leaders with high self-awareness often model that behavior and make it their new norm. For example, high-performing teams will often implement their own self-reflective practices by frequently asking themselves how well they’re doing, whether they’re giving team members enough support, whether they’re bringing an open mind to new ideas, etc. This type of group self-awareness is a key difference between high-performing teams and those whose performance is only average.
Developing leadership self-awareness requires commitment
Developing leadership self-awareness is not always easy. In fact, according to one study only 10 to 15 percent of people are truly self-aware. One of the best ways to improve self-awareness is to get feedback from the people you work with. Unfortunately, high-level executives rarely receive honest feedback from their teams or the people who report to them. And when they do receive feedback it’s often vague and not actionable.
As a result, many leaders have an elevated sense of their abilities and are unaware of blind spots that impede their effectiveness, and the effectiveness of the teams they lead. This is regrettable since research into leadership effectiveness has established that executives with an elevated sense of their leadership performance compared to other raters are more likely to be poor performers.
6 steps to cultivating your leadership self-awareness
Reflect on your experiences: Set aside regular time for self-reflection. Review your leadership interactions, decisions, and outcomes. Consider what worked well and what could have been handled differently. Journaling can be a helpful practice to deepen your self-reflection.
Assess your strengths and weaknesses: Conduct a thorough self-assessment to identify your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Consider using tools such as personality assessments, 360-degree feedback, or leadership assessments to gain a comprehensive understanding of your leadership style.
Seek diverse perspectives: Seeking advice from people outside your team with different backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints is an excellent way to get a deeper insight into your leadership behaviors. Actively listen to their perspectives and challenge your own biases and assumptions.
Practice active listening: Active listening goes beyond simply hearing the words that another person speaks but also seeking to understand the meaning and intent behind them. When engaging with others, be fully present, give your undivided attention, and genuinely seek to understand their perspectives. This helps you gain insights into how others perceive your leadership and provides opportunities for self-reflection.
Engage in regular self-assessment: Periodically evaluate your leadership performance. Set specific goals and benchmarks for improvement and track your progress over time. Regular self-assessment allows you to identify patterns, track growth, and make necessary adjustments.
Practice mindfulness: Develop mindfulness practices to cultivate present-moment awareness. By being fully present in the moment, you can observe your thoughts, emotions, and reactions more objectively. Mindfulness can enhance your self-awareness and help you understand how your behaviors impact others.
Developing leadership self-awareness is an ongoing process. It requires continuous effort and a genuine commitment to personal growth. By practicing these strategies consistently, you can increase your leadership self-awareness and become a more effective and impactful leader.