As a leader, you need to accept that you are not always going to be right and you aren't always going to excel in everything — and that's okay! Self-awareness in leadership is key to the success of any organization and can encourage growth, adaptability, and honesty in the workplace.
To help you learn why self-awareness in leadership is integral to your company's success, we're going to explore the meaning of self-awareness, its benefits, and real-life examples of self-awareness from business leaders.
What is self-awareness in leadership?
Self-awareness in leadership means having a conscious understanding of your character, behaviors, motives, and how these things impact your leadership abilities.
Are your motives aligned with your company's goals? How do you behave as a leader when things don't go as planned? How does your character impact your interactions with your colleagues and subordinates?
These are questions to ask yourself — and answer honestly — to build your self-awareness as a leader.
"Everyone has strengths, and everyone has weaknesses," said HubSpot Marketing Fellow Dan Tyre. "Being self-aware means that you are aware of the things you do well and the things that you need to develop or delegate.
"It means understanding that the process of working with those attributes sends a strong, consistent, universal message that it is perfectly okay to be good in some capacity and need support in others, which should be reassuring to everyone. Leaders who are living the values of the organization are by definition more authentic, more consistent, and can greatly contribute to the foundations of the company's success."
Why is self-awareness important in leadership?
Self-awareness in leadership can help you, as a leader, understand what you bring to your role. Having self-awareness means having an understanding of where you thrive and where you should improve —and when your leadership, your company's productivity tends to follow.
Benefits of Self-Awareness in Leadership
Self-awareness can benefit an organization in many ways — one of which is by establishing trust. Employees are more likely to put their trust in leaders who hold themselves accountable and are honest about their leadership styles and shortcomings. And building a culture of trust and honesty leads to higher engagement among employees.
Self-aware leaders also promote advancement in learning and development. When a leader shows they are aware of their strengths and weaknesses — and are actively working to improve — they create an environment that encourages personal growth. A self-aware leader will encourage their team members to pursue personal growth by acting as a mentor, organizing workshops, or helping employees improve their skills.
Another benefit of self-awareness in leadership is improved decision-making. Being self-aware about your goals and how they align with the company's objectives will help you make more sound decisions overall. And those sound decisions will lead to better strategies and more targeted campaigns.
5 Examples of Self-Awareness in Leadership
I reached out to multiple leaders on LinkedIn to get their perspective on self-awareness in leadership and real-world examples. Here's what I learned:
1. Debbie Olusola Akintonde - Education Marketing & Growth Strategy Consultant at Amuseng
"You can't be empathetic, let alone emotionally intelligent as a leader if you aren't self aware.I remember when I got a job in which one of the requirements for the interview was to write a complete strategy on how I would tackle a real problem I would be facing immediately in the role if I was hired. Even though I got the job, I relied on self awareness to guide me [and] not to start implementing the strategy I came up with immediately.
"Instead, after getting hired, I chose to listen and collaborate with other candidates and stakeholders to align our goals and plans as a group in order to optimize the results we would achieve together.
"It is crucial to be self aware because it will help you lead more effectively and improve your capacity for personal and professional growth."
2. Tracy Graziani - Owner of Graziani Multimedia LLC
"For me, self-awareness has helped me to understand and be mindful of implicit bias. One of my dear friends is an insightful nonprofit CEO. In a conversation about hiring we were discussing interviewing mistakes candidates make.
"I always ask people why, of all the candidates I interview, should I hire them. I then went on to say that when people answered that question with needs —like 'I’m a single mom,' or, 'I have loads of college loans —'I didn’t hire them, but when they answered with their achievements I did hire them. My friend then upended my thinking.
"She said, 'How likely is it that those who listed needs are in — or grew up in — poverty?' My answer? 'Seems likely.'
"She then provided perspective. She explained that people in poverty always have to give 'proof of poverty' to get what they need. Government services, charities, even religious organizations hold a lot of power and don’t give you what you need to survive without 'proof of poverty.' So they go into the workforce and expect similar rules.
"Jobs have something you need. Therefore, they should prove that they need the job. That blew my mind. I simply never saw the world through that lens. I interview differently now."
"Leadership is about trust. I've witnessed the greatest leadership when someone builds that trust through self-awareness coupled with humility.
"When a leader has said to me, 'I don't know everything, and this particular situation is beyond my knowledge b trust you know what you're doing, so go do what you're good at.,' that kind of awareness of self and understanding built immediate trust within me for my leadership, and even went beyond to build a loyalty you can't demand."
4. Demetrius B. - Founder of Marro
"As a young leader in the SaaS space, I found myself seeking to achieve results quickly to ensure I developed, designed, and scaled at a pace that was comparable to my competitors. As a result, I put unfair pressure on those working with me to reach KPIs and milestones that were not realistic for a startup of our size.
"It took reflection and maturity for me to recognize that founders and leaders are not the only ones who feel the pressure to execute — it trickles down to everyone we work with. In my experience, employees don’t react in a positive manner to extremely tight deadlines, limited wiggle room for error, and constant micromanaging.
"What I learned was most important was empowering my engineers and working with my sales team to understand what they need to be successful early on to help lay a strong foundation for a software company that will stand the test of time. Leadership is not being a dictator, it is understanding what your team needs to be successful and how to fulfill the vision of the organization long term!"
5. Jordan Bazinsky - Executive Vice President and General Manager at Cotiviti
"We have an R&D and Operations center in Kathmandu, Nepal. In April 2015, they were hit by a 7.8 earthquake. I received a call in the middle of the night from Markandeya Kumar Talluri, who led the office, and was huddled for safety in a doorway. The subsequent aftershocks were devastating for a country already limited by its infrastructure: ultimately 9,000 deaths and 600,000 buildings destroyed.
"Kumar lived in India and could have gone home while Nepal picked through the rubble and rebuilt. Instead, he stayed in Kathmandu, invited families to come live in our office on a temporary basis, created space for Operation Rubicon to base their relief activities, set up phone chains and efforts to locate not just our employees but friends and family that were missing.
"He intuitively knew that the people under his care would absorb his energy and take cues from his attitude, and managed himself accordingly. It remains one of the most powerful examples of self-awareness in service of others that I have witnessed at work."
To practice self-awareness as a leader, take the time to write down your strengths and weaknesses as well as actionable steps you can take to improve — and don't be afraid to reach out to colleagues to get their input on your leadership skills.
Remember, leaders lead by example, and if you show that you're willing to grow and improve, your team will likely do the same.