Increasing a leader’s self-awareness can pay dividends by improving their performance and the performance of the teams they lead. Like self-awareness generally, leadership self-awareness starts with understanding 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 others perceive them. 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 can better 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 more engaged and satisfied teams, 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. Self-aware leaders can handle conflict through increasing inter-team interactions, reconciling differences of opinion, and co-creating solutions that take into account the opinions of diverse team members by forming strong connections with individual 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 with average performance.
Developing leadership self-awareness requires commitment
Developing leadership self-awareness can be challenging. 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 leadership performance compared to other raters are likelier to be poor performers.
Six 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 comprehensively understand your leadership style.
- Seek diverse perspectives: Seeking advice from people outside your team with different backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints is an excellent way to gain 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 another person’s words 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.
About the author
Dr. Fred Petito is an Executive Coach and Leadership Advisor and the Founder of Attain Leadership. His mission is to help marketers and agency professionals advance their careers by cultivating the mindsets, behaviors, and strategies that drive success as a marketing leader. Having trained as a business leader, marketer, executive coach, and attorney, Dr. Petito integrates evidence-based methodologies, analytical skills, and a deep understanding of human and organizational behavior to help his marketing clients break through the barriers that limit performance in themselves and their organizations. For more information visit: https://attainleadership.com/
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