We’ve all been around people who are not self-aware. They say the wrong things, and their attempts at humor make everyone cringe — and not in a “dad joke” kind of way. Of course, in those moments, we’re glad that we’re not the ones in the hot seat. But can we really say we’re always self-aware as leaders? 95% of us think we are self-aware, yet research tells us that only 10-15% of us actually are.
Like knowledge, you can’t have too much self-awareness when managing your career or running a business. Self-awareness helps you hone your empathy, build trusting relationships, and solve problems with ease because a holistic perspective opens up new options in decision-making. And as a bonus, self-awareness is the first step in the personal branding process. So becoming self-aware can help you amp up your brand value with the people who matter.
Self-awareness also enables you to identify and strengthen your weaknesses without judgment. Rather than beating yourself up about a mistake, you can spot the error quickly and adjust. As others see you go through this process, they’ll pick up on it and mirror the positive behavior you’re modeling.
How to Effectively Cultivate Self-Awareness
While there is more than one way to cultivate your self-awareness, the following recommendations can kickstart the transformation.
1. Temper overconfidence with a thirst for knowledge.
It’s great to be a confident leader; just be careful not to lean too far into overconfidence. Many people incorrectly assume that overconfidence and self-awareness go hand in hand. In reality, overconfidence can be a barrier to living to your true potential and finding solutions that benefit all stakeholders.
Timm Urschinger, co-founder and CEO of consulting firm LIVEsciences, explains why overconfidence is an entrepreneur trap and how to overcome it with curiosity. “Ego is the enemy of good leadership,” he writes. “An overdeveloped or inflated ego can be a problem — even going so far as limiting your growth and blinding you to your natural limitations. When you abandon your ego and embrace a learner’s mindset, you tap into your curiosity and begin to view every new challenge or experience as an opportunity to grow.”
This mindset doesn’t mean you’ll be exempt from tough choices that require a quick decision. Nevertheless, form the habit of gathering additional facts and insights before exerting your power. You may be surprised at how an unexpected datapoint can change your mind.
2. Tap into your emotions a few times a day.
Self-awareness is rooted partially in emotions. Consequently, you need to be able to name what you’re feeling in order to become self-aware. This practice is far easier than it sounds, especially if you’re not accustomed to digging deeper than your first-level emotions.
Sean Kim, the CEO of edtech company Rype, suggests conducting mental check-ins throughout the day. One of Kim’s favorite approaches is journaling in a particular way. Kim explains, “I free-write without filters to put mind to paper on everything that I’m feeling, what I’m stressed about, what I’m grateful for, and anything else that enters my mind at that time.”
Mindful meditation can be another way to tune into your emotions, particularly if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Spending just a few minutes meditating can simplify complicated issues and make them feel less daunting. As pointed out in a Harvard Business Review piece, mindful meditation will serve a secondary advantage: Your ego will once again be kept in check.
3. Relive your history to inform your future.
Evelyn Orr, Head of CEO and Executive Assessment at Korn Ferry, finds that one way to move toward a better future is to relive your past. Orr writes, “You must also look back at past experiences and previous behaviors and try to learn from them. Recalling how you felt about memories from years ago and how your view has changed over time can be particularly helpful.”
It’s important not to allow yourself to use this exercise as a springboard for regrets or doubt. Self-reflection should be done with the most objective lens you can muster. Think about the times you faced a similar problem. Look for patterns. What decisions led to positive outcomes? What decisions seemed right at the time but, in perspective, were ill-advised?
The best leaders learn just as much from their losses as from their wins. You can even share your epiphanies with your team for good measure. Dylan Taylor, the CEO and Chairman of Voyager Space Holdings, says this can be terrific for growing a personal brand constructed on authenticity: “Mistakes can’t be turned into teachable moments if they aren’t recognized and openly acknowledged. Leaders show integrity when they take ownership of their mistakes, and taking ownership early can often minimize the effects of our errors.”
4. Invite feedback.
Is moving toward self-awareness tricky? Yes. You don’t have to do it alone, though. Getting feedback from others can be beneficial for understanding where your self-awareness is right now, with an eye toward making progress.
For instance, you may want to conduct a formal 360-degree analysis. A 360-degree assessment “yields insight into how others see you, or how you behave in real or simulated situations, which in turn provides information on what you do well and where improvement is needed from a behavioral or tactical standpoint,” according to Allan Church, former senior VP of talent management at PepsiCo., in an interview with BuiltIn reporter Dawn Kawamoto.
Even if you don’t formally survey your coworkers, ask for their advice. Self-awareness doesn’t happen in a vacuum, after all. You need others’ viewpoints to flesh out your own.
Effective leadership starts from within. When these four actions become habits of mind, your self-awareness will be in perfect focus.