Self awareness is the first step to great leadership

Self-awareness is an essential tool to help you reach higher levels of job satisfaction, become a better leader, improve relationships with colleagues, and manage your emotions better. It’s also positively linked with higher levels of overall happiness.

And yet, very few people are truly self-aware. Luckily, self-awareness can be practiced and nurtured

Making the decision to explore and understand yourself better can help you evaluate how your values, passions, and goals fit into your current environment and emotions — and how to align them better. You can also understand how other people view you, creating stronger, more authentic relationships with colleagues.

So what does self-awareness truly mean? How can you tell if you’re self-aware, and, best of all, how can you improve your own self-awareness, right now.

Benefits of self-awareness

  1. Improve a variety of skills by recognising what you do well and what you need to improve
  2. Raise happiness levels by aligning your values with your actions
  3. Become a better leader by understanding how others view you. What your impact is.
  4. Strengthen work and personal relationships by understanding and managing your emotions, and also help you understand the first signs of stress, what stresses you and how to deal more effectively with them.
  5. Increase work motivation by seeking out your true passions

What is self-awareness?

Self awareness is when you focus on yourself, rather than your environment, you compare yourself with your own values and beliefs. They set out how you ought to think, feel, and behave. They are, essentially your ideals.

You feel good or bad depending on how well your behaviour matches up with your ideals. If you’re dissatisfied, you might make changes to your behaviour to better align with your values and beliefs. For instance, you might have feelings of discontent in your current role, and recognise you value creativity but don’t have the opportunity to express it. That dissatisfaction could lead you to explore other creative outlets, changing your behaviour to fit your ideals.

Psychologists have noted two categories of self-awareness, which I think are important to note: internal self-awareness, and external self-awareness.

Internal self-awareness is something I’ve already mentioned — it is how clearly you see your values, passions, and aspirations, and how well those standards fit with your environment, maybe your job or company for instance, and your reactions (which include thoughts, feelings, behaviours, strengths, and weaknesses).

Essentially, internal self-awareness is recognising your current job doesn’t match your true passion for marketing, or feeling dissatisfied with a heated conversation you had with your colleague, which conflicts with your belief that kindness is important.

External self-awareness, on the other hand, is the ability to clearly see how other people view you. People who know how others see them are typically more empathetic. Leaders who can see how their employees view them are usually more effective, and have stronger relationships with their employees.

External self-awareness is recognising your employee took your feedback personally because of your tone, or realising your team are demotivated because of your last email.

The definition of self-awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to focus on yourself and how your actions, thoughts, or emotions do or don’t align with your ideals. If you’re highly self-aware, you can objectively evaluate yourself, manage your emotions, align your behaviour with your values, and understand correctly how others perceive you.

Self-awareness test

To understand your personality , consider taking a basic personality test: the results might contradict with how you view yourself, encouraging you to re-evaluate your true strengths and weaknesses. As an MBTI accredited personality coach I find this is a key ‘Penny dropping’ moment for my clients.

Then consider undertaking your values elicitation, which again I find really helps my clients understand why they are feeling stuck or dissatisfied

There are other, non-standardized test ways to measure your self-awareness, too:

Try and write down a list of what you perceive to be your strengths and weaknesses. When you’re finished, check with someone you trust to give honest feedback: are you missing any strengths or weaknesses, or do other people perceive you differently?

Ideally, over time, you’ll use various methods to slowly gain a deeper understanding of who you are, what you want, and how those things overlap or conflict with how you behave, think, and feel.

How to become more self-aware

Once you’ve discovered how self-aware you are, you’re probably wondering how you can get better at it.

There are dozens of ways to improve and cultivate self-awareness, but here are four of the biggest to start you off.

1. Ask “What?” instead of “Why?” 

When people assess their current state, emotions, and environment, they all too often ask, “Why?” Like, “Why am I feeling so sad? Why did my boss give me that crap feedback? Why has my project gone awry?”

research has shown you don’t have access to a lot of your unconscious thoughts, feelings, and motives. So you probably wrong about why you act, do, or think certain things. For instance, maybe you lost your temper at your employee because of low blood sugar or lack of sleep, not because you’re an unfit leader.

Research has also found people who are introspective are more likely to ruminate on negative thoughts when evaluating the self. Self-evaluation through “Why” questions could leave you feeling depressed and anxious, while being entirely unproductive.

Rather than asking “Why,” highly self-aware people ask, “What?” “What” questions are more productive, and focuses on objectives and future goals, rather than past mistakes.

For instance, let’s say you’re feeling frustrated at work. “Why am I feeling awful?” will likely only leave you feeling more depressed, forcing you to ruminate on negatives. On the other hand, “What are the situations at work making me feel bad?” guides you to recognising factors outside your control that don’t align with your passions or goals, and helps you work out how to fix those situations.

2. Spend Time With Yourself 

It’s not easy to reflect on yourself when you’ve got the TV on, or you’re glued to your phone.

Give yourself the space and time necessary to self-reflect, by avoiding distractions. Try spending time reading, writing, meditating, or practicing other solo activities to connect with yourself.

Try to give yourself 30 quiet, distraction-free minutes a day.

3. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness allows you to be present with yourself and observe your thoughts in a non-judgmental way. What better way to become self-aware than focusing, nonjudgmentally, on you?

Mindfulness forces you to focus on yourself on purpose, in the present moment. Next time you’re feeling frustrated at work, use mindfulness to check-in with yourself: what thoughts are going through your mind? How are you feeling? Simply being present enough to acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, will help you become more acquainted and better at recognizing them properly within yourself.

4. Become a Better Listener, and Ask for Feedback 

When you learn how to listen to your friends, colleagues, and managers without evaluating or judging them, you’ll become more empathetic and understand people better. Listening, by the way, isn’t the same as hearing — like mindfulness, the practice of listening takes purpose and control. Listening to the important people in your life should give you a true sense of how they perceive you.

You can translate those listening skills to yourself, too, and become better at understanding your own thoughts and emotions. Listening to others and yourself is critical to becoming self-aware.

Additionally, it’s important to ask for feedback from the people you work with, or lead. It’s impossible to have true, complete self-awareness, if you only turn inwards — gaining different perspectives on who you are will help you see a truer, more complete try doing a 360 and undertaking your MBTI . It can be life changing

Self awareness is the first key stage to great leadership and one we spend time exploring, as we collaborate in Leading Ladies.

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