How To Build Your Self-Awareness As A Leader

Executive Coaching

It’s not possible for you to be a good leader without self-awareness.

It is at the root of strong character, giving us the capability to lead with a sense of purpose, authenticity, openness as well as trust. It describes our successes and our failures. In addition, by giving us an improved understanding of who we are, self-awareness allows us to better understand what we require most from other people in order to complement our own deficiencies in leadership.

The question, then, is how will we be able to cultivate and develop it further. There are many ways to do so.

Pay Close Attention To What Is Bothering You About Other People

Frequently, the things which irritate us the most in other individuals are a reflection of some quality that we dislike in ourselves.

We all have characteristics of ourselves which we’re not proud of:

  • A propensity to lie or bend the truth a little too often, for instance.
  • Or perhaps you avoid conflict like the plague, and then struggle to set boundaries.

However if you don’t know how to change these things (or don’t believe it’s possible), its simple to end up ignoring them or merely living in denial. And while a lack of knowledge can feel like bliss, it isn’t actually. Not in the long-term.

So, every time someone does something that seems to be particularly annoying or irritating you, ask yourself:

  • Could this be a manifestation of something in me that I don’t like?
  • Do I do some version of that?


As most individuals know by now, meditation is the practice of increasing your moment-by-moment awareness. Most formats of meditation start with focusing on, as well as appreciating, the simplicity of, inhaling in addition to exhaling.  However these don’t need to be formal or ritualistic. Increased clarity can also come from regular instances of pause and reflection.

Meditation is a personal practice, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone. However, there are some general guidelines that can help you get started and develop a regular meditation practice. Here are some tips for meditating:

  • Find a quiet and comfortable space: Choose a quiet and comfortable space where you won’t be disturbed during your meditation session. You can sit on a cushion or chair with your back straight and your feet on the ground.
  • Set a time limit: Decide on a time limit for your meditation session. Start with a short time, such as five or ten minutes, and gradually increase it as you become more comfortable with the practice.
  • Focus on your breath: Focus your attention on your breath as you inhale and exhale. You can count your breaths or simply observe the sensation of breathing in and out.
  • Allow your thoughts to come and go: You will likely experience thoughts during your meditation session. Instead of trying to push them away, simply acknowledge them and let them pass by without getting caught up in them.
  • Be consistent: It’s important to make meditation a regular practice. Try to meditate at the same time each day, whether it’s in the morning or before bed.
  • Try guided meditations: If you’re having trouble meditating on your own, try using a guided meditation app or recording to help you stay focused and relaxed.

Read High-Quality Fiction

It’s frequently said that great writers are phenomenal observers of the world that’s around them. And it’s this capacity to notice understated details and features of life which allow them to re-create it so movingly in their work.

However, the very best writers are specialist observers of human nature in particular. It’s their job to notice the minute details of thought, emotion, desire as well as action that most of us miss amidst the frantic business of day-to-day life.

And although most of us probably aren’t called to be authors and shrewd observers of human nature professionally, we are all able to learn a thing or two about ourselves through learning to pay attention as an author would.

Through describing people meticulously, good fiction teaches us how to think about individuals carefully and with compassion. And the better we become at observing others, the more likely it is that we are to look at ourselves in exactly the same way.

So spend 30 minutes – doesn’t matter where it is – and come up with a list of good fiction which you’ve been meaning to read or ask a friend to recommend a couple of their favourites.

Get Routine Feedback At Work

As well as informally and periodically asking friends and family, utilise the formal processes as well as processes at your workplace. If none are put in place, see if you are able to implement more formal feedback loops. As long as it is done well, constructive, formalised feedback allows us to better see our own strengths as well as weaknesses.

Here are some methods of getting routine feedback at work:

  • 360-degree feedback: This is a process where you receive feedback from multiple sources, including your manager, peers, and direct reports. This can provide a more comprehensive view of your performance and identify blind spots.
  • Performance evaluations: Many organisations have a formal performance evaluation process where your manager assesses your performance against specific criteria. This can include goal-setting, self-assessment, and a review of your achievements and areas for improvement.
  • Anonymous surveys: Anonymous surveys can be a useful way to get feedback from your colleagues on your performance, communication style, and working relationships. These surveys can be administered by HR or an outside vendor to ensure anonymity.
  • Informal feedback: Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your colleagues and team members on an informal basis. This can help you identify areas for improvement and build stronger working relationships.

Embrace Vulnerability

Being vulnerable can be uncomfortable, but it is a key component of self-awareness. By acknowledging your weaknesses and limitations, you can open yourself up to growth and development. This can involve admitting when you don’t know something, being open to constructive criticism, and asking for help when you need it.

Here are some ways to embrace vulnerability:

  • Acknowledge your emotions: Vulnerability involves acknowledging and expressing your emotions, even if they are uncomfortable or difficult. Take the time to identify and name your emotions and express them in a healthy way.
  • Share your story: Share your experiences with others, especially the difficult or challenging ones. This can help you connect with others and build stronger relationships based on authenticity and mutual trust.
  • Ask for help: Asking for help can be a difficult but important step in embracing vulnerability. Don’t be afraid to ask for support from friends, family, or a therapist when you need it.
  • Take risks: Take calculated risks that challenge you and push you outside your comfort zone. This can help you build confidence and resilience, even in the face of failure.
  • Practise gratitude: Practising gratitude can help you focus on the positive aspects of your life, even in difficult times. This can help you maintain a positive outlook and build resilience.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people: Surround yourself with people who are supportive and accepting of your vulnerabilities. This can include friends, family, and colleagues who offer a safe and non-judgmental space for you to express your emotions and share your experiences.

Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence involves understanding and managing your own emotions, as well as those of others. By developing your emotional intelligence, you can become more aware of the impact of your emotions on others and make more informed decisions. This can involve practising empathy, active listening, and effective communication.

Here are some ways to develop your emotional intelligence:

  • Practice self-awareness: Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Take the time to reflect on your own emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. Identify your triggers and patterns, and develop strategies to manage them effectively.
  • Develop empathy: Empathy involves understanding and feeling the emotions of others. Practise active listening, put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and respond with kindness and understanding.
  • Build relationships: Building strong relationships with others requires emotional intelligence. Practise effective communication, seek to understand others, and treat others with respect and kindness.
  • Manage stress: Stress can negatively impact emotional intelligence. Practise stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or exercise, and develop healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress.
  • Practise emotional regulation: Emotional regulation involves managing your own emotions effectively. Identify your emotional triggers, develop strategies for managing intense emotions, and practise healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Develop your social skills: Social skills involve using emotional intelligence to build and maintain relationships. Practise active listening, effective communication, conflict resolution, and teamwork.
  • Practise mindfulness: Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Practise mindfulness to become more aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. This can help you regulate your emotions and respond more effectively to the emotions of others.
  • Seek feedback: Seek feedback from others to gain insight into how your emotions and behaviours impact others. Be open to constructive criticism and use it to inform your personal and professional development.

Building your self-awareness as a leader takes time and effort, but it is a valuable investment in your personal and professional growth. By taking assessments, seeking feedback, practising mindfulness, reflecting on your experiences, engaging in self-discovery activities, embracing vulnerability, developing your emotional intelligence, and finding a supportive community, you can become a more effective and self-aware leader.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is self-awareness important for leadership?

Self-awareness is important for leadership because it helps leaders understand their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as how they impact others. It allows leaders to recognise how their behaviour and decisions affect their team and organisation. Self-aware leaders are better equipped to manage their emotions and make thoughtful decisions, leading to more effective communication and collaboration with their team.

What are some ways to improve self-awareness as a leader?

There are many ways to improve self-awareness as a leader. One effective method is to solicit feedback from colleagues, mentors, and direct reports. Reflecting on past experiences and behaviour can also provide valuable insights. Additionally, seeking out professional development opportunities, such as coaching or workshops, can help leaders gain a deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

How can leaders use self-awareness to improve their communication skills?

Leaders who are self-aware can communicate more effectively because they understand their own communication style and how it affects others. For example, a leader who tends to speak quickly and assertively may need to adjust their tone and pace when communicating with more introverted team members. By being aware of their own communication style, leaders can tailor their message to their audience, leading to more effective communication.

What role does self-reflection play in building self-awareness as a leader?

Self-reflection is an essential component of building self-awareness as a leader. It involves taking time to reflect on past experiences, behaviours, and decisions. Self-reflection can help leaders gain a deeper understanding of their own values, beliefs, and motivations, leading to more effective decision-making and improved communication with their team.

How can leaders use their self-awareness to create a positive work environment?

Leaders who are self-aware can use their understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses to create a positive work environment. For example, a leader who knows they are prone to micromanaging can delegate more effectively and give team members more autonomy. By being aware of their own impact on the work environment, leaders can make changes that promote collaboration, trust, and a positive team culture.