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7 strategies to boost your leadership skills through self-awareness


What does it take to be a great leader? Honesty, drive, confidence, perseverance – of course, these are all admirable traits of good leaders and there are many more. But what sets great leaders apart from the rest is their willingness to know themselves and others.

People with high self-awareness understand what makes them tick and how to respond effectively. They have more direction, purpose, influence and success in their professional and personal lives.

In fact, according to Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, 83 percent of people with high self-awareness are top performers, while only 2 percent of bottom performers display this trait.

That’s a statistic that would grab anyone’s attention. After all, who wouldn’t want to experience self-fulfillment, higher productivity and greater leadership capabilities?

Why Is Self-Awareness Important in Leadership?

Understanding the personalities and qualities of your team members is essential if you want to get the most out of them. This is a skill that requires real practice, so why not prepare by getting to know yourself first? By taking the time to develop a true awareness of yourself, you gain the skills and insights needed to identify personality traits in others. When you know your own strengths and weaknesses, you come closer to being an unbiased observer of human behavior you need to be to be a more effective leader.

In addition, your self-awareness means you have the humility to admit when you’ve made a mistake and can own up to it. This is crucial if you want your team to take you seriously and respect you. Knowing where your weaknesses lie also gives you the foundation to seek real improvement, making it easier for you to ask others for their input and create an environment of transparency and trust. This also sets a good example for others who may be inspired by your efforts to make improvements in their own lives.

Another important benefit of developing self-awareness in a leadership role is how it can reduce conflicts in the workplace. When you understand why someone else’s behavior or viewpoint irritates you, it’s easier to find constructive ways to resolve the issue. You’ll be less inclined to dig in your heels and more motivated to step outside your preconceptions to find a meaningful solution to problems.

So how do you get there?

Here are some tips to help you increase your self-awareness as a leader and propel your leadership potential.

1. Feel your feelings

Feelings matter. Whether you’re feeling guilt, happiness, sadness or excitement, don’t label your feelings as good or bad. The goal here is to not judge your feelings but to understand them. By sitting with your feelings, you can gain insight into what’s causing them. Once you understand why you’re feeling a certain way, you can let them run their course and release them. Be aware that your emotions are there to teach you something important.

2. Seek feedback

Knowing yourself is not just an inside job. Although it can be scary, asking a trusted colleague, family member, friend or mentor for a true opinion of how you “show up” in various situations is a great way to gain a clearer understanding of yourself. It’s also a good idea to ask employees how you’re doing and how they perceive you in certain situations. By gathering feedback from different sources, you might see behavior patterns that you didn’t realize were there. Being willing to look at yourself through others’ eyes will help you glean invaluable insight into how your emotions, communication style and mannerisms affect other people.

3. Know your strengths and weaknesses

Feedback is only valuable if you act on it. So, once you’ve gone to the trouble of getting input about how others perceive you, put the information to good use. Is your to-the-point interaction with peers and employees seen in a positive light, or are they interpreting your concise delivery as abrasive? Does your high energy level motivate others, or are you making them nervous and agitated? Do you criticize more often than you offer praise? Identify what you’re doing right and what could be better, and then work on improving in the areas that warrant it.

4. Practice mindfulness

Be aware that you are sending messages to others without even saying a word. Your feelings are communicated through your demeanor, the words you choose and the tone you use with other people. How is your mood? Did you just dash into the meeting you’re about to lead after sitting in a traffic jam for an hour? You may be transmitting some of that road rage into your presentation without even realizing it.

Are you saying you are open to helping someone while standing with your arms crossed? Do you check your cell phone during conversations and wonder why people seemed annoyed with your ideas? Body language counts, and you can be somewhere physically but still not be present. Being mindful of how you are showing up to others is a big step toward knowing yourself.

5. Keep an open mind

Good leaders are naturally curious and open to new ways of doing things. When you welcome alternative viewpoints and ideas, you foster your own growth and development while making those around you feel supported and accepted. For example, just because you’re more productive in the morning doesn’t mean everyone else is. Instead of holding brainstorming sessions at the start of the workday, consider changing it up and having them at different times of the day. You might find that you get more done as a team by scheduling meetings when the majority of the group is alert and in the groove.

6. Keep a journal

The biggest obstacle on your journey of self-awareness is objectivity. Taking time every day to write down how you feel, both emotionally and physically, will give you a deeper understanding of your internal triggers and how you’re responding. Be honest about your feelings and reactions – good or bad, without judgment. After a month or so, go back and reflect on your experiences and decide if there are areas that you want to change. What did you enjoy? Did you see situations where you could have done things differently? Your journal is a great resource for you to chronicle your experiences and see your progress toward greater self-enlightenment.

7. Follow your values

What are the values you live by? Are you feeling good about how you’re living your life? Taking time to ask yourself if your behavior is in line with your belief system is a good way to keep your life in balance. With the fast-paced lives that most of us lead, it’s easy to get off track. If you find yourself reacting in ways that go against your inner beliefs – such as yelling at your children when they make a mistake or gossiping about a coworker – chances are you’re not in a good place emotionally. By becoming aware of the areas where you’re letting yourself down, you’ll be able to choose a different route that’s more reflective of who you want to be.

Self-awareness is an essential trait of a great leader. By knowing your values, personality, needs, habits and emotions, and how they affect your actions and the actions of others, you’ll be better able to manage your stress, make better decisions and ultimately lead others to do the same.

For additional insight into how to become a more inspired leader, download our free magazine, The Insperity Guide to Leadership and Management.