self-awareness in leadership

I’m fortunate to be an executive coach. As you might imagine, I get to see many different types of leaders and leadership styles. Take it from my more than 25 years of experience… it’s not easy being a leader! The set of skills and capabilities a leader needs today is always morphing AND expanding! Since the business landscape is being called VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) it will be the agile, self –aware leader, good at learning and adapting, who will succeed.

Leaders Need Executive Coaching

Unfortunately, you can’t buy something online that will make you agile, self-aware and good at learning and adapting. Executive coaching comes to mind but do coaches help with self-awareness in leadership?

It’s common to think of executive coaching for:

  • Better interpersonal skills, listening skills and empathy
  • New and broader perspectives
  • Smooth transition from manager to C-suite
  • Improved leadership skills and authenticity
  • Recognition of useful behavioral options to engage employees
  • Increased job satisfaction

The list of goals and skills that an executive coach can help you develop is much longer than this. There are also dozens (even thousands, I’ve heard) of “leadership” books written each year where you will find many lists of key leadership traits and skills that will make you more successful.

An executive coach can help you set goals and choose key skills for the issues you may be facing. Over the last few decades, I’ve witnessed, first hand, many leaders successfully make these improvements. What I’d like for you to recognize is that your self-awareness is critical in accomplishing these goals!

Benefits of Self-Awareness in Leadership

According to Naz Beheshti, “the key to becoming agile is to be self-aware in order to innovate or risk becoming archaic.” The idea of starting with self-awareness to unlock your leadership potential is fairly new. Self-awareness is the foundation all leaders need in order to understand when change is needed and successfully make the transition. It is the ability to see oneself as others do, not just as you see yourself.

Chinwe Esimai says that self-awareness is the most important capability for leaders to develop. She cited an article published in the MIT Sloan Management Review titled, How To Become a Better Leader, which argues that self-awareness in leadership is paramount because it enables you to make better choices by recognizing and understanding the emotions in yourself and others. They also found that companies with strong financial performance tend to have employees with higher levels of self-awareness.

Growing Trend in Leadership Coaching

Not all executive coaches have this emphasis on self-awareness in leadership and management. When your leadership challenge requires more than learning a few new skills, it’s important to find an executive and leadership coach who will help you increase your self-awareness AND build new skills to support the leadership capabilities you need.

Let’s look at case study to see how this works.

This is an example of a successful performer who was promoted to Director. His name was Jim. This guy really got things done! He was likeable, analytical, strategic, could see big picture and details, and would get whatever he was assigned DONE.

So, what’s the problem?

You see, he had learned to get things done through other people by being authoritarian. His model was the military and he thought he was a “good leader” without many areas that needed improvement.

He wanted to learn how to communicate and engage his employees to have more initiative and more collaboration. Since he is pretty humble and doesn’t desire to take credit, he wants his people to get the credit. The problem, according to Jim is, “they wait for me to tell them what to do!”

He has created the monster he wants to slay!

Within his first few sessions, he developed enough self-awareness to see the direction he needed to take and the skills he needed to learn to change his (and in response, their) patterns. He is practicing new ways of approaching his direct reports and asking for their input. He is making progress.

Jim would not be making such progress if he had not begun to develop self-awareness. He would still be operating/acting in ways he learned in the military—focus on doing tasks… which is not working in his new context. Clearly, self-awareness in leadership is important as it opens the leader up to new points of view and is actually motivating!

As a leader, you can always learn how to be more influential, more authentic, more humble and more clear in your communication. And the focus on self-awareness and your leadership will allow you to learn efficient skills and become a leader who is authentic and effective.


self-awareness in leadership, Why is self-awareness in leadership so critical?

Diane Dean

Diane believes everyone can learn; it’s just a matter of how. She also knows each of us has the internal resources to pursue and reach our desired outcomes. Assisting clients to discover their strengths and hidden resources along with building confidence and courage is Diane’s goal with each person she works with.

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