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Self-awareness is key to success. Here are 5 ways you can improve it

Leadership coach Amy Kan says it’s critical to develop self-awareness to ensure communications are effective, not only to maintain productivity but also to engage and inspire.

Self-awareness is key to success. Here are 5 ways you can improve it
[Photo: Louis/Pexels]
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Have you ever left a meeting with your boss more confused than when you went in? Or perhaps you’ve been the one giving direction to a team member, to find out later they got it totally wrong. What about participating in a Zoom meeting where the host doesn’t allow space for anyone to comment, interject, or express their views?

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There are countless examples of poor communication from leaders who lack the self-awareness to realize they are failing to get their messages across and it results in missed deadlines, failed projects, and frustrated employees. Now, with so many people working remotely, communication is even more challenging. It is critical that leaders develop self-awareness to ensure their communications are effective, not only maintain productivity but also to engage, inspire, and retain their people.

Self-awareness is defined by how clearly you see yourself and how accurately you understand how others see you. Being self-aware is tied to being a high-performing leader, having greater confidence, making better decisions, and the ability to communicate effectively. Yet, while most people believe themselves to be self-aware, few actually are. In a study lead by Tasha Eurich, referenced in her Harvard Business Review article, of nearly 5,000 participants studied, only 10-15% actually qualified as self-aware.

While the research found that when leaders see themselves as their employees do, they are more effective, they also discovered that as people gain more experience and attain more power, their self-awareness is likely to diminish. They attribute this to the likelihood that as you near the top, fewer people are willing to call you out, and often, the formal feedback and development processes no longer apply. When no one challenges you (or your behavior), it can lead to false confidence.

The good news is that self-awareness can be developed. To ensure that as a leader, you are as self-aware as you think you are, here are some things to put into practice:

1. Get feedback

Regular, anonymized 360-feedback keeps us from seeing ourselves only through our own eyes. It becomes increasingly important, as we move up in leadership, to get feedback not just from those above but from the people we lead, so that our view doesn’t get clouded by only what we perceive to be true.

2. Review your successes and failures

Take stock of the times you were successful, as well as those you weren’t. What happened in each situation? What was different? If you were to do it again, what would you change? Keep note of these reflections to see if patterns emerge and what you can learn from and take action on.

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3. Strive for continuous improvement (in yourself)

Don’t stop your own development. Whether it is related to your job or something you enjoy outside of work, it is important to keep learning. Learning keeps us agile and reminds us that we aren’t experts at everything. It keeps us humble—an important quality of the self-aware.

4. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation, done for even 10 minutes a day, has been shown to increase focus and enable people to pay better attention to what is happening in the moment. This training of the brain enables leaders to be better listeners by allowing them to eliminate the distractions going on around them, such as the next meeting they need to prepare for. Instead, they are able to more easily concentrate on the matters at hand.

5. Take an assessment

There are many assessments out there that will help you identify what you don’t know or can’t see in yourself: your blind spots. One of my favorites is the Energy Leadership Index (ELI) which uncovers the unique filters that you’ve developed over time, and that influence how you see things. Other assessments, such as the EIQ-2, measure you on the critical components of emotional intelligence, including self-awareness, and recommend specific actions you can take to address areas that need more development.

As a leader, self-awareness is crucial for motivating your people, communicating your strategy, and building the relationships that fuel your business. It is important to continue developing your self-awareness—whether you think you have it, or not—because you can never have too much.


Amy Kan is a certified leadership coach who helps organizations function better by raising emotional intelligence to improve the way people communicate with each other.