Have you exited a bathroom without realizing there was toilet paper on your shoe?
Or awkwardly tried to make conversation with someone who had food on their face? Whether someone is clumsy in conversation or they have really bad breath, a lack of self-awareness can profoundly hinder their reputation or influence.
What is self-awareness?
Self-awareness involves being aware of different aspects of the self: including traits, behaviors, appearance, and feelings. Researchers find two areas of self-awareness to be especially important in leadership:
Internal self-awareness: This represents how clearly you see your values, passions, aspirations, fit with your environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others.
Internal self-awareness is associated with higher job and relationship satisfaction, personal and social control, and happiness. It is negatively related to anxiety, stress, and depression.
External self-awareness: Understanding how other people view you can make you more responsive as a team member and more skilled at showing empathy or taking others’ perspectives.
When you more clearly see yourself as others do, you will have better relationships with your team, and they will view you as a more effective leader.
If success starts in relationships, self-awareness is arguably the most important capability for leaders to develop. The numbers reflect this. In a study of the stock performance of 486 publicly traded companies, Korn/Ferry International found that companies with strong financial performance tend to have employees with higher levels of self-awareness than poorly performing companies.
Do you want to grow in self-awareness? Here are a few areas to focus on:
Each of us has strengths and weaknesses that can hinder us or help us reach our goals.
Take ownership over these regularly, and compensate for shortcomings through personal development, honest acknowledgement of your struggles, or by delegating weak areas to someone with greater expertise.
Identify what factors, triggers, or indicators – both negative and positive – prompt others’ behaviors toward you.
Think about questions like: why do you do the things you do, and how do others respond? How do you respond in turn, and why do you react the way you do? What is the impact of culture on your perspective and others’ perceptions?
Try not to make decisions when you’re in a bad mood.
Whether you’re feeling depressed or just “hangry,” bad moods can make you lose sight of your hope or your values. Emotionally aware people can push pause, allowing trying situations to simmer down before they respond.
Leaders are learners, and curious people are nimble amidst challenges.
While you can’t control your circumstances, you can take responsibility for who you become. Stay curious, respect others’ opinions, and don’t stop seeking to grow and change.
Emotional intelligence empowers you to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and to proactively manage your relationships in healthier ways.
Leaders who focus on building self-awareness will seek honest feedback from others and examine why they succeed or fail in different circumstances. And this can be fun! Remember, no matter how much progress you make, there’s always more to learn. That’s one of the things that makes personal growth so exciting.