Great Leadership Starts with Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is key to success in work, life, and relationships. It is the foundation of strong leadership, providing an inventory of character, skills, strengths and weaknesses. I have worked with some pretty great leaders who are self-aware, and they lead with an incredible sense of purpose, authenticity, openness, and trust.

You see, a focus on strengths is very worthwhile and profitable, but leaders can’t reach peak effectiveness without taking a hard look at their weaknesses. The most significant personal growth can come from understanding what thoughts, feelings and behavior is blocking collective success.

When Leaders Aren’t Self-Aware

According to Dr. Tasha Eurich, PhD, there are two types of self-awareness:

  1. Internal self-awareness, which represents how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions, and impact on others;
  2. External self-awareness, which is an understanding of how other people view us.

Surprisingly, research conducted by Dr. Eurich reveals that most managers believe they are self-aware, but in actuality, only 10-15% actually fit the criteria. Another study of more than 3,600 leaders found that they overvalued their skills, compared with others’ perceptions. When leaders aren’t self-aware, they fail to recognize their liabilities and the detrimental effects they have on their organization.

Every leader has weaknesses of some kind. The wisest are willing to learn about them and undo the damage they cause. After all, if the company struggles, the employees struggle, and this eventually comes full circle to cause the leader to struggle.

More often than not, leadership liabilities have to do with personality rather than a lack of technical skills or knowledge. While leaders can rely on the expertise of people around them to cover their technical skill shortcomings, others simply can’t compensate for their personality shortcomings. Only the leader can address these.

As leadership experts Robert Anderson and William Adams explain in Scaling Leadership: Building organizational Capability and Capacity to Create Outcomes that Matter Most (Wiley, 2019), even when other co-leaders bring effective assets to the organization, an ineffective leader with liabilities can undo them.  They put it succinctly by stating that “leaders with liabilities simply get in their own way.”

Smarter, Not Harder

When leaders observe disappointing results and reason that they just need to work harder, they can make matters worse. In fact, with an ineffective style or disruptive personality, working harder can exacerbate the liabilities. More of a bad thing is generally a worse thing.

Leaders who bring character or personality liabilities to their organizations see a variety of debilitating results. Diminished productivity, morale, unity, loyalty and progress are just a few of the outcomes. Ultimately, the organization is unsuccessful, and so is its leader.

Anderson and Adams point to three primary self-centric tendencies—or weaknesses—that cause leadership liabilities: disliking people, devaluing people and having emotional deficiencies.

What do you think? How self-aware are you? What are your top three weaknesses? I’d love to hear from you. You can call me at 704-827-4474; let’s talk. And as always, I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.

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