How To Be a Self-Aware Leader

We are living in an era of self-guided improvement. So inevitably, you’ve probably heard the term “leadership” tossed around daily. We worship great leaders. Young professionals dream of working their way up the corporate ladder, while those in leadership positions continuously seek to define and embrace the responsibilities with which their seniority comes. Whether you are a fledgling recruit or an experienced manager, observing the wisdom of great leaders from the past will help you hone your leadership abilities. Below are some helpful quips from humankind’s best bosses on self-awareness and leadership.


Some Universally Agreed-on Traits of a Self-Aware Leader

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” – Steve Jobs

Jobs’ leadership style is controversial. Those who know the tech magnate by only his plain turtleneck and informal presentation might assume a dippy hippy coolness. Those who knew Jobs personally recounted a man of great talent with a temper to match. Regardless of your opinion on Jobs’ personality, it is undeniable that his management style was efficient. If there is one thing we can take away from Jobs’ work at Apple, it would be his exacting standards for himself and his employees. Competence is the bedrock of all leadership. It is where respect originates, where a leader first differentiates himself from the crowd. So do your job well, and the rest will come.


“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.” – John C. Maxwell

To Maxwell, author of NTY bestseller 21 Irrefutable Rules of Leadership, leadership was following the golden ratio. Leaders often stumble into the trap of aloofness, where authority completely dominates warmth in priority. On the other hand, some leaders overshare and at the risk of losing their authority altogether. To use an analogy from The Office, you don’t want to be a purely playful Michael or a strictly authoritative DeAngelo. To be a David Wallace, you need to be neither. Be understanding, but not unprofessional. 


The Importance of Self-Awareness in Leadership

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates 
You might not be expecting a Socrates quote in an article about leadership. After all, the Greek philosopher despised leaders, spending his days interrogating Athens’ elites (who eventually executed him). Yet, while the merchants and politicians of ancient Athens died and were forgotten, Socrates’s lead a movement that would later spawn Western philosophy as a whole. His most admirable trait? Self-awareness and humility. For Socrates, self-awareness grounded all of your worldly endeavors. Lose sight of yourself, and you may lose sight of your employees as well. 

Thankfully, Socrates and I are not the only champions of self-awareness. If we were to go even further back in time and venture East, you might find the tremendous Chinese warmaker Sun Tzu nodding in agreement. Below is a quote taken from his seminal work – The Art of War:“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu

Replace “enemy” with “employee,” and Sun Tzu’s classical work could perhaps pass off as a self-help bestseller. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu’s central thesis is that knowledge is crucial. In war, one must know the climate, see the fauna, understand the enemy, know yourself. In management, there are only two variables: you and your employee. And while it may be helpful to keep tabs on your employee, it would be virtually useless without a solid handle on yourself.

Being a pointed leader who understands their flaws will offer distinct advantages in your professional career.

  1. Self-awareness makes delegation easy. Try to take on tasks in which you excel. Then pick your employees according to the specialization you require. 
  2. Self-awareness makes you more compassionate. To understand that no one is perfect, you must realize that you aren’t perfect either. Becoming aware of your own mistakes and areas of improvement will make you more forgiving of your employees. Walk a mile in their shoes, and you will learn more than you might expect. 
  3. Self-awareness makes improvement possible. Being aware of your flaws is the beginning of becoming a better boss. In the same way that a cancer patient in denial will never receive treatment, a delusional leader with their head in the sand is sure to be replaced.

How do I Develop Self Awareness as a Leader?

If you are reading this article, then props to you! Learning about self-improvement is a hallmark of conscientiousness and a valuable trait in leadership. Below are some even more tangible steps you can take from here:

  1. Evaluate yourself. Sounds tricky, right? Don’t worry. You don’t have to receive a psychiatric evaluation or publish a memoir to know yourself better. Nowadays, online personality tests like Myers-Briggs, Predictive Index, and StrengthsFinder have given professionals reliable personality indexes, which they can use to discover strengths and weaknesses. So, take a test! But don’t let it define you. 
  2. Write! According to Rene Descartes, we are nothing but our thoughts. Yet, thoughts are ephemeral, lasting for weeks at best, and sometimes only minutes. Paper lasts longer. To meditate on yourself, first examine your thoughts. Did my past judgments turn out to be valid? Why? Why not? Use your feedback as a guide to improvement
  3. Don’t be afraid to confide in others. Check with your employees. Don’t be afraid to ask how they feel about your management style. Heck, ask your boss what you’re doing right and wrong. Feedback is critical, and usually more accurate when sourced from multiple people.

Of course, you don’t have to navigate the tricky subject of leadership alone. If you are looking for a people-focused, results-oriented leadership consultation, then Cain Consulting is an invaluable resource for you. With over a decade of experience, Myers-Briggs certified consultants and Dave Cain provide a service for anyone eager to bring out their leadership potential.

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