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The Importance of Self-Awareness for effective leadership

Neil Francis

In 1955 the psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham developed a model to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. They called it ‘’Johari’s Window’’.  In 2000, the author and philosopher Charles Handy developed a leadership and management tool based on Luft’s and Ingham model and called it ‘Johari House’ which aimed to develop self-awareness.

Handy believed that in order to develop self-awareness, you need to be aware not only of how you see yourself but also how others see you. The Johari House is Handy’s analogy for a person, and he developed a model that can be applied to you, to me, or anyone to become more self-aware

Within the Johari House there are ‘four’ rooms each representing the ‘four’ parts of any individual:

  • Room 1 is the part of you that both you and others see – the open self. For example, you may be incredibly organized. You focus on timelines and deadlines, you set up routines, and you are disciplined. You know that, and everyone around you knows it too.
  • Room 2 is the room that contains the parts of you that only others see; you are not aware of them – this is the blind self.
  • In-Room 3 is the subconscious part of you, which is seen neither by you nor by others – the unknown self. This is the part that traditional psychologists like to talk about: Freud’s area!
  • Room 4 is your private space, the part you know but keep from others – the hidden self. This is the room where you keep your most intimate thoughts – the things you would not tell anyone else about.

In my view, Room 2 is the most fascinating in the Johari House as it has the potential to block you from becoming a better and effective leader. Fundamentally, your blind self contains aspects of your behavior and personality that can either hold you back or propel you forward.

Here are some examples of how you could be unaware of all those traits and behaviors that you exhibit, and which everyone else recognizes, but you are ignorant to.

Blind spots and invisible barriers

Everyone has ‘blind spots or ‘invisible barriers’. These are the behaviors that we don’t understand or appreciate the significant impact that they have on others and on yourself. In her book, ‘Fearless Leadership’, Dr. Loretta Malandro, identifies eight behavioral blind spots and can be your Achilles heel, stopping you from becoming a better and more effective leader 

  1. Having an “I know attitude“: You think that we are always right and those who disagree with us are wrong.  Not listening to other views, refusing to explore other options and making assumptions on others’ intent or their ideas.
  2. Being insensitive of your behavior on others: You judge others not by their intentions, but by their actions.  You choose words that can be mean or misunderstood and provoke negative responses. You don’t realize how your behavior and actions actually give a feeling, in others, of worthlessness.
  3. Avoiding difficult conversations: You will always try to avoid conflict and stressful situations and therefore avoid those conversations where that can happen.
  4. Going it alone:  You do things without asking others for their input feeling like you need to get things done on your own; not accepting help nor including others in decisions.
  5. Blaming others or circumstances: You avoid the need to take accountability or try to negate by shifting blame.  You always have a reason, excuse or explanation for why something went wrong,
  6. Don’t stick to commitments: You don’t keep to your commitments. You regularly show up late for meetings or you do not get projects done on time. You constantly use the words “I’ll try” rather than ‘I will’.
  7. Conspiring against others:  You talk negatively behind people’s backs, engage in gossip and engage in conspiracy theories. You discredit other ideas or accomplishments without telling them face to face
  8. Not taking a stand: You know you should do something about an important issue, but you don’t because of how it could impact us. You don’t speak up when you are with friends or in a meeting even though you disagree with the majority view of something.

Making Johari House room 2 smaller

Now we know what blind spots can look like, how do we understand their effect and manage them better? These four practical steps will help you manage your blind spots to make Room 2 smaller,  opening the door for personal and professional growth and learning which in turn will make you far more self-aware in everything you do.

Find someone you really trust

Understanding and accepting that you have blind spots is the first step.  Find someone who is insightful enough to see clearly what you cannot see and who is willing to speak truth to you. Most people either don’t have the insight or don’t have the courage to do this. Find that rare person who knows you well and is willing to tell you difficult information.  Ask this person(s) to talk about what they see as your bind spots, assuring him or her that what they say will not compromise your relationship. 

Surround yourself with diverse thinkers

Meet people who have different views, experiences or perspective from you with the intention of learning from them. So, you might ask, how do I find these people to meet? Not everyone wants to join a business club, a book club, a sports club, a networking event, a course, a conference, a seminar or an art event! If that is you, turn to the internet. There are so many fascinating and inspiring people you can ‘meet’ on Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, Instagram, TED Talks, LinkedIn and Twitter to name just a few.

Examine your past to identify patterns.

Look back and examine some successes in your life. What behaviors did you exhibit that allowed you to gain that success? Are you know embarrassed about how you might have conducted yourself and how your treated people close to you that led to your success? What feedback have you received from very close people that matter a lot to you or mentors and coaches regarding decisions you’ve made that indicate a pattern of questionable choices? 

Identify trigger.

We all have triggers – situations that cause us to impulsively or instinctively react without thinking. In his bestselling book, “Triggers,” leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith explains that every waking moment is filled with either people, events, or circumstances that have the power to shape how we act or react. When we master our triggers, we master our responses and make them work for us, rather than against us.

Accept that, like you, everyone else has blind spots and is absolutely normal. Find someone you really trust and then surround yourself with diverse thinkers. Take the time to examine how you have behaved in a variety of situations and crucially recognize your triggers. The outcome of all of this is that, slowly, you will become more self-aware of your blind-self characteristics. This will then allow you to implement strategies that will help you to act, and react, far better to a wide range of challenges and circumstances.

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Neil Francis
Author of Inspired Thinking, Positive Thinking (LID Publishing, 2019) and The Entrepreneur’s Book (LID Publishing, 2018), Neil Francis has extensive experience as a chairman, CEO, and director of many companies. Currently he is the Chairman of a digital agency, director of an internet company, as well as a consultancy and a social enterprise. Neil Francis is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD Magazine. He can be found on LinkedIn and via his website.