C-Suite Agenda

How leaders can build greater self-awareness and why it matters

Joe Hart

Self-awareness has become a widely recognized ‘meta-skill’ of the 21st century, as described by Tasha Eurich in her book Insight. Self-awareness consistently shows up as a critical element for leaders in any business to master if they want to motivate a team to produce results.  In fact, self-awareness is the key to increasing confidence, building better relationships, and living a meaningful life. The irony of self-awareness is that those that are most confident in their abilities are usually the least competent. In fact, it is very likely that they will overestimate their ability as a leader, colleague, athlete, parent, or even drivers to name a few skills. 

Known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, we all suffer from a type of cognitive bias that acts like a pair of rose coloured glasses that prevent us from seeing ourselves the way the rest of the world sees us. We have all experienced a moment where we (or somebody else) are humbled by reality regarding our level of fitness, the actual number on the scale when we weigh ourselves, our performance on an exam or the lack of laughing at what we think is a great joke or in the case of a CEO, the deafening silence that follows their request for some honest conversation amongst the executive team.

You can’t see your own bias

Rather than start a debate about how self-aware you or your team are, I want all of us to accept that our perspectives on ourselves are all a little bit skewed, laced in optimism and lies that are designed to make us feel better about ourselves. The truth is, unless you are getting feedback from somebody else, it’s going to be a lie. Further to this point, depending on how you approach seeking feedback and the people you approach, they may be less than forthcoming with the truth due to fear of conflict. An even greater fear that holds true for all of us is being ostracised or ousted from the group as a result of our well-intentioned honesty.

What’s the end goal?

The goal here is to enable you to see yourself the way others see and experience you. In other words, to close the gap between reality and your perception. Stepping outside yourself and seeking feedback from another person’s perspective is the best way to do this. True perspective is the positive alignment of how you see yourself with how the rest of the world sees you. The greater the overlap, the better your leadership will be.  Of course, if you see yourself negatively and so does the rest of the world, you are aligned but your leadership will be terrible. 

What’s the best tool to use?

Traditionally 360-degree assessments, a survey that contrasts your self-view with that of your manager, peers, and direct reports, is the go-to tool to increase self-awareness but be warned that unless you’ve established enough maturity, curiosity and openness within yourself, you will likely reject or ignore any feedback. This is a damaging outcome for you, but it’s an even worse outcome for the people who provided the feedback in the first place. It signals to them that you don’t care, don’t want to change, don’t respect their opinions and don’t value their perspectives. If you’re comfortable with this, then you shouldn’t be in a leadership role.

Instead, before you jump into seeking feedback, you must first have clarity about how you’d like to be experienced. When you’re clear on the type of person and leader you want to be, feedback is received in relation to this clarity so you can close any gaps between your ‘ideal’ self and the ‘reality’ other people experience. I’m talking about receiving feedback on the legacy you are actively trying to create as a leader. To help you with this try answering the following questions for yourself.

  • What are my strengths as a leader? Am I utilising my strengths in a powerful way?
  • What is most important to me as a leader? Am I focussing on what is most important to me?
  • How do I manage my emotions? Am I choosing to respond or react in response?

Lastly, developing self-awareness is a non-negotiable part of leadership but everyone can get better at it. It is an iterative process that oscillates between awareness and action. Before asking for help from others, stake a claim as to what you stand for, how you lead and how you want to be remembered.


Written by Joe Hart.
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How to Build a Leadership Team that Delivers Great Results by Michael Dattoli.
Making Difficult Decisions Easily Based On Value Systems by Rene Pardo.

Joe Hart
Joe Hart is an Organisational Psychologist and founder of True Perspective; A leadership development practice. He is a highly experienced executive coach, speaker, trainer, and facilitator who helps leaders to drive honest conversations, build trust and create meaningful change. He is also the author of True Perspective (Hambone Publishing $27.99).


Joe Hart is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.