Leaders need a suitcase full of skills, behaviours, and experiences to be successful. Some employers believe IQ is at the top of the list, whilst others value technical experience and the ability to lead as critical. There is no question that these are integral attributes, but it seems that there is one skill emerging that is helping to separate the good from the great.

Self-awareness is gaining attention and is now regularly flagged as a critical leadership skill. Author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Dr Travis Bradbury, describes self-awareness as one of the core components of Emotional Intelligence (EQ). It can be the secret ingredient to success as it empowers workers to hold up the mirror and uncover their true leadership brand.

So, what is self-awareness?

Self-awareness is the ability to reflect, monitor and review your own reactions and emotions. It enables you to truly uncover your strengths, weaknesses, motivators, and triggers. Although many people believe that they have high self-awareness; it is a rare commodity.

Self-awareness is commonly divided into two categories:

1. Internal self-awareness

This category represents how clearly we can see our own aspirations, passions, values and how we ‘fit’ within our social or work environment. Internal self-awareness is the ability to understand how our thoughts, actions and behaviours are a strength or a weakness in different settings and how this impacts others.

2. External self-awareness

Everyone has a personal and professional ‘brand’, whether we want one or not. External self-awareness is the ability to understand how others view us and how that impacts our relationships and success.

What is self-awareness in leadership?

Arguably, it is important for every worker to have high self-awareness; but it is particularly important in leadership roles. Self-awareness in leadership is about possessing the knowledge of how your behaviours, habits, leadership, and personality traits impact workplace relationships.

Leaders with a high self-awareness will have an acute understanding of how they are perceived by others and are then able to choose to bridge their gaps (real or perceived). This usually results in elevated levels of personal and professional growth as well as the ability to gain respect from their teams, as leaders demonstrate that they are not above responding to feedback.

The common characteristics of a leader with high self-awareness

The empowering thing about self-awareness is that it equips you with the choice to change, grow or indeed stay stagnant. Some employers are now utilising tools to assess the EQ of employees, however, if your business is not quite there; the following are some indicators of high self-awareness in leaders:

Observant – the ability to take cues from different environments and to pay attention to unique professional constructs.
Empathetic – self-aware leaders understand the needs of others and can easily demonstrate appropriate empathy. This makes them relatable.
Reflective – the ability to self-reflect on actions, words and even internal thoughts is key to self-awareness. Leaders that possess this don’t need to wait for feedback.
Self-controlled – this is the ability to manage one’s own thoughts and actions. This is critical for leaders, particularly with impending change.
Perceptive – this is the ability of leaders to anticipate the outcome of a situation.
Humble- it is important that leaders show that they are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, but do not self-promote.
Discerning – this is the ability to demonstrate the self-awareness that enables strong decisions to be made.
Adaptable- the ability to be agile and adapt to changing situations is key.
Responsive – self-aware leaders are keen listeners and can respond quickly to the needs of their team.

5 tips to increase your self-awareness as a leader

It is worth the effort to increase self-awareness as it can result in a in a more engaged workforce and will grow both your skillset and relatability. The following are 5 tips to increase self-awareness:

1. Identify your triggers

The first step is to take an honest reflection of your triggers. What makes you respond in a positive and negative manner? How do you react when something doesn’t go your way? When do you actively reflect on your actions and words?

2. Know how you impact others

Actively seek feedback to gain an insight into your impact on others. Continually reflect on how your words and actions are received and look for the blind spots that limit your effectiveness as a leader.

3. Always consider the circumstances
Strong self-awareness is about knowing when to use a personality trait to your advantage. You may be known to be a strong communicator; but sometimes it is best to be an active listener. Always scan the environment to consider when, where and how you should respond.

4. Find ways to show more empathy

Look for ways to demonstrate empathy with the team. Consider the feelings of team members and make decisions with a clear understanding of its potential impact. Show employees that you are interested in their emotional needs and perspectives.

5. Reflect on your patterns

Each time you interact with the team; reflect on what went well and where improvements can be made. Ask yourself:
• How was communication received?
• What was the body language of the team during the meeting?
• What aspect was received positively?
• Which element derailed the discussion? Why?
• Did I create a safe space for feedback?

Self-awareness needs to be in every leader’s toolkit

Actively practising self-awareness enables you to be aware of your triggers and the repercussions of your actions. Leaders with low self-awareness can appear arrogant, incompetent or even labelled as ‘not people leaders’. Perhaps the greatest gift of all is to be able to see yourself as others view you as it provides clarity on stumbling blocks to success and unlocks your true potential.

Further information

Ai Group has experienced HR consultants who can partner with your business to increase the effectiveness of your leaders.  For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

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Georgina Pacor

Georgina is Senior Content Writer and HR Specialist – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 20 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.