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Self awareness in leadership: the x factor in team performance

by Thuy Sindell, PhD. and Milo Sindell, MS.

The self-aware leader: What is self awareness & why it’s the X-factor in building strong teams in the workplace

In the ever-evolving world of leadership and business, one essential quality continually stands out as the X-factor that can elevate leaders from good to great: self-awareness.

While leadership comprises a complex web of attributes and competencies, self-awareness is the cornerstone that supports all other leadership skills.

Below we dive deep into the concept of leadership self-awareness and how it contributes to building cohesive teams in the workplace.

The foundations of self-awareness

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and comprehend one’s own thoughts, emotions, strengths, weaknesses & behaviors.

Self-awareness involves a process of deep introspection where individuals peel back the layers of their personalities to gain a profound understanding of who they are as individuals, who they are as leaders in the workplace, and how they fit and impact their team.

Why is self-awareness important?

Self-awareness is important as it serves as the bedrock upon which personal & professional growth is built. It stands as the critical foundation upon which all other leadership skills are established. Some additional compelling reasons why self-awareness is vital:

Elevated decision-making

Self-aware leaders make more informed decisions because they have an acute understanding of how their personal biases & emotions can sway their choices.

Enhanced communication

Leaders who possess internal self-awareness thrive at expressing themselves effectively and actively listening to others, fostering more transparent & efficient communication within the workplace.

Authentic leadership

Leaders who align their actions with their core values lead with authentic leadership that inspires trust and confidence among team members.

Conflict resolution prowess

Self-aware leaders navigate conflicts skilfully. They understand their triggers and emotional responses, enabling them to find resolutions with finesse & professionalism as they understand their own triggers.

Facilitation of personal growth

Personal development & continuous improvement are prerequisites for long-term success in leadership.

Is self-awareness a leadership quality?

Absolutely. Self-awareness isn’t just a desirable leadership quality; it constitutes a foundational element.

Leaders who lack self-awareness often find themselves struggling to connect with their teams, make effective decisions, or navigate challenges skillfully.

On the other hand, leaders who possess high levels of self-awareness tend to outperform their peers, leaving a lasting positive impact on their organizations.

Self-awareness in leadership and its significance

What is self-awareness in leadership?

In the context of leadership, self-awareness takes on a unique & transformative role. It refers to a leader’s ability to recognize their strengths & weaknesses, emotional triggers, and the profound impact of their behavior on their team and the organization as a whole.

Leadership self-awareness goes beyond simply knowing oneself; it involves conscious awareness of one’s leadership style, values, and the repercussions of their daily decisions on those they lead.

Characteristics of self-awareness in leadership

Leadership self-awareness is marked by several key attributes, including:

Emotional intelligence mastery

Self-aware leaders possess high emotional intelligence, enabling them to skillfully manage their emotions & empathize with others.

Regular reflection and self-examination

A self-aware leader engages in continuous self-reflection and self-examination, actively seeking insights and candid feedback about their behavior and its effects on the team and organization.

Willingness to accept feedback

Self-aware leaders embrace feedback, whether it’s positive, negative, or constructive, as a valuable tool for their personal & professional growth.


Self-aware leaders characterize Authenticity. They lead by example in their daily interactions, building trust & rapport with their team through their genuine approach and daily example.

Examples of self-awareness in leadership

To illustrate the concept of leadership self-awareness, let’s consider a few real-world examples:

Stress management

A leader identifies their tendency to become impatient when faced with high-pressure situations. Armed with self-awareness, they proactively manage their stress levels and prevent it from affecting their team during critical moments.


Another leader acknowledges their inclination to micromanage their team. Armed with -awareness, they work on delegating more effectively and empower their team members to take ownership of their tasks.

Communication style

A CEO recognizes that their communication style may appear intimidating to some employees. This understanding leads them to adjust their approach, becoming more approachable & fostering better communication throughout the organization.

Why is self-awareness important in leadership?

Leadership is far from a one-size-fits-all undertaking. Effective leadership requires the ability to adapt to diverse situations and lead heterogeneous teams.

Self-knowledge is the compass that guides the self-aware leader through the dynamic landscape of challenges, decisions, and interactions in the workplace and is the key to personal and social control in a dynamic and challenging environment.

It helps leaders understand their own unique leadership style, values, and how they can most optimally serve their team & organization and serves as the guiding compass for leaders in this complex journey.

The proven benefits of self-awareness

9 benefits of self-awareness in leadership

The advantages of self-awareness in leadership are numerous and far-reaching, encompassing the following key aspects:

1) Strengthened leadership

Self-aware leaders are more effectively equipped to lead - inspiring, and motivating their teams to achieve their goals.

2) Informed decision-making

They make well-informed decisions that harmonize with their values and the mission of the organization, resulting in superior outcomes.

3) Enhanced communication

Self-aware leaders communicate masterfully, which promotes transparency & fortifies relationships, leading to more productive collaboration.

4) Enhanced emotional intelligence

They possess elevated emotional intelligence, enabling them to proficiently manage their own emotions and empathize with others.

5) Unrivaled adaptability

Self-aware leaders are more adaptable and open to change - especially valuable in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape.

6) Encouragement of personal growth

Self-awareness fuels continuous personal growth, allowing leaders to adapt and evolve in the face of changing circumstances.

7) Improved team dynamics

Teams led by self-aware leaders tend to be more cohesive and collaborative. The leader’s ability to identify and address interpersonal issues effectively contributes significantly to this outcome.

8) Expertise in conflict resolution

Self-aware leaders navigate conflicts with ease, owing to their grasp of their own triggers and emotions, coupled with their ability to empathize with others’ perspectives and understand the underlying dynamics and emotions at play, which facilitates smoother conflict resolution.

9) Authentic leadership

Self-aware leaders are perceived as authentic, cultivating trust and respect among their team members.

Leadership Self-Awareness - Real World Success Stories

Consider these real-world examples of how self-awareness theory has made a profound difference in leadership:

Steve Jobs - The co-founder of Apple Inc. was celebrated for his self-awareness, recognizing his perfectionist tendencies and leveraging his ability to inspire innovation while remaining acutely aware of his limitations in certain areas.

Oprah Winfrey - The media mogul is lauded for her self-awareness in understanding her strengths in connecting with people and her ability to create a supportive and inclusive workplace culture.

Elon Musk - The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX has showcased self-awareness by openly acknowledging his challenges with work-life balance and highlighting the importance of mental health.

How to improve self-awareness in the workplace

Self-awareness strategies: 7 tips for leaders to enhance their own self-awareness

Now that we’ve recognized the paramount importance let’s explore practical strategies for leaders to cultivate self-awareness skills and enhance their self-awareness:

1) Embrace Mindfulness and Meditation

Engage in mindfulness exercises and meditation to heighten your awareness of your own feelings, thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, thereby helping improve self-awareness.

2) Assess How Others React to You

Actively solicit candid feedback from colleagues, peers, and subordinates to gain valuable insights into how your behavior and communication style affects others. This is also known as external self awareness.

3) Cultivate Empathy

Develop empathy by genuinely listening to others and striving to understand their perspectives and emotions.

4) Seek Constructive Feedback

Utilize tools such as 360-degree feedback assessments for seeking feedback and gathering comprehensive insights from various sources within your organization on your strengths and areas requiring improvement. These assessments provide a well-rounded perspective, whether positive or negative feedback.

5) Leverage Self-Assessment Tools

Consider utilizing self-assessment tools like the DiSC or IEQ9 assessments to gain a deeper understanding of your personality traits, communication preferences, and emotional intelligence.

6) Allocate Time for Reflection

Dedicate regular time for internal self-reflection. Spending the time to self-reflect enables you to analyze your actions, decisions, and interactions. Journaling can prove to be a valuable tool in this endeavor.

7) Embrace Coaching or Mentorship

Engage in coaching or mentorship programs that provide guidance and insights from experienced leaders. This will facilitate your journey toward heightened self-awareness.

How does self-awareness help you become a better leader?

Working on your own self-awareness has a transformative impact on leadership effectiveness. Below we detail how developing self-awareness serves as a catalyst for becoming a better leader

Elevated Emotional Intelligence - Self-awareness serves as the cornerstone of emotional intelligence, empowering leaders to recognize and manage their own emotions while also comprehending and influencing the emotions of others.

Authentic Leadership - Leaders who are deeply self-aware are perceived as more authentic, and more easily cultivate trust & credibility among their teams.

Enhanced Decision-Making - Self-awareness equips you with the tools to make decisions that align with your values and the organization’s mission, leading to superior outcomes.

Proficiency in Conflict Resolution - Self-aware leaders navigate conflicts with skill & finesse. Their grasp of their own triggers and emotions, combined with their ability to empathize with others, positions them as adept conflict resolvers.

Adaptive Leadership - Self-awareness empowers leaders to adapt to changing circumstances, ensuring their relevance and effectiveness in a dynamic business landscape. Especially important in modern business.

Improving self-awareness in relationships

Self-awareness extends beyond individual growth; it plays a pivotal role in nurturing healthy relationships in the workplace.

When leaders are self-aware, they’re better equipped to build stronger connections with team members, peers, and superiors.

They communicate more effectively, comprehend the needs of others, and offer support where it is most needed.

Consequently, this leads to a more harmonious and productive work environment.

Can leaders grow without self-awareness?

While leadership growth is possible without self-awareness, it remains limited in scope & effectiveness.

Leaders who lack self-awareness may attain short-term success through sheer determination or technical expertise. However, their capacity to sustain this success and make a lasting positive impact on their teams and organizations over the long term is compromised.

Leaders who operate without self-awareness often face challenges such as:

Inadequate communication

Ineffectual communication can result in misunderstandings, conflicts, and a lack of trust within the team.

Inauthentic leadership

Leaders who lack self-awareness may struggle to align their actions with their values, leading to perceptions of insincerity.

Limited adaptability

Leaders devoid of self-awareness may resist change and fail to adapt to evolving circumstances, stunting their growth and hindering organizational progress.

Flawed decision-making

Without a firm grasp of their biases and emotional triggers, leaders may make hasty or irrational decisions.

Strained relationships

Interactions with team members and colleagues can become strained, leading to feelings of a negative and unproductive work atmosphere.

Self-awareness is not a static trait but a dynamic journey. It is not just a leadership quality; it is the foundation upon which all other leadership skills are built.

In the intricate tapestry of leadership and business, self-awareness stands out as the X-factor that distinguishes exceptional business leaders from ordinary ones. It’s the North Star that guides leaders toward greater effectiveness, authenticity, and success.

Leaders who practice self awareness navigate complexities with finesse, build stronger teams, and leave a lasting legacy of authentic leadership. By understanding their own strengths and weaknesses, emotions, and impact on others, leaders with more self awareness can unlock their full potential and inspire those they lead to do the same.

By embracing the journey of self-awareness, leaders can not only elevate their own leadership but also create a workplace culture that fosters growth, collaboration, and innovation, unlocking the full potential of leaders and their teams, making it the true X-factor of effective leadership.

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