What is Self-Awareness?
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of self-awareness is “Conscious knowledge of one’s own character and feelings”. The first psychological study of self-awareness dates back to the early 1970s, and more recently the work of Daniel Goleman on Emotional Intelligence (knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions) has recognised that self-awareness is a major contributor to success, both at work and in day to day life.
What does the research say about Self-Awareness and leadership capability?
When we are aware of our thought and behaviour patterns, our values, our passions, our strengths and weaknesses, we operate less on autopilot and are more present. This enables us to be more confident, to make conscious decisions, build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively.
Some practical implications of Self-Awareness
- A good understanding of our strengths and weaknesses enables us to play to our strengths and seek support from team members who perform well in the areas where we are less proficient.
- We are more likely to be open to the fact that others may have a better idea than ours.
- When we are aware of our own behaviours and thought patterns we are more likely to be able to empathise with others, which is a foundation stone for trust and strong relationships.
- When something hasn’t gone as well as we’d have liked we are more likely to reflect on solutions rather than blame.
- When our value system is aligned with our workplace values we are likely to be more fulfilled and energised at work.
How can we cultivate Self-Awareness?
There are two aspects to self-awareness. One: how we think, feel and act and the other: how other people view us. Both are important; the following steps will help.
- Understand your life story, the people, events and experiences that have had the greatest impact in shaping you. This reflective narrative exercise is frequently completed in a coaching process.
- Practice some form of regular self-reflection e.g. journaling or mindfulness to enable you link with your feelings. Our working world tends to rely a lot on thinking and feelings can be hard to connect with, yet when we can name our feelings and develop comfort with uncomfortable feelings we can better understand our reactions and motives. It is useful to spend more time asking yourself what can I learn from this? Are there any trends I need to be aware of rather than overly analysing ‘why’ which can trap us in a negative rather than solution focused mindset.
- Practice being a good listener. Pay attention to other people, not just their words, but their body language, tone, and emotions, with a curious rather than a judgmental mindset. When we listen to understand, we build empathy with others and we also develop a better capability to reflect.
- Seek Feedback. We all have blind spots, conscious and unconscious bias etc., and we don’t always take the time to learn from experience. Seeking feedback takes courage, and the more senior our organisational roles are the less likely we are to be offered it.
Dr. Tara Eurich: “What self- awareness really is and How to cultivate it”. Harvard Business Review 2018
Daniel Goleman: “Emotional Intelligence”.
Bill George: Know Thyself – “How to develop self-awareness” Psychologytoday.com September 2015