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Self-Awareness in Leadership: What The Research Says

Self-Awareness in Leadership: What The Research Says

Aristotle is famously quoted as saying, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom,” and nothing can be more accurate regarding leadership. Self-awareness is not only a tremendous personal trait, but it is also highly beneficial to leaders and the companies they work for.

In this article, we took a deep dive into the research on self-awareness in leadership, looking at what it is, what makes it up, why it’s important, and the need to improve it.


Jump To:

  1. What is Self-Awareness
  2. What are the Components of Self-Awareness
  3. Importance of Self-Awareness in Leadership


What is Self-Awareness?

In 1972, social psychologists Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund developed the theory of self-awareness, which first appeared in their book, A Theory of Objective Self-Awareness. They defined self-awareness as "the ability to focus on yourself and how your actions, thoughts, or emotions do or don't align with your internal standards. If you're highly self-aware, you can objectively evaluate yourself, manage your emotions, align your behavior with your values, and understand correctly how others perceive you."

In essence, it is one’s ability to monitor and regulate one's emotions and reactions by understanding your strengths, weaknesses, triggers, and motivations. Since Duval and Roberts developed the initial theory, significant research has been conducted on the topic, including the impact of self-awareness in leadership and business.


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What Makes Up Self-Awarness?

Since the theory of self-awareness was developed in the 70s, there have been varying definitions for what it is. However, in 2018,  Dr. Tasha Eurich,  an organizational psychologist, set out to synthesize all of the research to come up with a standard definition of the components that compromise self-awareness. In doing so, she uncovered through her research that self-awareness falls into two distinct categories: internal self-awareness and external self-awareness.

Internal Self-Awareness: How we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others. When leaders have high internal self-awareness, it is correlated with increased job satisfaction, relationships, and social control.

External Self-Awareness: Understanding how others view you based on the internal factors above. When leaders have high external self-awareness, they’re better at showing empathy and understanding other people’s perspectives, leading to better relationships with their employees; their employees feel more satisfied with them and see them as more effective leaders.


The Importance of Self-Awareness in Leadership 

There are many benefits that come from leaders being self-aware. In Dr. Tasha Eurichs's HBR article, What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It), she summarises the importance of self-awareness in leadership.

She said, “Research suggests that when we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. We’re less likely to lie, cheat, and steal. We are better workers who get more promotions. And we’re more effective leaders with more satisfied employees and more profitable companies.”

Here are a few more reasons why leaders and their companies should look closely at developing self-aware leaders.

  • In a survey of 6977 professionals from 486 publicly traded companies uncovered that companies with a higher rate of return also had leaders who exhibited higher levels of self-awareness. - A Better Return on Self-Awareness, Korn Ferry
  • It was uncovered that when leaders improved their emotional self-awareness, they reported additional benefits, including:
    • 100% reported an improvement in workplace effectiveness
    • 79% reported more effective workplace relationships 
    • 86% reported an improved ability to identify and manage their emotions
    • 81% reported a link between their improved emotional self-awareness and a reduction in stress - Effective Leadership Starts with Self-Awareness, ATD

Benefits of Leaders Improving Self-Awareness (1)

74% of respondents agreed being self-aware helped them be a more confident leader. (1)

Despite the importance of self-awareness and its tremendous impact on the effectiveness of leaders and the organizations they work for, there is much room for improvement. 

32% of employees day they work for a boss who lacks self-awareness. (1)

Closing the gap in self-awareness starts with insights, reflection, and knowledge. There are various ways to go about it, from working with a leadership coach who will help you uncover how others see you and provide actionable feedback to attending a leadership program to gain critical insights and completing an assessment to bring greater awareness. Luckily, with a partner like Niagara Institute by your side, with coaching and programs for individuals and teams, there is a solution to fit any need.

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