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Basic Leadership: Improve Your Self Awareness Skills

Updated on October 5, 2011

Leadership as a whole is very complex and requires many skills such as people skills, conflict management, vision casting, listening, and communicating. One skill, however, that is often overlooked is the very skill that is at the core of leadership. Every leader must have a heightened sense of self-awareness.

I once heard Nancy Ortberg, leadership consultant and writer say, “The leader must be the most self-aware person in the room.”

Never underestimate the power of self-awareness. While it is something that can be learned, it is not something that can be taught. No one will offer a course in which you are the sole subject. Only you can dive into your history, your strengths, your weaknesses, your motives, and your passions. Knowing these things and understanding how they affect your work and your relationships is leadership in is most basic form. Self-awareness is the first step, the cornerstone, of leadership.

Keep in mind, however, that self-awareness is not for the faint of heart. Examining yourself is hard work. There is no guarantee that you’ll like what you find. There may be some things that you’ll see need to change, relationships you need to restore, and motives you need to realign. Developing an accurate perception of self, however, is worth the effort. Truly knowing who you are will go a long way in helping to identify and road blocks and obstacles in your leadership path.

There are several resources available that will help you discover this basic leadership skill. Take advantage of on-line personality and conflict management assessments. Read books on birth order and finding your strengths. Take the quizzes, look at the results, and ask those closest to you if they are accurate. If you are caught off guard with what you find, you may not have an accurate self-perception. Many leadership failures can be traced back to lack of awareness.

Know Your History

Where did you come from? How does that play into your present? How does your past affect the decisions you make today? Understanding these things will give you a greater discernment and direction. Understanding the past can help you repeat the positive while breaking negative cycles of behavior.

While others may have had similar experiences, no one except for you experienced things the exact same way as you. Your responses, your reactions, your perceptions are all unique. Developing a clear sense of your history will determine the direction of your future. 

Identify Your Stengths

The book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, written by authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath, demonstrates how most people have overly positive illusions about themselves. For example, “A full 25 percent of people believe they’re in the top 1 percent in their ability to get along with others. They go on to explain the importance on an accurate self evaluation:

“Positive illusions pose an enormous problem with regard to change. Before people can change, before they can move in a new direction, they’ve got to have their bearings. But positive illusions make it hard for us to orient ourselves – to get a clear picture of where we are and how we’re doing.” (Heath & Heath, 115)

Know what you’re good at and develop a realistic view of those skills. Which ones should you utilize? Which ones do you need to continue to home in on and improve? Focus on developing those strengths. Get your bearings straight and build your leadership around your natural abilities will lead to success.

Accept Your Weaknesses

Most of us don’t like to admit that we even have weaknesses, especially to others. As a leader, you may be even more hesitant to expose areas of vulnerability. Recognizing your weaknesses however will help you determine how to compensate for them as a leader. Are you lacking skills that you could learn? Can you add others to your team who excel in those areas?

Don’t spend too much time focusing on your weaknesses, however. Identifying them and learning to compensate is one thing, beating yourself up over them and trying to turn them into strengths is another. Instead of putting effort into fixing your weaknesses, concentrate on building your abilities and talents.

Recognize Your Motives

Even if the cause is just, our deep underlying motive is often self-promotion and recognition. Truly effective leaders have learned to sacrifice vanity and pride for the good of those they lead. This is especially true when leading people or teams. Fear, jealousy, and resentment are all motives that hinder leadership. Learning what your true intentions are will help you respond to ideas, obstacles, and crisis objectively.

Checking your motives, however, must be done on a continual basis. Pride can easily sneak in and destroy your leadership. Learn to ask yourself why. Why am I upset? Why don’t I like this idea? Why am I worried? If you find that the underlying answer to those questions is self-preservation, you then have the opportunity to realign your motives and proceed with leading effectively.

Discover Your Passion

Leaders lead best when they are passionate about what they are leading. What is it that gets your fired up? What stirs your heart into action? What’s worth fighting for? Capitalize on your natural zeal. Utilize your passion so that you can communicate and cast your vision to others.

Faking passion in leadership may work for awhile, but the success won’t sustain. Leading something that you don’t care about is a recipe for failure. Before you ever accept or initiate leadership, be sure that you buy into the vision. Believe in your cause. Have faith in the dream.

Self Awareness Basics

As you can see, self-awareness is the basic form of leadership. If you can’t lead yourself, you’ll never be able to lead others. Don’t overlook this foundational principle. Taking the time and effort to learn about who you are and what you’re capable of will go a long way in helping you achieve your leadership goals.


Submit a Comment

  • lisabeaman profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

    Casil! I'm so glad you stopped by! You practically wrote a 2nd hub... :) Thanks for your kind words and encouragement! I always appreciate your feedback.

    You are right on about pride and ego getting in the way in leadership. I believe that's why we are in such a political/economic mess in America. I'd like to think that our leaders at least started out with good intentions of serving, but sadly, it does seem as if many are only in it for themselves. I think that the power and money (and not to mention sex) that often accompanies leadership positions can cloud their vision and get them off track. That's why I think that self-awareness is so vital. If you know you are prone to certain weaknesses, then you can take steps toward avoiding them and protecting yourself as well as those you lead. Thanks again for the comment!

  • Cagsil profile image


    7 years ago from USA or America

    Hey Lisa, you just knew I would be by to check this hub out. LOL! I voted up and marked interesting, because it was quite interesting and well written. I guess, I'll also add- Leadership? One should always ask themselves "Why do they want to be a leader?" first and foremost. Which, you touch on, under motives. However, through personal experience and faults of my own, the most common reason people want to be leaders or in a leadership role is solely based on Ego and the power trip which comes with the position.

    I learned this the hard way, as I pushed myself to gain a position of leadership twice in my life and failed both times. I understand now why I failed and the reason I failed was because my ego was unrecognized. I wanted the power of the position I was pushing for and once I received it, it only made matters worse.

    I no longer desire a position of power, but have come to learn that Leadership isn't about power or even self. Self-awareness is definitely key in gaining leadership position. I continue to improve my communication skills, so as to bring myself back to a leadership position and have learned to check my ego at the door.

    To answer the question from another person who commented, I have come to understand that very few people who are presently in positions of (big and small) companies, truly understand leadership qualities, because they obtained their position through many of the so-called self-help or self-improvement books on the market, which don't actually teach Leadership, but do describe certain aspects with bits and pieces of details. Thus, leaving them without some piece of knowledge and wisdom about Leadership. Great Hub!

  • lisabeaman profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Phoenix, AZ


    I'd be afraid of the answer to your question. Many times leaders lead from a position of authority instead of through influence. Those leaders are not nearly as effective and often discourage others instead of encourage and build up. I'm sure many of us can think of leaders like that.

    You're right about communication! It's a key aspect that is missing in a lot of young workers. Thanks for the comment! I really appreciate your thoughts on the subject... I would love it if you were to follow me :)

  • Maralexa profile image

    Marilyn Alexander 

    7 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

    How many leaders of organizations (big and small) do you think understand these skills? We may be extremely good in our field but if we can not relate to other key people in our organization, we will not be able to lead or follow effectively. We need to know things like how we are most likely to respond to stress, and other factors.

    Communications: being able to hear(understand) what another is saying is as important as being able to articulate one's own ideas. This too is often lacking in newly minted graduate students.

    Thank you so much for a very thoughtful and valuable hub. I am truly interested in following you.

    Thanks again!

  • lisabeaman profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

    Thanks for the comments! I really appreciate your for sharing your thoughts. Bri36, I completely agree that this should be taught in high school. I found, however, that most colleges do not even teach these skills. Many of the graduates that I come in contact with have no idea who they are - instead, they put their energy and efforts into trying to become someone that they aren't and run into several obstacles. Thanks again!

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    this is straight stuff here. this is the kind of thing that needs to be taught in high school. Maybe then we as a society will come together and advance into the future. very well thought out hub. gets my vote^

  • Docmo profile image

    Mohan Kumar 

    7 years ago from UK

    Great article, succinctly written and captures and aspects of leadership very well. Highly readable. thanks.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Lisa- great article. We can't forget the basics if we ever want to get to the next level.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 

    8 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Lisa, I liked your article and thought you organized it very well. It seemed to me when I was reading it that you really have to know yourself to be a leader. The things you mentioned are all important.

  • lisabeaman profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

    Thanks Scribnet! I really appreciate your kind words!

    And thank you, my good friend Kris! Thanks for always being my number one fan! :)

  • Scribenet profile image


    8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Again a wonderful Hub, I enjoy your writing style, clear, easy to understand and informative. Great content!

  • profile image

    Kris Simpson 

    8 years ago

    Great article! Leadership is complex ... self awareness is a key ingredient. Thanks for suggesting ways in which I can work on becoming more self aware and hopefully a better leader!


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