When making a list of the most important qualities for a leader to have, you might include a strong moral compass, organizational skills, and the ability to communicate clearly. But according to the experts, the quality that should be at the top of the list isn’t any of those obvious characteristics. The most important capability a leader should have is self-awareness.
Self-awareness at work often gets overlooked because we see the consequences of self-awareness – or a lack thereof – and don’t often identify self-aware leadership as the root cause of those consequences. For example, we all want leaders who are good listeners, who are able to see both sides of an argument, and who know when to delegate and when to take a more hands-on approach. The skill behind each of those capabilities is self-awareness.
How are Self-Aware Leaders Different?
Self-aware leaders have the ability to see themselves with clear eyes. They are able to recognize and appreciate their strengths, and just as importantly, they are able to recognize their vulnerabilities. With self-awareness, a leader is able to put their strengths forward and lean into those abilities. They are also able to examine their vulnerabilities without judging themselves, which can be an incredibly difficult feat. But if a leader can say to herself, “I’m not very good at delegating,” then she empowers herself to work on that skill and be honest with others about her limitations without hiding or denying – two shields that never work.
Having a clear understanding of your own abilities and limitations also allows for more effective communication, because a self-aware leader is better able to recognize the impact they have on the people around them. They have the presence of mind to see when they offend someone or when they talk over someone’s head, leaving them confused. They can also recognize when people are being honest with them and when people are too intimidated to ask questions. In short, self-aware people have the necessary foundation to be more conversationally intelligent.
Practicing Self-Awareness Takes Time, but Leads to Improvement
As with any leadership skill, self-awareness is an ability that can and should be practiced. We all have blind spots when it comes to our own abilities. A simple way to start breaking those blind spots down is with personal assessments. By getting an unbiased, professional, outside opinion about how you function at work, what drives you, and what your workplace strengths and limitations are, you can start to see yourself with clearer eyes and adjust your leadership strategy accordingly.