Self-Awareness and Leadership (A Guide to Knowing Alpha)


Understanding the level of self-awareness and what it takes to be a great leader can be difficult because when you see a great leader in action, they often make it look easy. It’s easy to overlook the level of self-awareness at which they operate.

In this article, we are going to look at what self-awareness is, how you know if you are self-aware, the roll it plays in leadership and how to improve your leadership skills through self-awareness hacks that can help you have the type of impact you want on your organization or in your role as a leader.

So how is self-awareness in leadership defined? Self-awareness is clarity: the ability to see yourself, your actions, your behavior, and the impact they have on your results and on others, you work within your leadership role. Further, self-awareness allows you to identify attributes in those you lead that contribute to their results.

Why is Self-awareness Important for a Leader

It almost sounds cliche when I say that self-awareness is important for a leader, but in my estimation there are several major reasons this is so.

  1. Leaders must be aware of the “why” behind their own actions.
  2. They need the ability to step outside of themselves and become the observer of “self” to understand their true motives.
  3. Once you understand what is running the show behind how you operate, you will begin to see the driving force behind what others are doing and how they are behaving.
  4. As a leader, you will need to be capable of creating appropriate fail-safe boundaries for yourself and others to keep your organization on track.

No doubt, there are other reasons, but as you distinguish what I like to call your “operating system” (the driving force behind your behavior), it will give you access to make changes that will guarantee great results in your leadership.

As you may have heard, leadership comes with a price. I believe that price is turning yourself inside out to discover why you really do what you do.

Recently, I reconnected with a friend who is now the CEO of a medical company. His name is Bryan. I’ve observed Bryan for over 20 years. He has steadily chipped away at becoming the CEO of a company for a long time.

His drive to achieve this goal has been inspiring. When we reconnected, I asked Bryan about his role as CEO, “Why now?” I wanted to know what finally shifted that has allowed him to take on this role.

His response was fascinating. He said, “I feel like I am now able to step outside of myself and observe myself as I act, manage and lead.”

Self-awareness is the ability to step outside of yourself. It is also the recognition of your own paradigm.

How Does Your Self Awareness Support Success as a Leader?

We all have a paradigm. Consider it the operating system, we developed through all of the experiences we have had in life.

I was in my twenties, when I first heard the word “paradigm.” My brother and I used to joke that a paradigm (pronounced pair o’ dime) was better than having two nickels.

But wrapped up in this odd little word are secrets that truly can unlock your potential.

A paradigm is a collection of habits, behaviors, behaviors, and beliefs.

It’s what makes us do what we do. Most of our actions are driven unconsciously. We don’t typically think about what we are going to do when we get up in the morning.

We simply move into action, and most actions are controlled unconsciously. The sequence of our morning routines are dictated by our paradigm, and so are most of our behaviors.

When you get a true understanding of just how deep this goes and how much your paradigm controls, you will begin to recognize that we are rarely “at choice.”

By “at choice,” I mean we rarely have the ability to see what is available to us outside of our paradigm.

Check out our article on where we describe a leader with true confidence. This article is based on a friend of ours who was engineer behind the first in vitro fertilization. He is a fascinating man.

Relationship Between Self Awareness and Leadership

If you have ever seen the movie “Finding Nemo,” you may recall an scene in the movie that illustrates how I have come to see the paradigm, self-awareness and its role in leadership.

Here is the move scene (just in case, wink).

In this scene, the fish plan a great escape. The idea is that they clog the filter so the dentist has to clean the tank. He will have to take the fish out and put them in plastic bags while doing so, during which time, the fish plan to roll their way to freedom in the ocean across the street.

The only problem is that they are now all in plastic bags.

We are a lot like these fish. Our paradigm is the water we swim in. It dictates our boundaries much like an aquarium.

Once we decide to push our boundaries and make our “great escape,” we may find ourselves still bound by the same situation that looks a little different.

Breaking the bag is where the real freedom comes in, but first we have to distinguish the invisible field (like the bag) that holds us hostage to everything we know and do.

Recognizing the program within the program is where self-awareness truly begins. It’s the boundaries within the boundaries.

Our paradigm provides the context by which we operate and are free to do things, and it is invisible.

Great Leadership Starts with Self-Awareness

I don’t think we ever recognize our paradigm constraints until we are forced to notice that we aren’t getting the results we want in life.

Often the experiences that shed light on our lack of self-awareness are traumatic.

It is the hidden seed that comes with trauma, that adds something to our arsenal that we otherwise wouldn’t have.

Most leaders I have been fortunate to spend time with have all experienced set-backs, misfortunes, and have been forced to recognize their personal constraints on one level or another.

Once, you have access to recognizing your own constraints, you will begin to notice the constraints of others.

This is hugely beneficial. I believe it is the secret sauce to great leadership. If you want to know others, get to know yourself.

I remember a business situation that I just couldn’t figure out. I was being courted by a firm to take an executive level position with their company.

I told my wife that something wasn’t adding up. In her no-nonsense kind of way, she told me, “Get clear on your bul!sh*t and you’ll get clear on theirs.”

Maybe a better way to phrase this is to ask yourself what you are pretending. When you get clear on what you are pretending, you may begin to see what others are pretending.

In my case, I was pretending I was more interested in taking the job than I really was. That was when I saw it clearly for the first time.

They were pretending the job was a better position than it was. I later found out that they had just had nearly every employee quit at the same time and were trying to keep the company from completely crumbling.

Self-awareness Leadership Training

A bit further down the page, I’m going to talk about how to improve your level of self-awareness, but before I do, I want to cover training programs I’ve found useful, and create framework for you to understand what has to be done here.

Once you begin to recognize your own “operating system,” you start to notice that we are NOT really interacting with others as much as we are interacting with their “operating systems” or paradigms.

As a matter of fact, we tend to surround ourselves with individuals who have many of the same programs running in the background.

When it comes to making changes and taking control of your self-awareness, I have found that there aren’t many “easy” ways for becoming more self-aware.

In fact, it’s a journey and should be seen as such.

Even when you achieve higher levels of self-awareness, you may find that you “go in and out” of self-awareness. The harder you try to be self-aware, the more illusive it can become.

Built into our humanity are ways to fool ourselves into believing the mud we are slinging.

Convinced we are beyond reproach, we muscle our ways through circumstances and situations, we assume just happen.

In our fast-paced, quick fix society, there are no shortcuts.

Undoubtedly, there are many programs that will help you become more self-aware.

Some of my favorites are:

  • Proctor Gallagher Institutes: Paradigm Shift and Matrixx
  • Dani Johnson First Steps to Success and Dynasty

I’ve been to all of these training workshops and courses as well as other (one in particular, I’m still getting permission to mention). I’ve done many of them multiple times.

Self-awareness and its discovery almost always shows up as layers for me.

Each discovery peels away yet another layer.

How to Improve Self Awareness as a Leader

The only way to improve self-awareness is to first look at the results you are getting in life.

The results you are getting will tell the story of what is true for your paradigm. I can’t say this enough. Results don’t lie. They are objective, and they tell the truth 100% of the time.

100% of the time results shed light on behavior and behaviors shed light on beliefs. Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves, what must I believe such that it has me doing “x.”

A Positive Example of Beliefs, Behaviors and Results

Maybe it’s a good idea to look at an area of life, where you are getting the results you want.

If you trace your steps backwards, you may notice that you have behaviors that directly impact this area of your life in a positive way and few if any behaviors that impact this area of your life in a negative way.

For me, I am in pretty good shape at 45 years-old. The ingredients are: I work out nearly daily and eat better than most.

I also register myself for competitions that force me psychologically to train more often and not treat my physical fitness with a lackadaisical attitude.

This is an example of a positive paradigm or “operating system” that I have working behind the scenes that gives me the willpower over cake and cookies when I need to eat lean meats and veggies.

It’s always nice to look at the areas that are going well, but what do we do when we evaluate the areas in our lives in which we are not doing so well?

Changing Negative Beliefs, Behaviors and Results

The first thing that makes self-awareness difficult when it comes to areas in our lives where we don’t have the results we want, is that it is simply to easy to remain in denial about it.

It’s easier to blame circumstances, others, or anything that gives us a break from the weight of blame, shame and guilt.

But if we really want to affect change in our lives, we have to take complete ownership.

You are the reason, you don’t have the success you want. Only you.

But, that doesn’t mean your situation is hopeless.

Leadership Self Awareness Assessment

Take a blank sheet of paper and write down the following questions and answers:

What results do I have that I don’t want? -Answer the question.

What I have been doing that isn’t working or is contributing to the results I have? -Answer the question.

What behaviors are always present in the way I am managing this part of my life? -Answer the question.

What must I believe such that I am doing these things this way? -Answer the question.

What kind of person does this? -Answer the question.

Do this for several different areas or aspects of your life that isn’t going the way you want.

If you are completely honest, you should see a pattern emerge.

The pattern will give you a sense of your paradigm and may open your eyes to something you have been hiding from yourself all along.

Once you identify the core belief or beliefs running in the background, write down this statement.

I used to (fill in the blank) or in the past I (fill in the blank). But now I am (fill in the blank) This should be different or opposite of your behavior previously.

Follow that statement up with. I am so happy and grateful now that…(fill in the blank with the results you want to have in your life).

Let’s say, you are like me and hate to plan (anything). My lack of planning costs me relationships, love in my marriage and money in my business.

I won’t go into how here for the sake of your time, but my statements would look like this:

I used to fail to plan. OR In the past, I couldn’t plan.

I am so happy and grateful that my planning has led to deeper relationships, a beautiful love relationship with my wife, an exciting, fun marriage, and more business success than I could have ever imagined.

Now, take and memorize that last statement.

Write it down. Carry it around in your pocket. Read it to yourself several times daily.

Make it your mission to live that statement.

Through this repetition, you will be able to have access to a new you and a new level of awareness.

How Do You Manage Self Awareness?

There are really only two ways to change your paradigm. Either a you experience a traumatic event that forever changes the way you view the world, or you utilize “spaced time repetition.”

Spaced-time repetition involves reading the statement over and over again until it feels true to you and becomes a part of you.

As your life transforms before your eyes, you will begin to realize that what is governing your success, leadership, behavior and actions is your paradigm.

Likewise, you will recognize the same in others and this will give you the ability to lead others down the paths to the destinations they want to get to.

You’ve heard the saying that if you help others get what they want, you will get what you want, right?

Leaders do this in extraordinary ways. They see their people and their needs.

A great leader masterfully helps their people achieve their goals while achieving company or organizational objectives.

Lack of Self Awareness in Leadership

In my experience, the level of self-awareness in an individual directly correlates with the level the attain in leadership.

If someone is lacking in self-awareness, there will be a cap or ceiling on the success they can see in leadership.

We have most likely all had bosses, who were myopic and while it may have served a purpose where they are at, it may not have given them the ability to advance.

Again, look at your results. If you are getting the results you want, there is a lack of self-awareness somewhere.

Dig for it and desire it like you would dig for gold.

I hope you found this article helpful. I truly appreciate your taking time to read through it, and I wish you all the best in your endeavors to discover more self-awareness for yourself and for your leadership role.

Paul Clukey

Paul is an author, business owner, online blogger, kite surfer, fitness enthusiast father of three, who loves personal development and spends his free time learning and implementing new concepts to grow personally and help others achieve success.

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