The two types of self awareness and why leaders need both


Self-awareness is the not so new leadership buzzword. Science suggests that when we are more self-aware we are more confident, innovative and empathetic, it even enhances our communication and decision-making abilities. All of these aforementioned qualities are the hallmarks of a good leader. Those with enhanced self-awareness are more effective leaders, fact. Bold statement but it's reflective of decades of leadership research. So, how can you enhance your self-awareness? The first step is to understand the concept of self-awareness.


There are two types of self-awareness. Whilst the definition of self-awareness is not set in stone, all schools of thought identify its internal and external characteristics. Self-awareness is the clarity in which we see ourselves "internal" and also our ability to perceive how others view us "external".

It's easy to assume that being high on one type of self-awareness would mean you are high on the other but, this is not the case. Research suggests that leaders tend to focus on internal self-awareness and this could be their biggest downfall. Leaders who practice external self-awareness and see themselves as their employees do have a better relationship with them, feel more satisfied with them, and typically execute more effective leadership over them.

Leaders must therefore actively work on both elements of self-awareness - seeing themselves clearly and getting feedback to understand how others see them.

The self-awareness traps

To ensure you don't inhibit your self-awareness development here are some common traps, leaders have been shown to fall into;

1. Over-confidence

An interesting statistic shows that more-experienced managers are worse at assessing their self-awareness abilities in comparison to less experienced managers. This is the over-confidence trap that many leaders fall into. Believing you know everything closes your mind to new knowledge and increases your chance of mistakes. Don't let yourself fall into this trap, regardless of your level of experience you can always learn more and be better.

2. Introspection is not the path to self-awareness

Contrary to popular belief, people who practice introspection - the examination of our own thoughts and feelings - are actually less self-aware than others and even report worse overall job satisfaction and well-being. Why? Research shows that we don't have access to many of the unconscious thoughts, feelings and internal influencers we seek to find through introspection. So, much of the information surrounding self-awareness is trapped outside of our conscious and if we can't find the answers we may invent answers that feel true but are often wrong - leading to false conclusions.

How to increase self-awareness

In her new book, Insight, organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich reveals her analysis of people that have drastically increased their self-awareness.

In a series of surveys, Eurich found that 95% of people think they’re self-aware, but only 10-15% truly are.

Eurich, thankfully for us, states to become more self-aware there only two points to address, each focusing on internal and external awareness;

1. Building internal self-awareness 

Eurich cautions against writing lengthy journal entries, these can force you to go deeper than required and attach meaning where you don't have the answers. Instead, Eurich suggests a more practical approach of looking for themes and patterns in your work. Try to replace the "Why?" of introspection with the "What" of practicality. For example, at the end of every day, Eurich recommends asking yourself, “What went well today? What did I learn that I might do differently? Whose perspective can I get if I’m having a particular challenge?”

2. Building external self-awareness 

Eurich suggests finding a “loving critic” at work. Asking all your colleagues for feedback is overwhelming. Instead, find one person who wants you to succeed and is also unafraid to tell you the naked truth. Take them out to lunch, letting him or her know in advance what you’re looking for. To lead the conversation, Eurich suggests asking things like, “What do I do that adds the most value to our team? What’s the thing I do that’s detracting from our success?”

The self-awareness path isn't easy but with your focus on the right things, you can be on your way incredibly effective leadership and higher overall work/life satisfaction.


If you are interested in finding out where you are on the self-awareness scale an incredibly useful test by Harvard Business Review can be found here.

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