According to a 2012 MIT study, self-awareness is the foundation of most leadership skills, as well as a cornerstone of emotional intelligence. As such, it is an essential skill from the perspective of leadership development.

Self-awareness is one of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence. 

How Can We Define Self-Awareness? 

Self-awareness is the combination of self-knowledge and the ability to use this knowledge to monitor one’s own thoughts, emotions, and the impact these variables exert on decision-making.

Self-aware people are better at self-control. And depending on their mastery of this skill, they exhibit better situational awareness and a proactive attitude toward life in general.

In some ways, self-awareness is the polar opposite of self-absorption. The latter isolates the person from his/her surroundings, focusing exclusively on internal needs and wants.

Self-awareness opens a person up to his/her physical and emotional environment, through introspection, non-judgmental observation, and an open-hearted willingness to embrace new knowledge.

The Benefits of Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is a leadership quality in surprisingly short supply. While many people in leadership positions believe themselves to be self-aware, very few of them are. Self-awareness is, therefore, an excellent target for leadership coaching, as it is scarce, yet attainable.


Self-aware people are better communicators. 

Some of the benefits of self-awareness are quantifiable and measurable. Others are more subtle.

  • Successful leaders are aware of their strengths and inclinations, and they know how to make the best of them. They are also capable of minimizing the impact of their weaknesses.
  • According to a Korn/Ferry study, companies that have employees with higher levels of self-awareness tend to perform better financially.
  • Self-aware leaders make better decisions and set priorities better.
  • Self-awareness goes hand-in-hand with leadership maturity. Thus, self-aware leaders tend not to take negative feedback personally and are better equipped to move on toward a solution instead of getting stuck in a blame-game.
  • Leaders and employees with high levels of self-awareness build and maintain more solid personal and professional relationships.
  • The personal boundaries of a self-aware person are better defined and healthier.
  • Besides leadership skills, self-awareness makes a solid foundation for personal and professional goals.
  • Another reason why leadership development sees self-awareness as a valuable asset is that self-aware people communicate better. Proper communication skills are indispensable from the perspective of leadership coaching.
  • Self-aware leaders are more effective across the board. They create more satisfied employees and more successful companies.
  • Due to better decision-making, self-aware people are less likely to resort to unsavory behaviors such as lying, cheating, and stealing.

The Fallacy of “Why” Introspection

While executive coaching holds self-awareness and introspection in high regard, there is a dark side to these skills/psychological abilities.

Clinical psychology associates self-awareness with depression, suicide, and dysfunction. At a closer look, it appears, however, that the problem is not with self-awareness itself, but with the way some people practice it.

Frequent self-analyzers tend to rely on introspection predicated upon “why” questions. “Why did I fail?”, “Why did I perform so poorly?” Such questions beget fear-based explanations and justifications. Thus, instead of steering the analyzer toward a solution, they plunge him/her into depression and anxiety.

The solution is to supplant “why” introspection with “what” introspection. “What can I do to avoid this outcome in the future?”, “What did I get wrong?” Such questions prompt answers that bear the seeds of the solution in them.

Executive coaching views self-awareness as a basic leadership skill. Indeed, it is a skill the development of which can bring about spectacular results.

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