Self-awareness and self-acceptance are indispensable leadership skills and essential constituents of emotional intelligence. Power and experience often suppress self-awareness at higher leadership levels, making it a skill in remarkably short supply. Leadership development can address self-awareness problems effectively and directly.

Self-awareness is the ability to see ourselves clearly and objectively, thoroughly understanding our emotional reactions to internal and external stimuli. Self-awareness is an essential component of emotional intelligence and one of the basic inner-core leadership skills.

Many people believe they have attained a high level of self-awareness when the opposite is often true. Striving for self-awareness goes beyond knowing one’s own personality and individuality. It’s a conscious effort to understand who we are, what we value, and where we stand in relation to others. To understand ourselves, we have to give up the illusion that we already do.

Self-awareness Is an Essential Part of the Intelligent Leadership Model

Self-aware leaders are confident without being arrogant. Such leaders are more creative, capable of making better decisions, communicating effectively, and building meaningful relationships.

Someone who observes a well-defined, solid set of values is less likely to stray onto the path of immaturity and lie, steal, or engage in derailing behavior. A leader who understands his/her place in the universe is more self-accepting, mature, and, thus, able to lead by example and inspire others.

Internal and External Self-awareness

Through the prism of self-acceptance, it makes practical sense to deconstruct self-awareness into internal and external self-awareness.

  • Internal self-awareness allows us to understand our emotional reactions, aspirations, value systems, and relationships with others. Clinical research shows that there is a negative correlation between internal self-awareness and depression. At the same time, self-awareness positively correlates with a better-perceived quality of life. One might say that self-aware people are more at peace with themselves. Their level of self-acceptance is higher.
  • External self-awareness is the ability to understand an outsider’s perspective of ourselves. This type of self-awareness is essential for empathy. It allows us to view a problem from a different angle, through someone else’s perception.

Why Self-awareness is a Leadership Skill in Short Supply

Leadership development professionals understand why self-awareness is much scarcer in leaders than one would expect. In my books and blog posts, I have often stated that power and experience tend to inhibit self-awareness.

Power and experience may inhibit self-awareness. 

The Derailing Effect of Power on Self-awareness 

One of the soft leadership skills, self-awareness often takes a back seat to the confidence stemming from experience. Power is another self-awareness-inhibiting factor. The more powerful leaders are, the more likely they are to overestimate their skills and abilities.

Over the years, I have found that people in higher leadership positions gradually lose access to relevant and abundant constructive feedback. That might explain the growing chasm between their abilities and their perception of these abilities.

Broad Feedback Can Help 

Leaders who understand and appreciate the concept of continuous leadership development can counteract this phenomenon by proactively reaching out for feedback.

360-degree surveys, like my Strategic-Tactical Leadership Index, are well-suited for this purpose. In addition to calibrating the outer core, they allow leaders the luxury of productive introspection based on honest and relevant feedback from a wide selection of stakeholders.

It’s All About Maturity 

Self-awareness and self-acceptance connect closely with leadership maturity. I have always focused my leadership development efforts on identifying levels of executive maturity in the leaders I have coached and using the information to identify derailing trends. A lack of self-awareness and self-acceptance is relatively easy to identify through my Mattone Leadership Enneagram Index.

For more about my MLEI and STLI, check out my other blog posts and leadership development books.


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