Self-aware leadership opens the doors to better communication, enhanced engagement, and increased leadership effectiveness. Self-aware leaders connect with their team members on deeper, more meaningful levels since they understand their employees’ emotional triggers. Leaders like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg are the embodiment of self-awareness-based leadership success.

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Aristotle.

Self-awareness is the ability to know and understand oneself and the foundation of intelligent, healthy, sustainable, and transformational leadership. What does it mean to know and understand yourself? How does self-aware leadership impact performance?

knowing yourself

There is nothing easy or automatic about knowing yourself.

To be self-aware means to know and understand your:

  • Emotions and emotional triggers
  • Beliefs and values
  • Thoughts
  • Motivations
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Desires
  • Identity

Self-aware leadership builds upon human consciousness as the engine of emotional intelligence, personal growth, optimal communication, and meaningful relationships.

Self-awareness allows leaders to harness their emotional intelligence, becoming more adaptable and authentic. Understanding yourself is the key to understanding others and navigating complex relationships more effectively. Leaders who master the dynamics of interpersonal relationships engage, motivate, and inspire their teams more effectively.

In this post, I dissect several aspects of self-aware leadership from the perspective of a leadership coaching specialist. I discuss the benefits of self-awareness and ways to develop self-aware leadership. I consider concrete examples of self-aware leadership in action to support my observations and self-awareness-wise experiences as a leadership coach.

Understanding Self-awareness

I consider self-awareness and emotional intelligence two cornerstones of effective, fearless leadership.

In my leadership coaching books and posts, I have defined self-awareness as the ability to be introspective and recognize feelings as they happen. I have always considered self-awareness to be the key to self-confidence. It allows leaders to exercise self-regulation and management, as well as empathy.

Self-awareness unlocks social skills, motivating leaders to pursue their goals with passion. These inner-core leadership traits combine to form emotional intelligence, creating an outer-core leadership competency that boosts leaders’ ability to engage, motivate, and inspire their teams.

Emotional intelligence is an essential element of the predictive loop leaders use to continuously calibrate and recalibrate their inner- and outer-core leadership competencies. As a core component of emotional intelligence, self-awareness requires constant reassessment and recalibration. Self-aware leadership is a journey and lifestyle rather than a destination.


Self-aware leadership is a continuous journey.

“Self-awareness is a never-ending journey…It’s a tank that can always be filled up more.” – Lee Eisenstaedt.

Self-aware leaders know with confidence where they are and how they can seize opportunities to improve and get to where they want to be.

Internal and External Self-awareness

Leaders who understand their motivations, strengths, values, and aspirations are internally self-aware. Understanding how other people see them and their personalities is external self-awareness.

External self-awareness requires a conscious effort. To achieve this level of self-awareness, we must overcome the natural tendencies of our minds to be self-centered. Self-awareness, as essential as it is in the grand scheme of leadership, can be detrimental if we fail to transcend our self-related limitations.

“If we do not come to understand the error in the way we think, our self-awareness, which is our greatest blessing, is also our downfall.” – Joko Beck.

How Self-awareness Impacts Essential Leadership Skills

Self-awareness boosts decision-making, relationship-building, and communication.

Self-aware leaders understand their values, priorities, and long-term goals. This clarity confers them a distinct advantage when making well-aligned decisions. Such leaders know their blind spots and biases and account for them when striving for objective decisions. They also understand their strengths and weaknesses.

Self-awareness gives leaders authenticity and trustworthiness. Genuine, trustworthy individuals connect seamlessly with others and build deep relationships.

Self-awareness allows leaders to understand their communication styles and custom-tailor their communication to suit the circumstances. For a self-aware leader, active listening is natural. Those who understand their emotions and reactions are more likely to keep them under control and focus on understanding others.

Listening and empathy-based leadership understands and defuses conflicts more effectively.

Benefits of Self-awareness in Leadership

Enabling leaders to make better decisions, communicate more effectively, and build meaningful relationships begets many benefits of which the most impactful are:

  • Emotional intelligence. Self-awareness acts as the foundation of emotional intelligence. It enables people to understand their emotions and emotional triggers. It plays an essential role in empathy, self-regulation, and interpersonal relationships. Self-aware people find it easy to understand others’ emotions and emotional triggers.
  • Enhanced communication. Self-aware, emotionally intelligent leaders understand the place and value of active listening. Active listening skills make a solid foundation for empathy, clarity in expression, and reading body language and other non-verbal communication cues. Self-aware leaders understand communication styles and know how to adjust their verbal and non-verbal communication based on the circumstances.
  • Conflict resolution. Self-awareness allows leaders to acknowledge and account for different perspectives, emotions, and emotional triggers. Such leaders can communicate effectively and empathetically, focusing on the interests and needs of the parties embroiled in the conflict. The transparency and openness that self-awareness enables, create a culture of trust and cooperation conducive to effective conflict resolution based on honest, genuine communication.

Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are indispensable prerequisites of authentic, inspirational leadership. Leadership authenticity facilitates trust-based organizational cultures that value cooperation, mutual assistance, and accountability.

In addition to making better decisions and meaningful connections with their employees, self-aware leaders are also:

  • More observant
  • Perceptive
  • Responsive
  • Discerning

Developing Self-awareness as a Leader

Given its impact on effective team leadership, self-awareness is a prized leadership attribute worthy of intentional development. As a leadership coaching expert, I aim to provide my clients with the tools and knowledge that help them establish and develop their self-awareness.

Self-awareness is an attribute you can develop.

Here’s what you can do to sharpen this all-important leadership ability.

  • Reflection. There is no self-awareness without constant introspection and self-reflection. Knowing yourself is an ongoing process that depends on variables like your evolving beliefs, the behaviors they dictate, and the resulting internal standards.
  • Feedback. As the leader of a team or organization, you have a significant impact on others. As a self-aware leader on a continuous journey of self-reflection, you want to know how others perceive and react to you. You also want to know what you can do to influence others. Your best option for objective self-assessment is to request impartial feedback from others. You need feedback from parties unafraid to give you an honest picture of what you look like to them. You can also use 360-degree feedback to gain an accurate picture of your leadership presence and influence.
  • Personality assessments. To learn about your leadership personality, you can use tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or DISC. You can also use my Mattone Leadership Enneagram Inventory to establish your leadership inclinations based on your personality.
  • Mindfulness allows you to pay more attention to internal processes, enhance your emotional awareness, and reduce reactivity. Practicing mindfulness exercises like yoga or meditation can help you get in touch with your deepest self, reducing stress and improving your resilience.

Self-awareness in Action: Case Studies

Nelson Mandela is the embodiment of forgiveness and humility on the global leadership scene. His extraordinary self-awareness was a considerable driving force behind his leadership accomplishments. He acknowledged his shortcomings, such as his predisposition for resentment and anger, and never ceased working to overcome them.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg is another high-profile leader who has mastered self-awareness and the art of learning from her mistakes.

A true scholar of transformational leadership, she is an unshakeable optimist with outstanding communication skills. Her self-awareness and well-developed emotional intelligence have helped her be an agile learner keen to show empathy and understand multiple perspectives.

“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.”- Sheryl Sandberg.


Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence and intelligent leadership. Self-aware leadership is not a destination but a journey that requires continuous introspection and self-reflection. As a surefire method of self-discovery, self-awareness is an indispensable prerequisite for improvement.

Leaders who aspire to improve must prioritize self-awareness as an essential component of development.

Self-awareness allows leaders to understand themselves and others and effect positive changes in themselves and others. Being self-aware is the starting point of all intelligent leadership skills.

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