Self-Awareness and the Successful Leader

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Livingston James Group’s Head of Research, Kirsty Sim discusses the importance of self-awareness in successful leaders, and why it’s important to bring our ‘whole selves’ to the workplace.

Organisational Psychologist and author, Tasha Eurich, describes self-awareness as “the ability to see ourselves clearly, to understand who we are, how others see us, and how we fit into the world”.

Self-awareness is one of the most important capabilities for leaders to develop.  In the MIT SMR article entitled “How to Become a Better Leader”,  the authors state that executives must be able to understand “where their natural inclinations lie in order to boost them or compensate for them”. Not only can this make leaders more successful in their own right, it can also impact a companies’ bottom line.

Why is Self-Awareness Important?

In a world where so many are immersed in social media and used to unfettered access to people’s lives, it has become even more important to employees to feel that they know and trust their employers and leaders. Maintaining separate ‘professional’ and ‘personal’ personas just won’t cut it in the world of leadership.

The ability to be truly authentic is essential in the quest for employees’ trust, and without self-awareness, it is almost impossible to be our true authentic selves.

A Cornell University study  showed that a high score on self-awareness was the greatest predictor of overall success in the workplace. Self-aware leaders are often more able to recognise their own weaknesses and therefore hire peers and reports that have these missing skills and qualities, leading to a more well-rounded team. The same study also found that the most effective leaders are constantly looking to learn and grow, in order to become stronger and better, again pointing to the importance of self-awareness.

Employee Self-Awareness Matters

Of course, it is not just leaders who should look to develop their self-awareness. A study by Korn Ferry found that poor-performing business’ employees were 79% more likely to have low self-awareness compared to those working for higher performing businesses. Myers-Briggs also discuss the relationship between high levels of well-being in the workplace, which often stems from better self-awareness, and increases in retention.

Essentially, we could all benefit from improving our self-awareness.


How do we Become More Self-Aware?


Regular reflection is key. Reflecting on situations we have encountered, how we and others dealt with them, and thinking more generally about our leadership styles and preferences is hugely beneficial to better understanding ourselves and our behaviours.

Once we understand our behaviours in certain situations, we can  take this  a step further by considering future situations and preparing for how we might navigate those. This can be done on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis but requires regular practice.

Asking ‘what’ rather than ‘why’:

Tasha Eurich has spent many years analysing what she calls ‘self-awareness unicorns’ – people who have successfully increased their levels of genuine self-awareness. She examines the differences in the ways in which we reflect or introspect, suggesting that asking ‘why?’, the most common introspective question, can often leave us “depressed, overconfident, and wrong”.

This is often because asking ‘why’ leads us away from the truth about ourselves as opposed to towards it. The main reason arguably being that we struggle to separate our unconscious thoughts and motives, leading us to end up creating answers that feel true but are often very wrong.

Eurich suggests that when we ask ‘what’ rather than ‘why’, we can change the entire narrative, taking a more objective and truer look at oneself.

Psychometric Testing:

Seeking deeper insight into our personalities through psychometric testing is another way to improve self-awareness. There are many types of questionnaires and tests out there that all assess slightly different things in slightly different ways. Common approaches include Saville Wave, Myers-Briggs, Insights and Hogan Personality Inventory.

Within Livingston James, we utilise Saville Wave regularly for selection purposes as it has been shown to be the most powerful predictor of workplace performance and potential, however Insights is particularly beneficial in a team development environment.

If undertaking a personality test feels uncomfortable, there is an abundance of information on different personality types that can also provide a grounding for better self-awareness. The Livingston James team have explored Bioenergetics in detail over the past year, primarily through online learning from Jim Neish. This has not only allowed us greater self-awareness, but has also increased our understanding of other personality types and allowed us to adapt our approach accordingly, whether that be with our direct reports, peers, clients or candidates.

These studies have shown how beneficial self-awareness can be, not only in leaders but also in those aspirational leaders, managers, and ambitious employees.


Livingston James Group’s Head of Research, Kirsty Sim, acts as our in-house qualified Saville assessor. Should you have any queries regarding implementing personality testing as part of your hiring or personal development strategies, please get in touch with Kirsty at [email protected].


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