Why a Self-Aware Leader Is a Good Leader Leaders need to be self-aware before they can become effective.

By Ed Rankin

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Throughout most of his life, Ed felt lucky. Now in his mid-forties, he feels as though his work and personal lives are collapsing. And that, to risk cliché, his luck has run out.

Ed is Ed Blaine, and he works as the logistics manager for a large, local moving company. On the company's organization chart, Blaine is two rungs below the president and founder of the company. He works with five colleagues who are peers and with whom he is not close. Until the last few months, Blaine got to work early and left late. He worked hard to be noticed. He worked hard to contribute to the organization. Lately, he has begun to feel he is being overlooked for a promotion or pay reward. Soon he started leaving early as well.

His annoyance spilled into his marriage. His wife became frustrated and angry over his behavior with the kids, which was dismissive.

Blaine recently skimmed a book on employee coaching. He wasn't quite sure what led him to pick it up; he just did. The book made the following points, namely that:

  • Employee coaching is essential
  • It needs to be ongoing
  • Coaching should be participatory
  • It should be led by outsiders with little knowledge of the organization
  • There is a difference between being coached and being self-aware

All of these rang true to Blaine, especially the part about being self-aware. So he took the concept to management. Nothing. Weeks passed, then months. Finally, Blaine brought it up again and, just like that, he received approval to hire a coach on a limited basis — only for the three individuals Blaine managed. Company leadership requested that Blaine evaluate his employees — using in-house tools — before the coaching sessions and three months after.

Blaine set the training session at two days. When it was complete he felt rejuvenated, and he believed his direct reports did as well. What Blaine missed during the sessions were the employees' questions for the instructor. The queries dealt overwhelmingly with management styles: How can managers better help subordinates? What do managers need to know about a person before he or she can manage them? What basic principles should managers live by?

Blaine's employees were hoping he might pick up on their comments and questions.

But Blaine missed it during the training class. He didn't see or hear anything that would lead him to question his own approach to managing employees. Sure, he had noticed a lack of effort here and there. But he felt that these were minor and reflective of nothing. Blaine did, though, begin to pay more attention to those he managed. He discovered that they were the last to arrive in the morning and the first to leave in the afternoon. He also noticed that senior management was indifferent to his employees. Blaine concluded that, if he looked closely at employee behavior on the job, it was not up to par. But then, neither was his.

Related: Why Being a Self-Aware Leader Is Not Enough

What Blaine didn't know was that he was on the cusp of self-awareness. He realized, for example, that he knew virtually nothing about his employees' personal lives. He engaged in some basic research and found the following on a website called Level Up Leadership. He read that leaders need to be self-aware before they can become effective and that there are seven characteristics/behaviors of a self-aware leader.

Self-aware leaders:

  • Act for the benefit of everyone
  • Are focused
  • Have a high positivity quotient
  • Lead with their strengths
  • Are clear communicators
  • Know how to mediate conflicts
  • Act from a place of kindness

Insperity, quoting a related study, found that 83 percent of individuals with high self-awareness were top performers in their fields of endeavor. A human resources-oriented website, Insperity also lists ways to arrive at self-awareness. These are:

  • Feel your feelings
  • Seek feedback
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Keep an open mind
  • Keep a journal
  • Follow your values

The difficulty with being self-aware is that you must be somewhat self-aware to know that you are not. There are levels of self-awareness; being self-aware is not an either/or proposition.

Related: Why Self-Leadership is Essential to Your Success

The transition from a coach — or being coached — to a self-aware individual is not always an easy one. You must confront hard truths about yourself and this is not easy for most of us.

Being self-aware means that you know yourself. It means that you are receptive to new ideas and concepts. It means you understand that you only know so much and that you can learn from others as well as teach.

Blaine's problem was that he couldn't see how his own actions directly affected those around him. He couldn't see that rather than work hard for him, his employees were just going through the motions.

Coaching, when performed properly, should lead to self-awareness, but perhaps not immediately. Coaching precedes self-awareness. No matter how self-aware you are now, you'll always need coaching to help generate even more sensitivity and self-knowledge. In this way, coaching is accretive: it builds on itself. This is why organizations will continue to use coaching to enhance performance for, and devotion to, the enterprise.

Related: 12 Self-Awareness Exercises That Fuel Success

Ed Rankin

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Executive Coach

Ed Rankin has worked with senior and high-potential mid-level executives and successful entrepreneurs. He has advised CEOs and their teams on leadership issues, succession and culture. His accomplishments include taking companies to Inc. 500 status and Portfolio Company of the Year recognition.

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