Self-Awareness – A Foundation for Inspirational Leadership

“When the seventy-five members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness.”

– Bill George, past President and CEO of Medtronics

Self-awareness is one of the key components of inspirational leadership. It is the reflective ability to perceive and understand our moods, emotions and drives, and gauge their impact on others.

We know self-awareness when we see it and also when we don’t.

Leaders with a profound lack of self-awareness might approach a problem-solving situation in a very different way. They might:

  • Push their own agenda without care or regard for others’ perspectives
  • Not listen to others or pretend to listen
  • Assume that they are the experts
  • Believe that they are the only ones with the key to solving the problem at hand
  • Misinterpret the group’s reticence to comply with their ideas
  • Take themselves and their enterprise at hand so seriously that they are unable to recognize their own foibles and/or laugh at themselves
  • Are people who are highly perplexed by the feedback on their 360º’s because they don’t see themselves as others do.

Self-awareness is an attribute that varies in degree: some of us are naturally good at it, some are very poor, and the rest of us fall somewhere in between.

How does each of us heighten our self-awareness so that we can become inspirational and effective leaders? Begin by trying to incorporate the following:

  • Learn to know yourself: make an honest inventory of your strengths andweaknesses as they pertain to your effectiveness as a leader
  • Examine your values and underlying motives so that you are aware of them as you interact with others.
  • Construct an honest inventory of situations where you over-react
  • Learn strategies to monitor yourself as well as substitute another better adapted behavior
  • Learn to not take yourself so seriously; use self-deprecating humor
  • Ask for and incorporate candid feedback on the skills from your work environment as you attempt to make changes.

A self-aware person increases his or her capacity to inspire by getting out of the way. A central goal of self-awareness is to remove any personal (conscious or unconscious) thoughts that may be interfering with an accurate perception or understanding of another. Once the “path” is clear, you are in a position to make an authentic connection with another.

Not until we distance ourselves from our own interfering emotions and learn to regulate them effectively, can we become the leader that inspires others.


This article was part of a section of the book “What Inspirational Leaders Do” written with Kristine S. MacKain, Ph.D published by Kindle Books (2008)


About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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