How well do you know yourself? I know that question sounds foolish, but your ability to know and understand your emotions and reactions might be the most important trait you have as a leader. 

Even though some people say that integrity, communication, or compassion, are the most important characteristics of leadership, studies show that people who have great self-awareness are better leaders.  

Knowing Yourself

Self-awareness allows you to know your strengths and weaknesses. It helps you understand what triggers negative emotions and what brings you joy. When you have a healthy self-awareness, you can reflect on why you feel a certain way and to control how your feelings can turn into reactions. 

You can empathize with the people around you and to find ways to reach your goals in the midst of difficult situations and circumstances. Knowing yourself strengthens your ability to be vulnerable, which allows you to develop stronger relationships with the people entrusted to your care, whether they be family, friends, or colleagues. 

Fine Tuning

When you fine-tune your self-awareness abilities, you are more adaptable, and you can lead with greater confidence. Psychologist and author Sherrie Campbell, in her book Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person, writes, “Self-awareness keeps us grounded, attuned and focused…When leaders are grounded, they are able to be efficient and deliberate in staying on task and being attuned to those around them. Leaders who have the ability to control their minds and emotions help to guide those around them to develop their own self-knowledge and success.”

Learning to be aware of yourself isn’t always easy but it is one skill that can help you become a much more effective leader. So, how well do you know yourself? How do you know that you are self-aware or at least growing in self-awareness? 

Six Ways to Know You’re Growing

You know you are growing in self-awareness when:

1. You can identify your emotions and name what you are feeling.

Emotions, especially when they are negative, have a tendency to take over your mind and body without you realizing it. You actually lose rational thinking, become defensive, and damage relationships. 

When you can identify your emotions, you can begin to question what you need at that moment. Part of identifying your emotions is being able to name what you are feeling. Knowing how to name them and talk about them, with both yourself and with others, is a key to developing self-awareness.

Every day I experience a range of emotions. Sometimes, when I’m feeling frustrated, I get overly critical of myself and my work. Sometimes, when I’m tired, I am less generous with my colleagues and the people entrusted to my care. 

In the past, I was less aware of these feelings and would fall into an unhealthy work rage. Neither my frustration nor my critical reaction helped me feel better or fixed the actual problem. But, by improving my self-awareness, I have begun to understand what I’m feeling and how to address the actual things that trigger my emotions. 

You can check your emotions at any moment during the day. Ask yourself:

  • What emotions am I experiencing at the moment? There are at least 54 different emotions. Learn to identify them with more than the general, sad, glad, or mad categories. 
  • Am I listening to my body? Is my heart beating faster? Is my stomach churning? Am I losing my voice? Why is my body reacting as it is?
  • What causes or triggers some of my negative emotions?

2. You can identify your emotional triggers.

Just as you can know your emotions, you can know what triggers your emotional response. Instead of repressing or denying your emotions, you learn to bend and flex with them, adapting to your situation and processing your emotions before communicating with others. 

We each have our own coping mechanisms that protect us from the hurt, disappointment, and failure that we fear. Unknowingly, we develop these mechanisms from childhood and significant experiences. Being able to recognize when these coping mechanisms begin to take over your thinking and acting is an impactful example of self-awareness. 

Have you ever shut down or disengaged in a meeting? Have you ever been in a conversation when you felt irritated, frustrated, or angry? Have you ever caught yourself saying, “I’m not angry. I just feel deeply about this?” Healthy self-awareness knows what triggers your disengagement, frustration, or anger. 

What are your most common coping mechanisms? When do you get the most defensive in life? What coping mechanisms did you develop as a child that no longer serve you?

3. You can define and live by your own values and beliefs.

Many times, the need to belong and to be liked is stronger than who you really are or what you value or believe. You feel so much pressure to fit in with the people around you that you set aside your own values and beliefs. You know you are self-aware when you can step back and ask yourself, “Am I being true to myself at this moment?”

It is difficult to ignore all the messages about what you should believe. But the more you develop your self-awareness and determine your core values, the more you can be the leader needed for this time. 

What are your core values? When have you tried to please others? When have you based your decision more on the expectations of others rather than your own? 

4. You can identify and affirm your strengths.

Sometimes it is intimidating to take a self-assessment or to be evaluated because you are afraid of what you might find out about yourself. Self-awareness is shown in knowing both your strengths and your shortcomings, owning them for yourself, and living into your strengths and getting help with your weaknesses. 

No one of us is perfect. Even the most successful person you know has a list of shortcomings that they had to overcome to achieve their success. Self-awareness is about identifying your strengths and your weaknesses but finding a way to live into your strengths.

By possessing this self-awareness, you can become a more effective leader. You find strategies and support for your weaknesses, while simultaneously letting your strengths flourish.

What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? How can you redesign your life or environment to emphasize your strengths?

5. You can celebrate what brings you joy.

With a healthy self-awareness, you can identify what brings you joy and make joy a priority in your life. Too often, you know what makes you happy, but you push it off because there are too many important things to do. 

The discipline to commit to what brings you joy is not always easy. So, possessing the self-awareness to realize what gives you joy is important. Give yourself the opportunity to live into and celebrate what brings you joy. 

What gives you joy? How often do you celebrate the joy in your everyday life? What do you put above your joy, and why?

6. You know what you need in your relationships.

It sounds simple, but it is actually complicated. Relationships are too important not to take into account regarding self-awareness. Too often we limit the potential for healthy and empowering relationships because we have either limited our understanding of relationships or we are afraid of vulnerability. When you don’t have a clear understanding of what you need, you end up in frustrating and unfulfilling situations. Healthy self-awareness helps you identify who you need to be for the people around you.  

Imagine if you knew exactly what you wanted from a friend, a colleague, a partner, or family member. If you know what you want or need, then you know how to communicate when you are struggling, lost, or sad in these relationships. 

What do you value most in a friendship? How often are you able to express what you need from the people in your life?

Your Turn

So, how well do you know yourself? Becoming self-aware is not as easy as flipping a switch or attending a seminar. It takes time, attention, reflection, and practice. But the more you pause and think about what you feel, want, and need, the more you will experience the life-changing benefits of self-awareness. 

Becoming self-aware is critical to your own leadership growth. Don’t let your lack of self-knowledge stagnate your influence. Know yourself.

Take Action

Take 5 minutes at the end of the day to reflect upon the situations and circumstances of the day. Reflect upon one or two of the following (no particular order):

  • The meetings you attended
  • The people with whom you had interaction
  • What emotions did you experience? 
  • Was anything said or done that triggered a negative response from you?
  • When did you have to stand on your values or beliefs? Did you give in?
  • When were you aware of your strengths or weaknesses? How did you respond? 
  • When did you experience joy?
  • How did you cultivate relationships today? 
  • Who do you need to contact to express appreciation for helping you become more who you created to be?
  • Who do you need to contact to ask forgiveness for your lack of self-awareness?

Remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 
Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about self-awareness. This week we have a conversation with Rae Lynn Schleif. She shares stories that will inspire and challenge your life and leadership. Check out Episode 169 – Self-Awareness in Different Seasons of Life and Ministry. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together

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