Does Self-Awareness Matter in Leadership?

In Emotional Intelligence research, there are 4 domains which make up EI: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.  But they are not created equal.  Studies show that without a high level of self-awareness, the other domains become difficult to master.So, self-awareness is foundational to emotional intelligence and success as a leader. And as leaders move into more responsible roles, the need for self-awareness becomes more critical than ever to the success of their teams and the organization at large.

What Is This Self-Awareness Thing?

In our previous article, we defined self-awareness as recognizing and understanding how your own emotions affect your interactions with others, and the resulting impact on others’ emotional states.

But what does having self-awareness mean?  What does the absence of it look like? And why does it matter? Someone with high self-awareness understands their own emotions and its impact on their performance. You know what you are feeling and why—and how it helps or hurts your plans. You sense how others see you and your self-image reflects this. You have an accurate sense of your strengths and limitations. It also gives you clarity on your values and sense of purpose, so you can be more decisive when you set a course of action.

In contrast, take a manager with little self-awareness who may describe himself as clear and assertive in making sure subordinates know what needs to be done and when. But ask the subordinates, and they’ll tell you a different story.  What the manager considers “assertive,” his staff will tell you is angry yelling and bullying.   The impact this tends to have is low engagement, which has negative implications across an organization.

How Can I Increase My Self-Awareness? 

When emotions are activated, they are accompanied by physical changes. There may be changes in breathing rate, in muscle tension, or heart rate. Self-awareness in part is the awareness of one’s own body.  Tuning in more to the body’s signals is one practical way of developing self-awareness.  Among the many methods for enhancing self-awareness, I often recommend these as a place to start:

  • “Check in” with yourself. Set aside time during your day to assess your emotional state. Ask yourself a series of questions and answer them honestly. You might ask: What am I feeling? What is the source? How are these feelings manifesting themselves in my body? Am I experiencing tenseness in my shoulders, clenched teeth, feeling worn down, anxiety, fear or euphoria?


  • Label your emotions. Once you determine what and how you feel, if you learn to label these emotions, it can help you identify the source or “trigger” of negative feelings. Some common examples of labels for emotions include anger, fear, surprise and passion. I suggest writing down the labels for your emotions, along with your thoughts on what you think triggered a particular emotion. Once you can identify the source of a feeling and see it on paper, it becomes clearer what you need to do to improve your response to a trigger.


  • Be in the moment. “Listen” to what your emotions and feelings might be telling you at any given moment. You can learn to use the information you “hear” from within to gain added insight and guidance in working through an issue or problem.


  • Hire a professional coach. Working with someone who is experienced in facilitating positive change can unlock much more than your self-awareness potential.  A Coach can help you move from “stuck” to unleashing the potential within you.


While it is easy to focus on competencies that seem like they’ll give us quicker results, such as influence or conflict management, without self-awareness we can only scratch the surface of our full potential. This is the skill that requires the most patience and honesty, and provides the best foundation for further developing emotional and social intelligence in both work and life.



Accelerated Talent Group is a Leadership Development and Executive Coaching firm dedicated to developing the leaders of today and tomorrow.  We specialize in developing and coaching women and emerging millennial leaders.

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