S elf-awareness has become the latest buzzword — and for good reason. Leaders who master this first component of emotional intelligence lead more effectively, enjoy more professional growth and get promoted more readily. Put simply, self-awareness translates into successful leadership.
But don’t take my word for it, numerous research indicates the value of self-awareness as a key leadership quality. In a recent study of the stock performance of almost 500 publicly traded companies, Korn/Ferry International found that companies with strong financial performance tend to have employees with higher levels of self-awareness and links the results to higher profitability, increased levels of satisfaction and trust, and greater loyalty from employees who are less likely to lie, cheat or steal.
If this doesn’t incentivize companies to introduce programs that help employees develop their EQ, then let’s look at the flip side and what a lack of self-awareness can bring about.
Self-awareness, described as the will and skill to understand who you are and how other people see you, has two essential elements that help you form meaningful connections and for them to work well, you need to master them both.
Consider having a clear understanding of yourself but not the faintest clue of how you come across. Certainly, not the best situation, but the converse is equally true: if you put all your focus on how others see you without attempting to make sense of yourself, you won’t be much better off. Without the two working together, there will be a gap and much room for misunderstanding.
Self-awareness is powerful as it allows you to see your natural strengths as well as your shortcomings and how those might impact others around you. Without that understanding, you’re likely to unassumingly play up your strengths and ignore what roadblocks stand in your way to getting better. Self-awareness allows you to understand how to bridge those shortcomings by helping you comprehend how others might see them.
The following tell-tale signs indicate what happens when people lack self-awareness
Oversensitive and protective
When you’re not self-aware, you can get defensive and fail to recognize where you are wrong. You’re not open to feedback and when someone points it out as an opportunity for growth, you’re less likely to acknowledge shortcomings and try to justify them with excuses. Being defensive can lead to laying blame on others and a refusal to accept responsibility or accountability for your actions.
Reaction ≠ Situation
Have you ever felt like an erupting volcano, you react impulsively to a situation in a way completely not warranted? Perhaps you fly off the handle to someone’s remark or experience a raging meltdown to some unexpected news?
If you find that your emotional reaction often doesn’t match the situation, you’re more than likely lacking self-awareness. These extreme emotions may be related to previous trauma and when you are more self-aware, you can correctly interpret your emotions so that you can manage them more effectively. It’s worthwhile to pause and reflect on your action before you impulsively launch into an emotional tirade, so learn to step back and consider when your emotions are too dramatic for the situation and try to understand the underlying cause so you can choose a meted and healthier response.
Lack of empathy
I often tell my clients that knowing themselves well will help them know others. Self-awareness and clarity go hand in hand, helping you better understand how others feel, how they might react to a particular situation, and by allowing you to put yourself in their shoes, you’ll be able to better understand and support them. That’s the power of empathy.
The ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings, to the extent of imagining what the other person is thinking or feeling, and of responding with care, empathy is the sincere action of gaining such a deep awareness of the other and to experience it fully, communicated in an objectively explicit manner.
Not to be confused with sympathy, which is more akin to pity, empathy means you can lean in and recognize another person’s suffering from their point of view.
Erosion of trust
Trust is the foundation of all relationships and the strongest currency to build lasting connections. Others will trust you when you show that you are worthy of trust, possess integrity of character, and are governed by credible behaviour that aligns with your values.
When you lack self-awareness, you are less consistent with your actions, consequently, others see this unpredictability as a relationship breaker. If you don’t know how the person will behave in a particular situation, you are less likely to display your vulnerability or invest your growth and well-being in their ability to make sound decisions.
It’s all about me syndrome
You know the conversation is not going anywhere positive when the person is talking about themselves. It can feel like the room isn’t big enough for you, them, and their ego. When someone can’t modestly embrace their strengths and humbly accept their shortcomings, they can be arrogant, even narcissistic. Such people believe the world revolves around them and have an over-inflated sense of self-worth and contributions. In such a relationship, it’s difficult to develop equity and you feel that you’re always involved in a tug-of-war.
Growing up, I used the expression “I can do whatever I want, I have free will,” quite often, especially when my mother was pointing out something wrong with my behaviour. Over time, I realized that I was exercising my free will to make wrong decisions often, and this became a self-destructive and stubborn habit when I was not willing to receive feedback.
Repeating negative emotional patterns is a clear sign that you lack self-awareness. I talk about self-awareness every day such that it’s become second nature, but I don’t fool myself for one minute that consistently developing it is either easy or natural. Emotions are quite complicated to interpret and control, hard-wired in our brain and related to our past experiences, it’s easier to lose sight of what’s causing them than it is to recognize and proactively control them.
Negative emotional patterns occur differently for different people and while I might fly off the handle when something angers me, you might experience a panic attack or completely shut down, others might become reclusive and some others quite depressed. To break stubborn habits, you must name your emotions and get better at identifying the negative patterns.
The more self-aware you become, the more likely you’ll identify the spiral of a negative emotional pattern and try to change or prevent it.
Bringing it all together
Self-Awareness is a critical component of our desire to get better and live healthier, more rewarding, and more fulfilling lives. Improving your self-awareness can have life-altering impacts that extend beyond feeling frustrated or impotent to change, although these are good enough reasons on their own.
It’s not your fault that you lack self-awareness
Self-awareness is empowering, and because humans crave control, becoming more self-aware allows you to see what you control in your life and what lies outside of your ability to influence or control. With self-awareness, you will learn what you control, what you can impact and change, and what you need to let go of.
You weren’t born with the skills to get better, but you have the tools at your disposal. Get an accountability partner, or work with a coach who can guide you through the process, because self-improvement is an ongoing process, not an event. And like the billions of people who walk upon this earth, you too are wired to fight or take flight, and no amount of self-blame or shame will improve your self-awareness.
Remember that developing self-awareness takes time and effort. You can start simply by getting clarity in your life, and by acknowledging that you can do better — and that you want to be better. That is the first step in the right direction.
Once you start experiencing the power of self-awareness, you can begin to implement it in your daily life. You learn the power of the pause to reflect, identify and name your emotions. And you will start to have a broader perspective on life.
Ask me how I can help
Gaining clarity through self-awareness is a vital process to your well-being and we’re all trying to get better at it, myself included. That’s why I’m looking to learn from you when I share these articles, so if you have ideas to share and topics to suggest for upcoming editions, or simply want to provide feedback on what you’ve read, drop a note in the comments. And if you’d like to learn more about developing your self-awareness to get clear on your goals, let’s have a conversation about how I can help.