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Want to Be a Good Leader? Step 1: Know Thyself

Sean Peek
Sean Peek
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Updated Jun 29, 2022

The ability to monitor yourself is one of the most important traits you can have as a leader. Here's how to improve your self-awareness.


  • Self-awareness is the ability to monitor your own emotions and reactions.
  • Studies show that people who have great self-awareness are better leaders because of it.
  • There are many ways to improve self-awareness, like setting boundaries and practicing self-discipline.
  • This article is for leaders who want to improve their self-awareness.

What is the most important characteristic of a leader? Some might say it’s integrity. Others might say it’s being a good motivator. But psychologist and author Sherrie Campbell, author of Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person, believes self-awareness is the key factor in leadership success.

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness is the ability to monitor your own emotions and reactions. It allows you to know your strengths, weaknesses, triggers, motivators and other characteristics. Being self-aware means that you take a deeper look at your emotions, why you feel a certain way, and how your sentiments could turn into reactions.

TipTip: Learning how to identify emotions as they happen increases your self-awareness.

Practicing self-awareness allows you to better react to situations or people who might set you off, which is a healthy skill to cultivate – especially as a leader. When you’re aware of your emotions and how you handle them, you’re better equipped to process and work through them, avoiding unnecessary conflict. This will also help you set a good example for your team and make them more comfortable approaching you with questions or concerns. Even if you’re not where you want to be as a leader, developing self-awareness and acknowledging areas you need to work on is the first step.

How important is self-awareness in leadership and business?

Without self-awareness, leaders can appear arrogant. If you cannot be personable, or know when you are crossing a line, how can you lead a company?

The need for self-awareness extends to other business situations, too. Think about how crucial self-awareness is in giving sales pitches or handling feedback, for instance; if you are not aware of how you will react or do not have a way to prevent a negative reaction, you could get yourself in trouble.

Did you know?Did you know? Coping mechanisms developed in childhood can prevent you from achieving goals. By becoming aware of these automatic reactions, you can opt out of using them when they provide no benefit.

Self-awareness is also helpful for presentations. Many people get nervous when delivering pitches, speeches or even notes at a meeting. Self-awareness can help. If you use too many filler words during presentations, for example, practice your presentation and have someone clap every time you use a word you want to avoid. If you tend to sway or pace around while presenting, limit your ability to move by sitting down at the table with your client or by using a podium.

What are self-awareness skills?

In addition to being aware of your own emotions, self-awareness involves knowing how you will react to others. 

“Self-awareness keeps us grounded, attuned and focused,” said Campbell in her book. “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.”

These are some important self-awareness skills:

  • Empathy: When you fine-tune your self-awareness abilities, you will become more empathetic thanks to heightened emotional intelligence.
  • Adaptability: If you know how you will react, you could avoid a tough situation by taking a walk or just engaging in a few deep breaths.
  • Confidence: By accepting and even embracing your flaws, needs and strengths, you will increase your ability to be vulnerable, which allows for stronger relationships in the workplace. Maintaining confidence is key to success.
  • Mindfulness: When you’re self-aware, you become more mindful of the present moment, allowing yourself to take situations as they happen rather than dwelling on the past or projecting into the future.
  • Patience: While your immediate reaction might be to scold an employee for a mistake or let your frustrations out on your team, self-awareness will help you practice patience, even in the face of conflict.
  • Kindness: This is achievable when you put aside your own feelings to support another person. Even if you’re having a bad day, being self-aware and realizing your workers are also human beings with similar struggles can help you be more sympathetic.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway: Self-awareness rarely happens immediately. It takes time, commitment and practice.

Tips for becoming more self-aware

Learning to be aware of yourself isn’t always easy, but it can help you become a more effective leader. Here are 10 tips for improving self-awareness.

  1. Keep an open mind. When you are able to regulate your own emotional world, you can be more attuned to others’ emotions. To be a successful leader, you need to be curious about new people and all they have to offer. This shows that you can be a team player and don’t need to be Number One all the time. The more open you are to others, the more creative an entrepreneur you will become.

  2. Be mindful of your strengths and weaknesses. Self-aware individuals know their strengths and weaknesses and can work from that space. Being mindful of this means that you know when to reach out for assistance and when you can handle a situation on your own.

  3. Stay focused. An important part of being a leader is making connections, but you can’t do that if you’re distracted. Train yourself to focus for long periods of time without getting sucked into social media, emails or other small distractions to improve your productivity.

  4. Set boundaries. A leader needs to put strong limits in place. Be warm toward others, but say no when it’s needed. Be serious about your work and your passions, and keep your boundaries firm to maintain the integrity of your goals and the work you put into them.

  5. Know your emotional triggers. Self-aware individuals can identify their emotions as they are happening. Don’t repress your emotions or deny their causes; instead, bend and flex with them, and fully process them before communicating with others.

  6. Embrace your intuition. Successful people learn to trust their instincts in decision-making and take the risks associated with those choices. Your instincts are based on the survival of the fittest and the need to succeed. They will tell you what to do next, so learn to trust your intuition.

  7. Practice self-discipline. Good leaders tend to be disciplined in every area of their lives. This trait provides them with the enduring focus necessary for strong leadership.

  8. Consider how your actions affect others. We often act without thinking first, focusing only on our own needs. While self-awareness requires acknowledging your emotions, you also need to identify how you handle those feelings and how any subsequent actions impact those around you. Being more considerate of others will help you navigate difficult situations.

  9. Apologize when necessary. Mistakes happen, but being self-aware will help you recognize when your slip-ups require apologies. Maybe you lashed out at your staff, or perhaps you’ve been difficult to reach lately. Whatever your mistake was, saying you’re sorry (and meaning it) and then changing your behavior is the best way to move forward.

  10. Ask for feedback. While the concept of being self-aware is to understand yourself without input from others, it takes courage (and self-awareness) to ask for honest employee feedback. Doing this acknowledges your natural biases toward yourself (which we all have), and helps you gain a more objective view.

Nicole Fallon contributed to the writing and research in this article.

Image Credit:

fizkes / Getty Images

Sean Peek
Sean Peek
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Sean Peek has written more than 100 B2B-focused articles on various subjects including business technology, marketing and business finance. In addition to researching trends, reviewing products and writing articles that help small business owners, Sean runs a content marketing agency that creates high-quality editorial content for both B2B and B2C businesses.