Perhaps the most important tool for effective leadership in today’s business organizations is self-awareness. Leaders don’t necessarily have the advantages many other people have when assessing the effectiveness of their tools at work. A tennis player knows their tools. They have a body and a racket, and if they win the match, they know their tools are working well. If their tools aren’t working properly, they have a few finite areas in which they can tinker and adjust in order to find success.

Self-awareness is a different, more nuanced kind of tool. It’s not so much you either have it or you don’t, but if you don’t have it, you likely have no idea why or how to get it. When you do have it, however, you’re in a much better position for managing yourself and others, and being able to act on insights with agility. So what exactly is self-awareness and how does it look in practice?

For me, in terms of leadership, self-awareness is characterized by the ability to analyze and understand one’s own thoughts and actions as well as being able to understand and manage their impact on those in their organization. Business schools and corporate mentorship programs fail to focus on softer skills. But an “awareness” of yourself and the people around you can help you leverage previously untapped qualities in your team.

So how to be self-aware? It starts with yourself. You need to be sure that your attitude is one that looks inward for answers first. If something frustrates you, you identify the reason why and quickly let it pass from your mind. If someone makes a mistake, you look at the totality of circumstances surrounding the event rather than lash out with complete blame. You need to be clear on your priorities and values. People won’t want to follow someone who doesn’t seem to have their own foundation clearly established.

Leaders who often find themselves failing to understand the actions, motivations, or attitudes of their employees are woefully not self-aware, and most of the time, not very effective leaders. In fact, research shows that people don’t always have accurate perceptions of their own performance. We need self-aware leaders who can accurately gauge morale, and offer sensitive, individualized direction and feedback.

Self-awareness is one of those intangible qualities that really makes a difference. People can feel that someone with highly attuned self-awareness is well placed to lead. Practice increased self-awareness in your thinking and take note of how others respond. It’s likely your ship will sail truer than ever before, and with less resistance from the crew.

photo credit: The River via photopin (license)