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Updated: Feb 9

Imagine you’ve just returned to the office from a client meeting. You’ve been negotiating a tough deal, and by the end, you’re convinced your assertiveness is what helped you close it. It’s important to you that this project succeeds because you know upper management has its eye on the outcome, and you wish to have more visibility in the company. You’re proud of getting the deal done, putting in extra time and a lot of personal energy. The only challenge you still face is you’ll need to convince a few stakeholders within the company to buy in and work together on this new project you’ve just sold to the customer.

But, as weeks go by, you’re facing more and more difficulties. Even though you’ve created a very convincing business case for the new product, none of your colleagues seems interested in contributing their time and energy. They don’t appreciate what you consider assertive and clear in your communication, instead finding it aggressive. No one tells you, but they have started to get disengaged, some of them even actively working against your project.

That’s why self-awareness is important. Without knowing the impact we have on others, we may walk into walls without knowing what their bricks are made of.

Self-awareness is the first component of emotional intelligence and has become the big keyword in leadership development. Some researchers call it the most important skill above all. John C. Maxwell asserts lack of self-awareness is the single greatest obstacle leaders face in their development, effectiveness, and advancement:

Good leaders who are self-aware don’t just help themselves. They help the people on their team to find their strengths, and they empower them to work in those strengths.(1)

But what can we do to become self-aware? Here are eight things to get you started.

1. Ask for feedback

Do you actively seek feedback? Reach out to people to understand their perspective? The more we ask for feedback, the more people feel comfortable giving it, and the more we learn about ourselves. And by asking for feedback, we make ourselves vulnerable—an important starting point for building interpersonal relationships. A recommendation in asking is to be precise with your questions. So rather than asking, “How did I do?,” you may want to ask a question like, “I am working on listening more in meetings, could you let me know how much of it you are able to observe in the upcoming ones?”

2. Keep an open mind

Are you open to hearing the feedback, even if it’s difficult? To learn and grow from it? Keeping an open mind requires humility and vulnerability. Researcher Tasha Eurich talks about “making the decision that I want to know the truth”(2) when receiving feedback. It’s not always easy to hear how others perceive us. But as long as we keep ourselves in that open mindset, we make sure to evolve and grow continuously—as leaders and as human beings. Keeping an open mind also means recognizing moments when we fall into the trap of ignoring others’ perspectives, telling ourselves things like, “that’s not true.” Note these moments, and ask yourself: Even if it’s a very small percentage, what about their perception may be true?

3. Know your emotional triggers

Knowing what’s preventing you from making good decisions and communicating effectively is crucial. When we’re triggered by another person’s behavior or communication, we aren’t at our best. By knowing what these triggering moments—our “hot buttons”—are, we can prepare for the amygdala hijack they activate. Being aware of emotional trigger moments is a first step in taking back control. An emotional trigger can be anything, from a certain behavior, “that one person who always puts you off,” or some of your core values. Take a moment to write down what it is that triggers you most easily and observe yourself over the next few weeks if you aren’t sure.

4. Make time for conscious reflection

To become more self-aware, we need to stop and think, which is not always easy in our busy lives. Whether you block fifteen minutes in the morning just for you or schedule a regular meeting with yourself in your calendar, making a conscious effort to reflect will have a huge impact on your level of self-awareness. I like to walk for thinking. You may want to choose your commute time for self-reflection, turning off that radio. Or just sit by yourself in nature. Find out whatever works best for you.

5. Journal

Writing has a tremendous impact on the way we process our experiences. I like to keep a journal of general things that inspire me. I’ve also created an overview of people who inspire me, and I write down what exactly they do that I find inspiring. In this way, I draw attention the kind of behavior I want others see from me. You can also just write openly and without intention. Freewriting is actually a great way to get conscious of the things on your mind but may be less accessible in today’s busy world.

6. Find a trusted friend, mentor, or coach for self-reflection

Whoever you reach out to for self-reflection, make a commitment to speak to them regularly. This can be a learning partner you met in a leadership workshop, you partner, a friend, mentor, or coach. Having a trusted someone to share our thoughts with can be a great way to boost self-awareness.

7. Join a leadership circle

Sometimes these learning groups officially exist in your company without you being aware of them. Why not reach out to HR and see what networking and learning opportunities exist? Or you can join a leadership circle outside of your organization. Even look at your group of friends, family, and colleagues to see who you’d like to be on your personal “board of directors.” Leadership circles and other networking opportunities can give you the chance to gain insight from people in diverse areas of expertise, experience, and employment to help you and others grow. There is mutual benefit for everyone who participates fully and honestly, which can only help increase your self-awareness.

8. Take a self-awareness assessment

We need to be careful when using psychometric tools that suggest to “measure who we are.” That’s the risk of any psychometric tool: putting people into boxes and labeling them. With that in mind, when introduced properly, and based in evidence, I have seen great value in using psychometric tools to create self-awareness. I like to think of them as “a data point to make you think.” Sometimes, it’s exactly the sentence you disagree with that creates your biggest insight. With any tool you use, I recommend working through it with a certified practitioner/coach. I’m personally certified in several psychometric tools and am happy to share advantages/disadvantages if ever you are interested.

So, these are the starting points I recommend. Choose the practices that resonate for

you and enjoy your self-awareness journey!


Recommended Readings

- Tasha Eurich, Insight: Why We're Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life

- Eurich, “What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It),”

- Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

- Harvard Business Review, Self-Awareness (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series)

- John C. Maxwell, The Self-Aware Leader: Play to Your Strengths, Unleash Your Team

- Paul J. Silvia and Maureen E. O’Brien, “Self-Awareness and Constructive Functioning: Revisiting ‘the Human Dilemma,"

Some Background Information

Associations Now, “How to Create Your Personal Board of Directors,”, January/February 2016,

Nicole Celestine, “How to Begin Your Self-Discovery Journey: 16 Best Questions,”, November 13, 2021,

Sean Peek, “Want to Be a Good Leader? Step 1: Know Thyself,”, February 21, 2023,

Joseph Pistrui, “To Seize the Future, Create a Leadership Circle,” Harvard Business Review, June 23, 2016,


1 John C. Maxwell, The Self-Aware Leader: Play to Your Strengths, Unleash Your Team (Nashville: HarperCollins Leadership, 2021).

2 Tasha Eurich, Insight: Why We're Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life (New York: Crown Business, 2017).

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