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  • Writer's pictureJerry Olson

The Elusive Self-Aware Leader


The very thing that makes visionary leaders a success can sometimes be the thing that is holding them back. A visionary has big ideas, often eager to forge ahead with nothing other than a half-baked plan and raw determination. And that totally works as a solopreneur. But as the company grows, our fearless visionary needs the skills and talents of a variety of people, because they simply cannot do it all by themselves anymore.

A successful leader sometimes feels that “I’m in a position where I need to have the answers” and will try to get results by forging ahead as they have always done, expecting the rest of the organization to follow their lead.


So, this can-do visionary owner decides to set sales expectations and lays out the plan for the sales team. And numbers fall short, month after month. The owner doubles down on their approach, repeating the same message louder and slower, which still fails to engage people or achieve common goals. Salespeople are let go when they don’t meet numbers. This cycle is repeated over and over because the leader isn’t self-aware enough to adjust their style and tactics to build accountability, rather than demanding it.

In our years of supporting client teams, we have learned that the key to scaling and growth starts with the ability to achieve results through others, using all the tools at your disposal to craft the right message to engage and utilize your team and their unique abilities. This process starts with becoming self-aware.


But just what is self-awareness? How can you attain it? And how does becoming more self-aware help you manage a team better?


“Leader, know thyself!”

Self-awareness begins with the understanding that everyone does not think, behave, and relate to others the same way as you do. If you are a self-aware leader, you know how you process information, how you engage with others, and how best to communicate with others different from you.

This is a rare skill, as many of us spiral into emotion-driven interpretations of our circumstances. According to the book Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More Than We Think by Tasha Eurich, she says that 95% of the people she surveyed thought they were self-aware. Unfortunately, the percentage of those who are truly self-aware is closer to 15%.


The good news... while this isn’t easy to teach yourself, self-awareness is a learned skill with a deliberate approach. Self-awareness is not self-contained; it requires understanding ourselves in contrast to others. As a leader, you will become much more successful in your role once you recognize the different ways people think and communicate, and how best to approach situations to get the desired results. There are two ways to help you make strides with this critical undertaking.

Assessment Tools

DiSC, Kolbe, Clifton Strengths, Working Genius, and many others, are powerful assessment tools designed to help you understand how you think, what your motivations are, and where your skills are the strongest. Awareness and reflection on who you are as a person will help you in all your interactions, at work and in your personal life. They reveal how you can adapt from the words you choose, to how you approach others, to the timing of what you communicate to reach others who think differently from you. 

Feedback From Others

Observations, feedback, and advice from others, whether from a peer, mentor or trusted advisor outside your organization or a trusted colleague within, is invaluable for sharpening your self-awareness. For healthy teams that have built trust with one another, this feedback can come from exercises designed to respectfully address the blind spots we all have in our interactions with others.


Understand, Practice, Repeat.

Once you know who you are, use these same tools to build a deeper understanding and connection with your leadership team or even throughout your organization.


We recently completed a Working Genius exercise with one of our client teams. This simple and easy-to-use assessment, from Pat Lencioni and the Table Group, is designed to discover and utilize your natural “work” talents and acknowledge your weaknesses for the good of the entire team. Upon presenting the results, one of the team members had an "aha" moment as he walked through the six defined talents and could visually see exactly how the team worked together to be successful. There is enormous value in knowing what each person brings to the group and where you might lack as an organization. We call this an organizational landscape and use it to identify those gaps or hire and promote people with the talents and skills to complement our own.

Changing your focus

When you shift your perspective from making the big plans happen on your own, to navigating how others best learn, communicate and achieve to help you execute those plans, you will drive true engagement.

While there will certainly be times you’ll be called on, as an owner or leader, to make a tough decision or a gut call, this is also an opportunity for you to continue to grow right along with your company. Often this sort of reflection and true celebration of who people are and what they can bring to an organization will transform into servant leadership. This highly engaging style of leadership is a win-win because both the organization and the employee benefit from capitalizing on strengths.

Start with the ask

Wading into uncertain territory can be uncomfortable, and until you develop your skills and knowledge of your team you can start by simply asking questions.


Some questions for your team to reach a goal might be, “What are your expectations for this project? What are your priorities this week?” If there’s alignment, terrific. If there’s a misalignment, clarification is needed.


Some questions to overcome misalignment might be, “What resources do you need? What obstacles do you expect to encounter?”


The third stage of asking questions is reflection on how it’s going. “How well did the results match our expectations? What caused the difference between expectations and reality? Who else might be helpful in this work? What new expectations do we agree on?” Asking your team for this sort of feedback will not only help you get your project done, it will hone your understanding of how your team thinks and communicates.


At each stage, once you have determined the needs, you can look to the skills and talents defined by assessment tools and feedback to determine who is best able to help execute particular aspects of the plan.


Growth is hard, but immensely rewarding. And for our visionary – and all leaders – it could be just the challenge they need next.


Are You Self-Aware?

Or do you just think you are? We can help with a variety of assessments and exercises for your team, and more importantly, help you understand what they mean for your organization. If you would like guidance on becoming a self-aware leader or developing your leadership team in this area, please call us or send us an email to set up a free consultation.


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