Last week I went to an outdoor concert in our neighborhood with my family. It was a great turnout with hundreds of people packed into the courtyard of a local shopping area. We set up our lawn chairs and settled in for a nice evening. About fifteen minutes into the concert a woman came and stood two feet in front of me and began talking to some friends. I couldn’t see anything! She was less than an arm’s length away from me and oblivious to her impact on my sightline, even though she was one of the only ones standing.

Her lack of self-awareness wasn’t a big deal. It was annoying, but I could just ask her to move or deal with not being able to see. But when leaders have a similar lack of self-awareness it harms their organization and their reputation. 

Self-awareness is a non-negotiable for good leadership and a healthy organization.


You make messes without knowing it and someone will have to clean them up. 

The woman standing in front of me at the concert came about three inches from kicking over a drink I had sitting by my chair. In that case, a mess was narrowly averted, but leaders who are not self-aware can’t avoid making messes every time. You’ll inevitably hurt people’s feelings, make inappropriate comments, and sabotage great opportunities. Those messes will keep you from growth and success.

You come off as arrogant and people will be less excited about following you. 

My impression of the woman standing in front of me at the concert was that she was either so involved in her own world that she didn’t see what she was doing or that she knew she was blocking people and just didn’t care. Either way, what it communicated to me was “I am the most important person here.” People want to follow someone who is both confident and humble. Arrogant leaders lose respect over time and a lack of self-awareness communicates arrogance whether it’s true or not.

You contribute to creating negative environments that hold your organization back. 

My reaction to the woman standing in front of me was annoyance and frustration. This wasn’t something I thought about, it was just a reaction. This reaction introduced negativity into an otherwise positive situation. When leaders function with a lack of self awareness they’ll inevitably create negative environments because they raise the levels of annoyance, frustration, and even anger. A positive environment is essential to a healthy business and a lack of self-awareness can torpedo that.


You can own your stuff and that garners respect and buy-in. 

If that woman had turned around and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry that I was standing right in front of you!” the moment would have changed from negative to positive. My impression of her would have changed too. Being aware of your mistakes and shortcomings gives you the chance to respond to them appropriately. And a leader who is willing to own their stuff garners respect and buy-in from their employees, customers, and partners. 

You don’t have to be defensive and can sift out attacks from valid criticism. 

Part of being a great leader is the willingness to keep growing. When you’re not self-aware, any feedback about your work can feel like an attack–coming out of left field. The reality as a leader is that sometimes you will be attacked, but other times the feedback people give you is the pathway to growth. Being self-aware allows you to know the difference. You don’t have to be defensive about valid feedback because you already know your tendencies, and you’re able to dismiss attacks because you know they don’t fit.

You can be intentional about mitigating your weaknesses and maximizing your strengths.

Knowing your true strengths and weaknesses is liberating! For instance, if the woman at the concert knew she had a tendency to zero in on what she was doing and be unaware of what was going on around her, she could implement a practice of taking a breath to look around when she entered a new situation. When you’re aware of your tendencies as a leader you can take meaningful action to mitigate your weaknesses and maximize your strengths.


Before we get to three simple ways you can cultivate greater self-awareness, there’s a caveat. All of these take courage. You need to be able to receive honest feedback about yourself, face it without getting defensive, and not use it against people. If you go looking for self-awareness you have to have the courage to face what you find. But it is worth it! Here are three ways you can pursue self-awareness.

Ask one pointed question a day. 

Once a day ask someone a question about your leadership. “How did I come across in that meeting?” “What’s one way I could be a better leader?” “How would you describe my tone on that call?” There are two keys to making this effective. First, it needs to be a question about you. You’re not looking for feedback on your organization, you’re looking for feedback on you. Second, it should be an open-ended question. These questions don’t have yes or no answers and will give you much better information.

Pay attention to one reaction a day. 

When you’re in a meeting and you realize you’re angry, make a note of it and take a minute after the meeting to think about why. Do this whatever your reaction–excited, happy, frustrated, and beyond. Over time this will help you understand why you react the way you do and that knowledge is a wealth of self-awareness.

Do a leadership evaluation

This one is for the truly brave at heart. A full-fledged leadership evaluation will rely on feedback from the people who know you best and give you a detailed picture of yourself. Core Ventures offers a powerful leadership evaluation that pays big dividends for growth in self-awareness, but it’s not easy.

Growing in self-awareness can be daunting, but if you want to be an effective leader it’s non-negotiable. Otherwise you’ll find yourself constantly blocking people’s sight lines.