By Susan Sportsman, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN

 We have all had one of “those” days. Your spouse suggests you forgot to pay a bill for which you were responsible just as you are leaving to take the kids to school on your way to work. Your drive included several major traffic jams which made you late for your first meeting of the day.  Your kid left her homework in your car and phoned to ask you to bring it to her school. (Why does she think you can leave work in the middle of the day?)  Now you are in a planning meeting and your team is resistant to a new idea that you believe will improve everyone’s work productivity. As the leader, what is your reaction to the negative input of most of your team?

The impact of this situation—as well as background influences that elicit unrelated negative feelings—is one that leaders face on a regular basis. How can we manage specific experiences in a way that specifically address only the immediate discord, without bringing the multiple unrelated stressors into your decision-making?

Self-Awareness as a part of Courageous Leadership

At Collaborative Momentum Consulting (CMC) we believe strongly that courageous leadership is an important solution to problems that hinder our growth as individuals, groups, organizations and communities today. Through this blog, we will be discussing courageous leadership-the characteristics that make up this type of leadership, the benefits to all of us, and the strategies we can use to expand our skill in courageous leadership into all areas of our lives.

One of the ten characteristics of courageous leadership identified through our research is self-awareness. Duval and Wicklund (1972) initiated the emphasis of this idea by developing the theory of objective self-awareness, suggesting that self-awareness is a major mechanism of self-control. Daniel Goleman, in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, expanded the idea of self-awareness to include the ability to recognize our own emotions, as well as our strengths and limitations. In a Harvard Business Review article, George, (2007) refers to self-awareness as the starting point for leadership. In short, when we are self-aware, we are clear about our positive and negative characteristics, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and motivations. This clarity not only allows us to act with intention, it also enables us to avoid reacting to events with unwarranted emotion.

Goleman (2015) suggests that there are three learned competencies that set the performance of best leaders apart from those who do not exhibit effective leadership. These include:

  • Emotional self- awareness: recognizing our emotions and the impact they have on our life.
  • Accurate self-assessment: identifying our strengths and limitations.
  • Self-confidence: knowing our self-worth and capabilities

Developing these competencies provides us with skills to better understand the behavior of others, including their perceptions of us, particularly their understanding of our responses to them at the moment of the interaction. Becoming self-aware also helps us to identify our own leadership skill sets, as well as the need to develop skills that we do not currently have, leading us to develop a plan to improve our areas of deficits.

Not only is self-awareness important in individual interactions, but when the majority of leaders within an organization behave in a self-aware manner, the company outcomes seem to improve.  Zes (2013) reports on a study by the international human resources firm Korn Ferry which illustrates this point.  Korn Ferry reviewed 6,977 self-assessments, using the ProSpective Assessment developed by the company, from professionals at 486 publicly traded companies to identify the “blind spots” in individuals’ leadership characteristics. The blind spots were identified when the majority of respondents had a disparity between answers in two separate parts of the survey. The frequency of such blind spots was then compared against the rate of return of those companies’ stock, analyzing their stock performance over 30 months from July 2010 through January 2013. The analysis demonstrated that, on average, poor-performing companies’ employees were 79 percent more likely to have low overall self-awareness than those at firms with robust rates of return.  The conclusion was that during the study period, companies with a greater percentage of self-aware employees consistently outperformed companies when the companies’ employees had more blind spots.

Self-awareness does not happen overnight and it is certainly not a one-time activity. Instead, self-aware people evaluate at the quality of the interpersonal relationship continually.  At CMC, we are committed to continue to delve into courageous leadership in general and self-awareness specifically.  Please join us in this journey.


George, B., Sims, P., McClean, A., Mayer, D. (2007) Discovering your authentic leadership.  Harvard Business Review.  85(2) 129-138.

Goleman, D., (2015) Daniel Goleman Blog.  April, 21. Accessed on October, 2018

Goleman D. (1995) Emotional Intelligence:  Why it can matter more than IQ.   New York, New York:   Bantam Dell, Division of Random House Inc.

Duval S., Wicklund, R. (1972) A theory of objective self-awareness.  Oxford, England.

Zes, D. (2013) A better return on self-awareness.  November 18, 2013  Accessed on October, 2018

This article is one in a series on the components of Courageous Leadership. For more information, visit our Courageous Leadership web page.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: