"Knowing others is intelligence. Knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power." --Lao Tzu.

So much of our leadership development today resides out "there"--on the internet, in books, podcasts, conferences, Facebook groups, and networking communities. We have no shortage of leadership information.

All of this information is great. However, have you stopped to consider that perhaps the most important catalysts to your greatest leadership potential reside within you, rather than outside of you? 

According to a recent discovery by Harvard, our ability to see ourselves clearly leads to  increased confidence and creativity, better decision making, stronger communication, and healthier relationships.

The most self-aware leaders enjoy more effective leadership, happier and more connected employees, and more profitable companies. 

Harvard researcher, New York Times best-selling author, and organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich conducted a four-year study of 5,000 participants to discover what self-awareness is, why it is important, and how we can develop it. The most striking finding? Even though most people believe they are self-aware, only 10 to 15 percent truly are. 

Two Primary Types of Self-Awareness

There are two primary types of self-awareness:

  • Internal self-awareness
  • External self-awareness

Internal self-awareness "reflects how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths & weaknesses), and impact on others," explains Eurich. Her research found that strong inner self-awareness yields higher job and relationship satisfaction. However, it is also associated with higher anxiety, stress, and depression. 

External self-awareness correlates to a person's ability to understand how others see them. Eurich's research showed that "people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and taking other people's perspectives." Those with high external self-awareness are able to create strong bonds with their employees. 

Surprisingly, Eurich's research found no correlation between the two types. Being strong in one type does not mean you are strong in the other. 

The Four Self-Awareness Archetypes

These two independent types of self-awareness yield four different archetypes:

Introspectors have low external self-awareness but high internal self-awareness. They know who they are but don't seek feedback from others to get insight on their blind spots. Their reluctance to better understand how others perceive them, and how they show up in the world, can limit their success in work and in relationships. 

Seekers have low external self-awareness and low internal self-awareness. They don't understand themselves and they don't understand how others see them. They risk being disconnected from what they need to feel fulfilled, and they struggle to connect with others. 

Pleasers have high external self-awareness and low internal self-awareness. They often suppress their own needs and desires to please others. They are at risk of losing touch with who they are and what matters to them in order to be accepted, which ultimately leads to dissatisfaction. 

Awares have high external self-awareness and high internal self-awareness. They are fully aligned with who they are and seek out the opinions of others regarding how they show up in order to remain in alignment with who they are. They are poised to reap the full benefits of self-awareness, both personally and organizationally. 

Self-Awareness Diminishes With the Rise of Power

The more power you have, the more at risk you are of diminished self-awareness. This occurs because higher level leaders have fewer opportunities to receive regular feedback, unless they consciously seek it out. Further, many people are reluctant to provide candid feedback to leaders because they fear the consequences and believe it is safer to remain quiet.  

In addition, in a study of 3,600 leaders, higher level leaders significantly over-rated their skills of emotional self-awareness, empathy, trustworthiness, and leadership performance.

Raising Your Internal and External Self-Awareness

One of the most effective tools to raise self-awareness is the Johari Window, invented by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham. The four panes of the window are:

  • The Open Window: Information about you that both you and others know
  • The Hidden Window: Information about you that you know but consciously hide from others due to a mistrust of yourself, of others, or fear of the future
  • The Blind Window: Information about you that others know, but you don't know, due to your blind spots
  • The Unknown Window: Information about you that you don't know and that others don't know. 

The more you are willing to share with others, the wider your Open Window becomes, and the smaller your Hidden Window becomes. 

The more open you are to feedback from others, the wider your Open Window becomes, and the smaller your Blind Window becomes. 

The more willing you are to share with others, and the more open you are to feedback from others, the smaller your Unknown Window becomes. 

Self-awareness is the single most important tool for transformative personal and leadership development. The good news is that you can start immediately to build this asset. 

Are you ready? Good luck!