Your boss walks in at 9am and wants an informal catch up with you straight away. You’re knee-deep in work having sat down at your desk nearly two hours earlier, so you try to wrap things up quickly before heading into the meeting. A few seconds later, though, your manager asks you to hurry up – and doesn’t seem to realise why you’re irritable.
It’s no secret that being self-aware is key to being a good manager. Being self-aware is about knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are, and having the ability to take an observer’s perspective of your own actions, thoughts and emotions. But it’s also about recognising how they also affect other people too.
There are multiple reasons why self-awareness is a critical skill bosses should have. Research suggests that when we understand ourselves better, we make better decisions, build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively. Studies show managers are more-effective leaders with happier employees too.
“Being self aware is a hugely positive skill to master and can be a great way to differentiate yourself. Self awareness is having a deep understanding of your drawbacks and opportunities, but also your strengths and unique selling point,” says career coach Emily Button-Lynham, founder and director of Emily Button Creative.
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“Self-awareness builds trust for both the leader and their team and also brings a human side,” she explains. “Vulnerability is a skill that is being seen more and more in organisations. Self-awareness for leaders helps them to build better teams and instills a more honest and open team environment – this allows better team cohesion and a successful team dynamic which drives results.”
Emma Louise O'Brien, a career coach from Renovo, adds that being self-aware is like knowing your own personal brand. “It’s an awareness of how you’re perceived, your values, your emotions, how you control your emotions, your habits, strengths and weaknesses,” she says.
“When managers have an awareness of their strengths and weaknesses, their personal brand, what they need to develop in themselves, what aspects of a project plays to their strengths – and knowing their team’s individual strengths and weaknesses, it creates an effective outcome.”
Despite this, self-awareness isn’t common in the workplace. According to research by the Harvard Business Review, 95% of people think they’re self-aware, but only 10 to 15% actually are. But is being self-aware something that comes naturally – or a skill you can develop?
First, it’s important to recognise if you are lacking self-awareness. There are several telltale signs, for example, if you have a tendency to micromanage and fail to understand how this can negatively impact worker morale. Avoiding responsibility for issues at work and avoiding accountability may also be a sign too.
There are things you can do to be more self-aware, however. “Regularly gather feedback from others in the workplace,” Button-Lynham says. “Feedback from a 360 degree perspective – from leaders, colleagues and people below you – is useful to determine how others see you and how you come across.”
Responding to feedback in a positive way is also key, as long as it’s from a fair and trusted source. “Seeing feedback as a tool for improvement is key to ensure you are growing as an individual and will help to create open working relationships with colleagues,” she adds.
On top of gaining feedback, O'Brien adds, it's good to do your own self-evaluation. “Think about your career to date, what’s worked well, how you've performed in certain situations, how you would choose to do things differently if in the same situation again,” she says.
Think about what you are good at, as well as your weaknesses – for example, if you struggle to be decisive. Consider how this might impact other people around you and how you can work on it.
“It helps to remember that everyone has self-awareness, but people do have the ability at different levels,” O'Brien says. “Being self aware all the time, especially as a leader, will help people want to work with you.”