Self-Awareness: The Foundation of Great Leadership


“Opportunities for leadership are all around us.

The capacity for leadership is deep within us.”

~Madeline Albright

The foundation of great leadership is awareness – whether you are leading a multi-national corporation or managing a team or leading work as an individual contributor: awareness of what’s going on inside you, with those around you, and in your environment. It all starts, though, with self-awareness.

So many people are moving so fast, trying to make a difference, whether for their families, their friends, their teams, or their clients. At our hectic pace, we often don’t see what’s really needed of us, we may not appreciate the impact we have, and we may not be aware of the unique ways we shape the world. We tend to run on autopilot. That pilot is fueled by habits and patterns and runs us in ways that lead to reacting instead of responding. That pilot takes away our power to transform and make the biggest difference.

“Every human has four endowments –

self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination.

These give us the ultimate freedom…

the power to choose, to respond, to change.”

~Steven Covey

Leadership is defined in myriad ways, and there are many critical and awesome qualities that contribute to great leadership. For example, today’s leadership calls for us to sense what’s happening in the moment and respond with clarity, to open to new ways of engaging and be courageous in taking bold action that disrupts the status quo, and to co-create the future with others, amplifying the positive and boosting the greatness in each other. The key to developing such qualities, and indeed whatever is needed of us, is knowing who we are and how we create value as individuals.

Gaining self-awareness requires that we explore that part of us that is rooted deep inside. That part of ourselves that can be so elusive and challenging to know. To understand ourselves at our core takes being vulnerable, and being willing to explore with curiosity, openness and acceptance. Knowing ourselves in a way that grounds us takes trust, and faith that we are special and here for a reason.

Under the armor that we often wear when we step into the workplace, there is a softness that our hearts keep alive. Some believe that exposing this is not professional or might keep us from taking tough action that can be required to accomplish great things. Failing to open to this aspect of ourselves holds us back from being awesome and delivering amazing results. It’s not about hard or soft, actually. It’s about blending both. It’s about bringing compassion to the office so that we build solid relationships that support collaboration. It’s about inviting openness and diverse perspectives so that unexpectedly delicious opportunities come alive before us.

The answer to the question of ‘who am I?” doesn’t show up and ‘stick’. It’s a continuous journey of discovery to have clarity about our inner strength, what it’s made of, why it’s important, where it comes from, and how it manifests itself. As we try new things that challenge and stretch us, we grow and are somehow never the quite the same for our experience.

“Awareness is like the sun.

when it shines on things,

they are transformed.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

To be a great leader involves ongoing check-ins and staying tuned-in with what’s going on right here, right now. Developing as a leader happens when we commit to knowing ourselves every day. Attending a class or completing a program can guide us along the path and provide us with markers for getting where we want to go. However, becoming a great leader is something we create for ourselves. As we cultivate from the inside our mindsets and attitudes, we set the foundation for powerful behavior and critical action.

Below are some questions designed to look inside and create greater self-awareness. They are broad because it is there that possibility opens. If you opt to build reflection time into your schedule, you might find it helpful to write your answers. You may be surprised by what moves from inside of you through your hand and onto the page. And, there will be the insight that propels you forward.

  • What matters to you?
  • How do you want to feel?
  • What do you value?
  • What do you enjoy?
  • What inspires, energizes, motivates you?
  • What do you dream of?
  • How do you make a difference?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • What comes naturally to you?
  • What challenges you?
  • What words would others use to describe you?
  • If you could do anything, what would you do?

I offer the poem below as a way to warm you up for a period of reflection.




Our Beautiful Selves.JPG

You might be also interested in this related post: Inviting Softness

* I took the photograph of a clematis growing in my backyard.

Author: Vicki L Flaherty

I am most alive when I am creating, whether through writing, photography, gardening, cooking, crafting, sewing, yoga. I enjoy traveling because it opens me to greater awareness and new possibilities. I find a special joy when I’ve helped someone see their brilliance and express their full potential. As I've focused on living more mindfully, I've found special joy in expressing myself through poetry and photography, and in truly being in relationship with those I meet along my journey.

7 thoughts on “Self-Awareness: The Foundation of Great Leadership”

  1. We live in a world that values execution over all else. Remembering the importance of the internal journey to fuel the external…. good lesson for me, as I am often execution focused.

  2. Execution is indeed critical – that’s where we add value and make an impact. What’s challenging to grasp sometimes is how powerful it is to power the drive to get it done from internal fuel. Thanks for always coming by, Maureen!

  3. Hi Vicki,
    “It’s a continuous journey of discovery to have clarity about our inner strength, what it’s made of, why it’s important ,, ”
    The above comment certainly gelled with me .. thx once again .. gb

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