Six Ways to Be a More Self-aware Leader - Women & Leadership New Zealand

Six Ways to Be a More Self-aware Leader

How can leaders build self-awareness to increase their impact? Author, podcaster and leadership expert Mel Kettle shares her insights and tips.
Mel Kettle
4 min read

This blog is part of our Expert Commentary series, bringing you insights into some of the unspoken challenges people face in the workplace, from experts with lived experience. The series explores a range of topics and perspectives to highlight the ways inclusive and compassionate leadership practices can benefit everyone.

Self-awareness can be the difference between being a great leader or a nightmare to work with. We all know what it’s like to work with someone who isn’t self-aware. These are the people who make excuses for their poor behaviour, don’t listen or accept feedback, and blame others for their mistakes.

Most of us think we have a high level of self-awareness, but the sad reality is that most of us do not.

Becoming more self-aware takes you from being present to having presence. It means having a greater understanding of who you are – your feelings and emotions, attitudes and behaviour, your values, strengths and weaknesses.

In her book Insight, organisational psychologist Tasha Eurich says, ‘When we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. We’re less likely to lie, cheat, and steal. We are better workers who get more promotions. And we’re more- effective leaders with more-satisfied employees and more- profitable companies.’

Leaders need self-awareness to be effective, as it means you can separate your self-worth from what you do. Having a solid understanding of our attitudes, behaviours, feelings, values, strengths, and weaknesses means we can see ourselves more clearly. It makes us less likely to fall into the dangerous trap of hubris – also known as believing your own PR. That happens when you start believing everything said about you in introductions and interviews or thinking that you know more than others around the table. A leader with a strong sense of self knows and understands that their position is merely a role they play at a given moment. Who they are, however, should remain consistent over time.

As a leader, self-awareness is critical if we want to make better decisions, communicate with conviction, manage conflict more effectively and improve our performance and that of the people we lead. Research suggests that self-awareness is a main indicator of leadership success, and the higher level of self-awareness, the higher level of leadership success. Increasing our self-awareness and the capacity for inner self-management should be a foundational part of our personal and professional development.

Leaders who are not self-aware can experience several negative consequences, including:

  • Poor judgement skills and poor decision-making, which can negatively impact the business as they are not aware of their biases, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Coming across as insensitive, dismissive, or defensive, leading to misunderstandings and breakdowns in communication.
  • An inability to manage conflicts, because they are not aware of their own triggers and biases. They may react emotionally and escalate conflicts, resulting in strained relationships and negative outcomes.
  • Difficulty building and maintaining positive relationships with their team, clients, or stakeholders, due to perceptions of arrogance or insensitivity, which leads to a lack of trust and respect.
  • Resistance to change as they are not aware of their own limitations and are unwilling to seek feedback or learn new skills. This resistance can negatively impact the business’s ability to adapt and innovate.
Increasing our level of self-awareness isn’t easy – it can involve the type of deep personal honesty that comes from asking and answering hard questions about ourselves.So how do we become more self-aware? There is no quick fix, but these six steps may help:


  1. Create space and time for self-reflection, so you can slow down, shift your mindset, process and challenge your thoughts and feelings, and become more positive. Take time to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Journaling, mindfulness practices, and seeking feedback from trusted colleagues or mentors can help you gain insights into your patterns and tendencies.
  2. Be actively curious. Curiosity leads to change. It increases our awareness of what is influencing our attitudes, behaviour, and feelings, so we can find different ways to take action. Behavioural scientist Francesca Gino suggests that when our curiosity is triggered, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and develop more creative solutions. We have improved decision-making because we are less susceptible to stereotypes and confirmation bias.
  3. Use personality assessments, emotional intelligence assessments, and other tools to gain insight into your leadership style, communication style, and decision-making tendencies.
  4. Practice active listening. Great leaders lead by listening first and asking later. They also listen without judgement. Listening is a skill we all think we have, but most of us are just waiting for our turn to talk. Develop the habit of active listening by paying attention to others’ perspectives and feelings, asking open-ended questions, and seeking to understand before being understood.
  5. Foster a culture of communication by creating a safe and supportive environment for open and honest communication. Encourage your team and colleagues to have regular feedback conversations. Ask for feedback from others about your leadership style, strengths, and areas for improvement, and use this information to improve your leadership skills.
  6. Work with a coach or mentor who can provide objective feedback, support, and guidance in your leadership development journey.

There are many ways to assess and develop your level of self-awareness. Which will you use?

About Mel Kettle

Mel Kettle is an internationally recognised expert in fully connected leadership and communication. With more than two decades of experience, Mel is a valuable asset to leaders and teams that want to achieve real connection and sustained engagement. She is the host of the podcast This Connected Life and the author of two books, best-selling Fully Connected and The Social Association. Visit