Leadership and Self-Awareness

In today’s post I take a look at self-awareness.

Some time ago I heard comments about me that troubled me because they weren’t true. I also heard people say that I thought I was better than others, had a reputation for getting things done, was overly critical, and didn’t toe the line. Some of these things disturbed me deeply. Whether they were true or not did not matter; why people thought these things did. I had to understand why they perceived me in a particular way. And I needed to change their perception.

I believe you make your day. You make your life. So much of it is all perception, and this is the form that I built for myself. I have to accept it and work within those compounds, and it’s up to me. – Brad Pitt

The self-aware leader asks questions and seek feedback from others. And sometimes this means getting our feelings hurt. However, if we do this with the intent of learning we can understand how we are perceived, change those perceptions and become more effective leaders.

Changing Perceptions

How we change a negative impression into a positive one is a matter of personal choice. Therefore, it’s really important to understand your personality type or temperament.

For instance, earlier I mentioned that some people said I thought I was better than others. This troubled me greatly until I learned that I gave this impression because I sometimes appeared aloof or disinterested. In fact, this perception had more to do with the fact that I am introverted—I draw my energy from my internal world of ideas, emotions, and impressions—rather than being self-centred. Knowing this meant I could deal with this negative perceptions in a positive way.

I’ve also learned to counter perceptions by breaking them. Do the opposite thing; even if this means stepping outside your comfort zone. If someone thinks you’re lazy, ask for more responsibilities or go the extra mile when doing something for your critics.

If they think you’re unprofessional understand why they think this way. Maybe you put your foot in your mouth a little too often. If that’s the case, think before you speak.

A stenciled letter B that could be percieved as the number 13.

What do you see? Letter or number?

Comprehension often depends on prior expectations of what we want to see. Most likely you see the letter ‘B’ in the image. That’s because your expectations were set at the top of the page.

When people are told you are lazy and see you chatting by a water cooler they will perceive you as lazy. You need to change the way people view you.

So do something to evoke a different response!

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently. – Warren Buffet

Above all, self-awareness means we make sure there is harmony between what we say and do. Let your deeds match your words and be aware of the effect you have on others.

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Have Your Say

How do you change people’s perception of you? How do you handle negative feedback? Please join the discussion.

Images: Tom Magliery and chrisinplymouth.


  1. says

    Whilst I agree that self awareness is important for a leader and feedback can be useful, I’m not sure that taking on board peoples perceptions is necessarily a good thing. As a leader you need to be careful on what you take on board from others. Part of the role of a leader is to provide a container for other people’s emotions. When people are feeling threatened and vulnerable they will often project these emotions on the leader, which can feel like they are being very critical. A leader needs to be able to determine what is valid feedback and what is an expression of how other people are feeling.

    • says

      Thanks for joining the discussion. I don’t think I’d use the phrase “take on board” since that implies taking to heart what is said about us. That would be dangerous. However, if we seek to understand how we are percieved we need honest feedback from people we trust (see Leadership Thought.) We then decide what action (if any) to take.

      To be an effective leader we have to know what our employees and peers think about us. When we do this we learn that people believe what they percieve regardless of truth. We choose to learn, change behaviour or put right misconception.

      In regard to being a “container for other people’s emotions” I completey disagree. A minister possibly. But not a workplace leader. Surely?

  2. says

    You make a really great case here, so much that it’s hard to find any flaw in it! :-) But, I feel that your idea of perception and expectation is off a bit, so to speak. My question to you is why do you fee the need to change peoples perceptions of you? I understand and agree with asking for feedback from people you “trust”, but going to the extent of changing how people perceive seems counterproductive. I say this because regardless of how much you try to change a certain perception of you, inevitably people are free to choose how they see you. Plus, your effectiveness as a leader should never be contingent on other’s “opinion” of you, so long as you become aware of how you come off and know that you come from a place of humility. I may be missing something here so forgive my ignorance. Thanks for taking the time to listen. ;-)

    • says

      Thanks for taking the time to post a comment. It is appreciated. I read your bio and it is clear you have changed since graduating. Now imagine you employ someone you haven’t seen since graduation or your time with an MLM company. (I’m stretching the point here.) Their perception of you may not reflect the person you are today. People change but perceptions don’t always change.

      People hold their attitudes on what they perceive to be real and not what is really “out their.” Perceptions support and justify attitudes. Therefore our relationships will not be as effective as they could be if there is a mismatch between what’s real and what is perceived.

      This is important in leadership. Who is going to follow a leader they mistrust? Or someone who is aloof and can’t relate to their teams? It is our feelings that galvanise us into action. Therefore it is right that we change a negative impression into a positive one. Not for them but for our own benefit.