This article is part of the Grow Through Hierarchy series, where we will be exploring a framework to  develop key influencers in the 14 core competencies of leadership and management, including the four areas of emotional intelligence. Our Grow Through Hierarchy Management and Leadership model enables us to start to think clearly about management and about leadership and the journey from execution to strategic.

Developing emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a vital skill for leadership success, as we’ve explored in a previous article, and this is the reason that we’ve included it as the foundation for the Grow Through Hierarchy model. Whether you’re a manager or a leader you need good emotional intelligence to be able to manage and influence your own emotions and the emotions of those around you.


What is self-awareness, and why is it important?

The conscious knowledge of our own character and feelings

Self-awareness is having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, values & beliefs, motivations, and emotions. Self-awareness allows you to understand other people, how they perceive you, your attitude and your responses to them in any given moment or situation.

We believe that self-awareness is the most important element of emotional intelligence. It is only when we have a good understanding of ourselves and what drives our own personal character and feelings that we can make changes to areas which we may wish to improve upon, or build on strength we already have to become more successful in life – both at work and at home. While we recognise that a person is one whole person and as such it is difficult to separate work and home lives, however as we are focusing on the Grow Through Hierarchy for managers and leaders our focus will centre around the work context.


What can it feel like to lack self-awareness?

For someone who is not self-aware, they could experience a number of negative impacts and feelings in their life, such as issues in the following areas:

  • Not being able to deal with stress and stressful situations effectively
  • Relationships across the board – with bosses, peers, team members and those who report to us
  • Physical health can be impacted by stress and negative emotion
  • A lack of motivation and a struggle to achieve results

Your thoughts affect the physiology of your brain and the physiology affects your thoughts

Ruby Wax, Taming the Mind

Someone who is not self-aware may experience negative feelings, such as anger, frustration or anxiety on a regular basis around some of these key areas, but as they will not understand where these feeling are coming from, they will be less likely to be able to do anything about it. Negative feelings create a negative state in your brain, which in turn creates a negative state in your body, your body language and the energy you present to others.

You may be able to call to mind what it feels to work with someone who displays these issues and behaviours; it can be difficult to work with someone who is not self-aware, as explored further in this Harvard Business Review article. Marshall Goldsmith also has an excellent list in his book ‘What Got You Here Won’t get You There’ of the 20 bad habits of interpersonal behaviours.

Have you ever felt any of these negative impacts on your own self? If so, it may be because you could benefit from further developing your own self-awareness.


What does it mean to be self-aware?

There are a number of elements to consider when we look at self-awareness, both in understanding ourselves at a deeper level and also being able to recognise how we are seen by others. This is an important part of being self-aware; not only being able to explore and define who we are and what makes us, us but also to see how other people perceive us and how that influences interactions with others.

Thinking about exploring your character and your feelings in greater depth can seem daunting – you are a complex being! Where do you start?

Here are 3 key areas you can focus on which will enable you to improve your awareness of who you are, and what makes you, you. You can start by thinking about these areas in terms of your personal life, and then what they mean to you in a work context, as a manager or leader.


Who are you? How do you define yourself? What are the characteristics and qualities that define you? How are you viewed by others?

This can incorporate many things; your background, upbringing or culture, influence of parents or other important figures in your life, your identity within your family, your personality traits and nature.

It can also include elements that you may have chosen to assimilate to do with your interests or passions.

Workplace identity is important for people to contribute effectively and unleash their full potential, and how employees see themselves at work can often be based on the feedback they perceive from others. Without an identity that matters, or that fits the individual, employees can find themselves unfulfilled and underperforming. (There’s an interesting article on workplace identity from the Forbes archives here.) Who are you as a leader or manager?

Core Values

A value is simply something that is important to you. What is most important to you? What do you stand for and what are your guiding principles? Values are not chosen; they are developed, discovered and revealed as you go through life. Your personal values will be shaped by your identity, your beliefs and your experiences.

Your organisation will mostly likely have a set of values as well; do they complement your own? Workplace values which conflict with your own personal values can cause some serious internal turmoil. What are your work-based values in your role as a leader or manager and how do you reflect those to the people around you?


Core beliefs are basic beliefs about ourselves, other people, and the world we live in. They are things we hold to be absolute truths deep down; roots which form and influence all our “surface” thoughts. Essentially, core beliefs determine how you perceive and interpret the world. This is not limited to beliefs about religion, faith, political ideas but includes thoughts and assumptions about what we think about ourselves and others.

What is true for you that you do not question? What beliefs do you have that you believe are true about yourself and yourself at work? What are your beliefs about what management is and what leadership is?

Core beliefs can be helpful and affirmative but as humans we will all tend to also hold a number of limiting beliefs which can prevent us from succeeding across all areas of our lives. What limiting beliefs do you hold about yourself and others in a work-based context? These may start with ‘I can’t…’ or ‘I don’t know how to…’


Nature vs Nurture

When it comes to identity, values and beliefs we start to form these from when we are born. Some elements such as culture, background and religion can be pre-determined before birth due to heritage and environment. Others are instilled by parents, teachers and other guides in our early lives. There is one school of thoughts which states that by the time you are in your early twenties your core values and beliefs are pretty much in place. It is only then through developing good self-awareness that we can start to identify and challenge our values and beliefs to get a deeper insight into who we really are.

There are several other categories which you can explore to increase your self-awareness including, but not limited to:

  • VAK communication and processing preferences – whether you prefer to give, receive and process information through seeing, hearing or feeling/ doing. V is Visual, A is Auditory and K is Kinaesthetic. You can take this quick test to determine your preference.
  • Negative emotional triggers – triggers are external events or occurrences which prompt a negative response in you, which could be stress, anger, self-doubt etc. Recognising your triggers in your working environment can help to control negative reaction and support better results. What negative triggers can you identify in your workplace?
  • Parental influence – your parents or primary care givers are the main influences in your life; you carry these influences with you as you grow and develop your own character and personality, and more often than not will – consciously or unconsciously – pass them on to your own children in some way, if you have them! How are you like your parents?
  • Self-sabotage – you can be your own worst enemy! Self-sabotage is when your thoughts or behaviours stop you from achieving what you want to achieve. Examples could include procrastination, listening to negative self-talk or focusing on negative aspects of situations instead of the positive. Can you think of ways you self-sabotage at work?
  • Goal-setting – do you know what you want to achieve for your future, whether that be in the short, medium or long term? Consciously exploring at your aspirations and setting yourself goals can help you to examine the knowledge skills and behaviours you will need to achieve these.


3 ways to increase your self-awareness

There are lots of ways in which you can start to learn about yourself, and about how others perceive and increase your self-awareness; here are 3 things you can do to start your journey

1. Use self-assessment tools

There are lots and lots of assessment tools available out there; on personality, work-based preferences, communication styles, values and so forth. Many of them are free, or at least offer some free initial reports with further options to access more detailed reports for a charge but the free ones can help you to start to explore and open up your self-awareness.

This one from I NLP Centre can give you an overall score of how self-aware you are to kick start the process!

We’ve recommended our tool of choice before, Harrison Assessments, which can measure a plethora of factors including personality, motivators, values, etc etc. Another popular tool is the DISC assessment, which looks at four particular areas of personality. Insights uses 4 colours to help you understand your styles and strengths.

Self-assessment tools are great because a lot of the work is done for you in the background; taking your responses and using algorithms to produce your results and give you a summary. Each of these will provide results in a slightly different way, and it’s not to say which is right or the best but they can all help you to start to consider the different elements which make up you and your personality, identity etc.

2. Get feedback from others

As we’ve mentioned earlier, as well as understanding yourself from your own perspective, an important element of self-awareness is understanding how others perceive you. The image and behaviours we think we may display to those around us may not always be what comes across!

There are various ways to get feedback from those around us, including formal methods which can include the 360° process where you obtain feedback from your managers, peers and direct reports, performance reviews or one-to-one conversations with your manager.

There are other less formal means as well, such as asking trusted friends and colleagues for their opinion and feedback about certain aspects of yourself or how you come across in certain situations. The important thing about seeking feedback is not just getting it, but making sure that you actually listen to what people say. It is not always easy to hear less-favourable things about ourselves. If you’re not quite sure what someone means, or you don’t necessarily agree with them, dig a bit deeper and ask them to explain further. And don’t shoot the messenger! Don’t use it as an opportunity to try and justify yourself. Listen to what they have to say, thank them and take the information given to reflect on by yourself.

3. Learn to recognise your triggers

As we’ve mentioned before, we all have triggers. It’s about assessing a situation where you have had a certain reaction, and trying to recognise what triggered that negative reaction. Does that particular external event or occurrence trigger the same response each time?

The more capability you have and the more self-aware you are in recognising your own triggers, the better you will be able to become at dealing with the situation without allowing it to trigger those negative responses and you will be able to create more positive and productive reactions or responses.


What got you here, won’t necessarily get you to the next level

We have explored why we think self-awareness is the most important element of EQ, considered some of the negative impacts of not being self-aware and defined what it means to be self-aware. We’ve also looked at some key elements to think about and some tools and techniques to take away and help you to start to explore your own self-awareness.

The thought that we’d like to leave you with today is a bit of a modification of a quote from Marshall Goldsmith’s book title we mentioned before:

What got you here won’t necessarily get you to the next level

You may know where you are at this point in time on your journey as a leader or manager. However, there is no guarantee that the knowledge, skills and behavioural range that got you to this point are the knowledge, skills and behaviours that will enable you to get to the next level. Understanding what you need to change or improve on to get you there starts with emotional intelligence, and in particular, starts with self-awareness.

Thanks for reading! Next time we will be focusing on self-management and self-motivation.


The Leadership and Management Grow Through Hierarchy model and programme is based around a defined set of measurable behavioural competencies specific to managers and leaders, which guide the development journey, and include the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for management execution and the more strategic elements required for leaders.

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Peak Performance Partnership Ltd (3P) is a Business Performance Consultancy specialising in Talent Management. ASPIRE by 3P is our talent management solution which supports the talent life cycle of Acquisition, Succession Planning, Improvement and Retention & Engagement.


Co-authored by Lindsay McGhie, Trevor Norman and Michelle Manning