Why leaders aren’t more self-aware

Eye-1Perhaps the last century’s swing towards the outgoing, outspoken, in charge leader, who always exuded confidence  has created the increasing need for cultivating self-aware leaders.[1]  Research by the Hay Group, comparing individuals’ concept of themselves against that held by peers and self-perceived abilities against actual abilities, has indicated that self-awareness is dismally low (under 20%) among managers. Knowing your own abilities, shortcomings, and impact on others is assumed to be essential that is sadly lacking.[2]

An increase in self-awareness can be related to a decrease other “desirable” traits such as self-acceptance and self-esteem. Recent research conducted on university campuses has come up with some intriguing results when self-awareness is increased in students. When students became aware of themselves while filling out a self-esteem survey, their assessment of themselves started a noticeable drift downwards.[3] There was also a significant negative relationship between self-awareness and self-acceptance.While at the college level there appeared to be no significant difference in self-awareness among extroverts and introverts (the percentage of introverts in college is significantly higher than general population), the more self-aware introverts showed lower self-acceptance.[4]

We expect leaders to like themselves and are reluctant to follow someone who admits to weaknesses and expresses doubts. However, if people are actually honest they would have to admit that they are not thrilled by the results when they examine their own internal emotions, motivations and how their actions affect other people. Therefore some willingly avoid looking too much into these things.This partial blindness does actually seem to provide a benefit to those seeking leadership positions. Research has shown that individuals who are self-deceptive when it comes to assessing themselves are also better at convincing others to trust in an unrealistically optimistic outcome.[5]

So will the quest to improve self-awareness result turning leaders into people who seem less like leaders?


[1] Rudd, Anthony. Self, Value, and Narrative: A Kierkegaardian Approach, OUP Oxford, Oct 25, 2012
[2] Baldoni, John. Few Executives are Self-aware, But Women Have the Edge. May 09, 2016
[3] John Ickes, William. Wicklund, Robert A. and Ferris C. Brian. Self awareness leads to lower self esteem. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Volume 9, Issue 3, May 1973, Pages 202–219
[4] Vingoe, Frank J Rogers’ self theory and Eysenck’s extraversion and neuroticism. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 32(5, Pt.1), Oct 1968, 618-620.
[5] Nauert, Rick. Overconfident People Likely to be Overrated. PsychCentral.com


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