Why leaders aren’t more self-aware

Kaiser Wilhelm II statue in Koln, Germany

Kaiser Wilhelm II An example of a leader low in self awareness.

Perhaps 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]  Before the twentieth century it was often considered egotistical for leaders to promote themselves. When the newly formed Continental Congress nominated George Washington to be commander-in-chief, he was not one of the most experienced candidates. He did not campaign to become the head general of the new, inexperienced and poorly equipped army, but he relied on others to recognize his potential in this position. For many leaders in today’s world, depending on the judgment of  peers has become a thing of the past.

This tendency for leaders to not regard others opinions of them shows up prominently in Research by the Hay Group. Their study compared individuals’ concept of themselves against that held by peers, and their self-perceived abilities against actual abilities. Self-awareness was dismally low (under 20%) among managers. Knowing ones own abilities, shortcomings, and impact on others is assumed to be essential for any kind of leader, but often it is sadly lacking.[2]

Sometimes an increase in self-awareness can be related to a decrease in other “desirable” traits such as self-esteem. Recent research conducted on university campuses has come up with some intriguing results. Those students who became more self-aware started a noticeable downward drift when reporting on their level of a self-esteem.[3] There was also a significant relationship between self-awareness and self-acceptance. Research at the college level showed no difference in self-awareness among extroverts and introverts (the percentage of introverts in college is significantly higher than in the general population.). However, the introverts with higher levels of self-awareness tended to relate an experience of lower self-acceptance.[4]

We want leaders to be sure of themselves, and are often reluctant to follow someone who admits to weaknesses or 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 and motivations. Therefore some avoid looking too much into these things. This partial blindness does 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 unrealistic and overly optimistic outcomes.[5]

So will the quest to improve self-awareness result in turning leaders into people who seem less like leaders? Or will we stick with over-confident people who have little concept of their own abilities?

[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


This entry was posted in Emotional intelligence, Leadership, Optimism and Pessimism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Why leaders aren’t more self-aware

  1. knlistman says:

    Reblogged this on Write about what? and commented:

    Do we favor leaders that are not self-aware?

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