How Self-Awareness Makes or Breaks Executives


For a study on self-awareness, go watch Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to congress.

It was a difficult session, for sure. There was palpable hostility toward him. The politicians asking questions clearly understood almost nothing about Facebook. With all of that considered, he handled himself reasonably well – he gave decent answers, didn’t seem out of depth, and didn’t get frustrated.

But what’s really striking was the general lack of self-awareness in the room.

For all of the obvious preparation Zuckerberg had done, he still seemed gratingly disconnected. He started every sentence with “Senator” – a technique that was intentional but became irritating. He rarely changed the tone of his voice. He almost never smiled.

Didn’t he know that he was making himself look like a robot?

And the lawmakers weren’t any better. Didn’t they know that their 5th-grade-level questions about the internet made them look severely out of touch? It sure didn’t seem like it.

How could they not understand how their actions were being perceived?

Here’s the truth, though:

It’s easy to identify a lack of self-awareness in other people. By definition, it’s harder to identify in yourself.

So, watch the clips of that session, observe the people around you, and look in a mirror, because you’ll see it everywhere: nobody is completely self-aware. Not Mark Zuckerberg. Not the senators in that room.

Not even you or me.

But the good news is that everyone, executives included, can become more self-aware. Executive analysis and executive assessment can help.

Let’s take a look at self-awareness: what it is, how it makes or breaks executives, and how to improve.

What Is Self-Awareness?

There are two main types of self-awareness: internal and behavioral.

Internal self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of your own character, feelings, motives, and desires. Behavioral self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of the effects your behaviors have on others.

Both aspects of self-awareness, at their core, allow for an accurate analysis of reality. And executives should work on both – because each impacts the other.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus more on the behavioral side, since actions most directly affect stakeholders.

How Being Self-Aware Makes or Breaks Executives

1. Self-awareness counteracts weaknesses. A lack of self-awareness compounds them.

Self-aware executives are better able to navigate their weaknesses. If executives have analyzed their blind spots, they won’t be caught by surprise – and they’ll be better able to plan for success.

For example: if you know you have a tendency to bully others when you feel threatened, you can consciously work to counteract that tendency.

Or, if you know that you’re highly skilled at investor relations, but less skilled at the logistics of managing investments, you can intentionally construct a team with strengths that balance yours.

2. Self-awareness enables better communication. A lack of self-awareness inhibits it.

Unsurprisingly, self-aware executives are more likely to be better communicators; understanding how others perceive you allows for a greater ability of shaping that perception.

That’s especially important for executives to communicate well. As Victor Lipman writes:

"The qualities commonly associated with management and leadership - being authoritative, decisive, forceful, perhaps somewhat controlling - if not moderated by a high degree of awareness as to how one comes across and is perceived by others, are also qualities that have the potential to easily alienate those on the receiving end. "

Self-awareness reduces the likelihood of alienating others through communication – and increases the odds of getting the right message across.

3. Self-awareness builds trust. A lack of self-awareness tears it down.

Executives who aren’t self-aware are more difficult to trust.

That’s partly because a lack of self-awareness can seem selfish. If somebody isn’t thinking about how their actions are affecting others, we assume they’re thinking about themselves – and we don’t trust them to look out for our interests.

4. Self-awareness leads to good decisions. A lack of self-awareness leads to bad ones.

This is really the crux of why being self-aware is so important – self-awareness empowers executives to make good decisions.

If you’re self-aware, you simply have a more accurate perception of reality – you see a situation with a more complete picture. If you’re not self-aware, you’re acting without key pieces of information.

Obviously, it’s easier to make good decisions if you have the full picture.

How Executive Assessment Helps Leaders Become More Self-Aware

Interestingly, executives are often more likely than others to have inaccurate self-perceptions. That’s because it’s often hard for executives to get honest feedback. But they need it. It can be painful to get honest feedback – but it’s necessary for growth.

How can they get it?

Remember, the reality is that a lack of self-awareness is easy to point out in others – but it’s nearly impossible to see in yourself.  What’s needed is an objective, outside perspective grounded in real facts.

Executive assessment.

Executive assessments draw from proven tools, like interview-based 360 analyses, to identify and eliminate blind spots and start the path toward better self-awareness.

We’ve seen self-awareness improve through executive assessment firsthand. Our assessments incorporate comprehensive feedback, a workable development plan, and a coach to back you up through its execution, and our fail rate for such assignments is among the lowest in the industry.

So, don’t let Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony, other people, or the mirror discourage you. Take heart: self-awareness can be developed.

If you want to navigate weaknesses, strengthen communication, build trust, empower decisions, and maybe even help top executives to seem a little less like robots – let’s talk. The reality is that executive coaching can help.