Self Awareness in Authentic Leadership

This post is a section extract from my current work. This extract reflects on self awareness as an element of transformation towards becoming an authentic leader.

Given my current commitment to finalizing work for my second MA, I have become quite rooted in an analysis of what authenticity and authentic leadership mean and how self transformative processes enable authentic leadership.

The concept of authenticity within leadership studies only began emerging in the latter half of the 20th century as philosophers started exploring the linkages between the two. As a newly emerging sub-field within leadership studies, a concept of leadership focusing on the various dimensions of a person’s being is discussed through authentic leadership development. I share with you below an extract from my current thesis work reflecting on self awareness as an element of transformation towards transforming into an authentic leader.

Self awareness

Self awareness is the pivot point on which your leadership depends…without it, your orientation to your true north is missing,” states Bill George as a testament to the necessity of understanding the inclinations and motivations of the self or knowing “what is under the hood.” The concept of self awareness is considered one of the key pillars to developing the self as an authentic leader. Many descriptions and definitions of self awareness point towards possessing emotional intelligence or the ability to observe and scrutinize one’s own feelings and that of others towards utilizing the information to guide one’s behaviours and actions.[1] Recent research argues in favour of including knowledge of one’s cognitive abilities and social intelligence as part of the self aware individual.[2] However, for the purposes of this work, self awareness will be addressed in close connection to Daniel Goleman’s theorizing of emotional intelligence (EI) as it encompasses a self dimension that is highly cognizant and aware of interpersonal abilities that are required in responding to others.

Self awareness means having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and drives. People with strong self-awareness are neither overly critical nor unrealistically hopeful. Rather, they are honest – with themselves and with others.” [3] Therefore, becoming an authentic leader entails developing a sense of self awareness as part of the transformative process of the self whereby one possesses and understanding of how personal feelings can affect the environment in which one is in. Such a heightened sense of awareness of the self and how the self relates to the external environment is crucial to the ability to transform dynamics of the external environment that has presented itself as non-conducive to a thriving self.

A second dimension of self awareness is tied to an understanding of personal values and goals. A thorough appreciation of one’s values and goals means that the self is neither distracted nor tempted by short-term enticements which are not in alignment with the goals and values set by the self. The self aware authentic leader is therefore driven by a values based compass which guides him/her according to short-term or long-term goals that have been set personally rather than socially. [4]

Goleman also states that confidence is another hallmark of the self aware individual. This confidence is exhibited in a comfort to talk openly and accurately about personal emotions, strengths and weaknesses. The truthfulness of how one can approach his/her limitations and articulate the areas that still need growth is a component of the confident and aware self which is not afraid of being vulnerable and transparent. The self’s desire to receive constructive feedback and not shy away from expressing a self-deprecating sense of humour is also considered a trait of confidence in the aware self. Therefore, part of the transformation of the self towards enabling authentic leadership requires a combination of self-discovery, self disclosure/exposure related to the confidence aspect of an aware self and feedback solicitation in order to uncover unknown/blind areas of the self that one is not aware of but can be observable by others. “The issue of awareness of the self is made explicit in the theory of identity development proposed by Robert Kegan (1982). In Kegan’s model, growth of identity involves the person’s ability to see the self with some objectivity, take different perspectives of one’s self and observe it as from a distance. This is in contrast to the less developed state, where the self is more embedded (i.e., the subject), where the person is the self and is not able to observe and reflect on it.”[5] As such, self awareness is not a destination point but an emerging process and continually evolving unravelling of the self.

So what are your thoughts on being an aware self towards becoming an authentic leader?


[1] Condon, Ryan J. The Relationship between Self Awareness and Leadership: Extending Measurement and Conceptualisation, 2011, p.6.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Goleman, Daniel. What Makes a Leader? Harvard Business Review, January 2004, p.3.

[4] Ibid, p.5.

[5] Karin Klenke. Authentic Leadership: A Self, Leader, and Spiritual Identity Perspective. International Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol. 3 Iss. 1, 2007, p.78.