Self-awareness in leadership

5 Strategies for Developing Self-Awareness in Leadership

The American Organization of Nurse Leaders’ (AONL) core competencies are anchored by the ‘Leader Within.’ The ‘Leader Within’ seeks feedback, reflects, and understands how their thoughts influence their actions. In short, the ideal leader is self-aware—and they seek to become even more self-aware.

Why Does Self-Awareness Matter for Leaders?

As leaders ascend to senior echelons of leadership, they often encounter a reduced availability of peers to provide them with consistent feedback. Moreover, the proficiencies that propelled their success in previous roles may not align optimally with the demands of their current position. As such, nurturing self-awareness assumes paramount significance in continually honing the attributes of a proficient leader, gaining unwavering support from pivotal stakeholders, and building synergistic relationships with executive leadership.

Improved self-awareness empowers leaders to:

  • Make better decisions: Some leaders are naturally more risk-tolerant or risk-averse. Self-awareness helps leaders objectively assess how their internal narratives regarding risk could influence their decisions. This enables leaders to make the best decisions for their organization.
  • Cultivate a learning mindset: The best leaders know they’re not the best at everything. When leaders can assess their strengths and weaknesses, they can identify areas of growth.
  • Build credibility with stakeholders: Leaders who can show humility, admit when they’re wrong, and seek guidance from other experts can earn trust and build credibility with their stakeholders.

“Self-awareness is the compass that guides exceptional leaders. Those who understand their strengths and limitations can inspire, innovate, and cultivate a culture of growth and compassion within their organizations.”

— Melissa A. Fitzpatrick, MSN, RN, FAAN, president, Kirby Bates Associates


Five Strategies for Building Self-Awareness

Executive leaders must possess an objective view of themselves and a deep understanding of how others in the organization perceive them. To continue cultivating that self-awareness, consider the following five strategies:

1. Ask ‘What,’ Not ‘Why’

Introspection does not always lead to self-awareness. ‘Why’ questions can focus on failures and shortcomings and look only at the past. ‘What’ questions force leaders to focus on solutions, actions they can take, and potential improvements for the future.

Many leaders seeking to become more self-aware ask ‘why’ questions to gain insight into their own thoughts and actions. However, ‘why’ questions tend to garner counterproductive, negative answers.

For example, instead of asking, ‘Why doesn’t the CFO agree with me on this point?’ ask, ‘What can I do to persuade the CFO to see my point?’ 

2. Proactively Gather Feedback

Feedback is any leader’s most valuable tool for increasing their self-awareness. However, executive leadership tends to receive feedback less often. Leaders have fewer peers and fewer superiors. Additionally, front-line staff may hesitate to provide meaningful insights or constructive criticism to one of the organization’s leaders. Leaders need to proactively seek feedback and cultivate a feedback culture across the continuum of care from the C-Suite to the bedside.

Executive leadership should keep in mind that only some of the feedback they receive will be actionable or relevant to their goals. Leaders should prioritize the insights that will allow them to grow and earn buy-in from their stakeholders.

3. Reflect on Your Actions

Leaders should take the time to reflect on their actions. An easy way to do so is by journaling regularly. Journaling allows leaders to acknowledge the limitations of their skills and knowledge, recognize gaps between their goals and actions, and challenge their beliefs.

When journaling, remember to ask ‘what’ and focus on the future, rather than asking ‘why’ and dwelling on the past.

4. Challenge Yourself

No matter how long a leader has been in their role, leaders should actively immerse themselves in situations that demand complex decision-making, conflict management, and creative thinking. These situations can drive insights into their strengths and weaknesses, making leaders less likely to overestimate their skills or knowledge.

Additionally, these situations can allow leaders to observe their own emotions, how they communicate under pressure, and how their thought process changes in different scenarios. The result is a leader with greater self-awareness and the ability to adapt their leadership style to meet the needs of their various stakeholders.

5. Work With an Advisor

Elite athletes don’t stop working with coaches, nor do great leaders. One of the best ways for leaders to continually elevate their self-awareness is by connecting with an executive advisor. An executive advisor can help leaders develop the critical skills and competencies that make good leaders great.

Self-Awareness is a Key to Leadership Success. Kirby Bates Associates Can Help Cultivate It

Self-awareness isn’t vital only for leaders. It’s vital for healthcare organizations as a whole. As with many other initiatives, when leadership embraces self-awareness and makes it a priority, so will the rest of the organization.

Kirby Bates Associates’ Executive Advisory Services are designed specifically for executive healthcare leaders to develop critical contemporary competencies such as self-awareness to lead complex healthcare systems.

KBA’s Executive Advisory Services offer a unique approach to leadership development. Our proprietary, evidence-based Nurse Executive Gateway to Knowledge® Model accelerates the transition from novice leader to experienced, effective healthcare executive. Participants work 1:1 with an experienced KBA  Executive Advisor over several months as they address the current challenges in the leader’s organization and environment.

To learn more about our Executive Advisory Services, contact Kirby Bates Associates today to start the conversation.