Do you know yourself as a leader?


Lady painted whiteOne of the downsides of leadership in an SME is the demand to be extremely competent in a wide variety of complex leadership roles. You're asked to be a CEO, COO, CFO and CMO (that's Chief Marketing Officer) in one person with only one person's hours in the day. Is it any wonder that most of us work phenomenal hours!

As the organisation grows you can hire people to take these roles off your hands, or you can tap a talented staff member on the shoulder, but in the meantime you have a problem... just how do you splice up your time to do all these things and how to be competent.

I'm not trying to be insulting here, if we're honest with ourselves we would all have weaknesses in one or more of these roles. In the very least, there are going to be roles you genuinely don't enjoy. I'm not a huge fan of marketing for instance. I love to teach, but fussing over which photo to use, or which logo shape bores me to tears.

Which is why I work hard to outsource as much as I can there!

I still chastise myself about not loving all aspects of marketing, but it also reminds me of the power of knowing thyself.

Awareness of how I feel about those marketing details makes an important impact on my time management and my work. Basically, if I didn't realise how much I disliked this stuff I would, like any normal human, work hard to avoid it or procrastinate. Disaster!

Even worse if you're avoiding the finances... and yes some people do.

So self awareness is valuable to a leader, in all types of organisations. It's valuable because it allows you to be realistic about yourself, you basically know where you need help and you can seek it accordingly.

You also know what sort of person you will work well with and which you won't.

But, let's be honest about it... being honest with yourself about your weaknesses, or where you need help, or the mistakes that you've made can hurt and hurt like hell.

No wonder it's not a commonly practiced aspect of life.

We all want to be perfect, that goes back to childhood. The problem is, it's just not humanly possible, and you're a better leader if you can deal with that before some kind and professional staff member ends up (rather frustrated-ly) pointing it out, daring your anger.

Self awareness then, is best coupled with self acceptance.

And that's where we get in to extreme psychological sports!

So let's go back to self awareness - the first step, just how do you do that?

  1. Use the night to reflect - there's something about the night that makes it built for reflection, it's probably the lack of distraction from sunlight, but whatever it is, take just 10 minutes at the end of the day to think about what you felt and how you acted and, to find something to learn from yourself. Face the demons.
  2. Journal - I've already written on this one, such a great tool for development, don't skip it:
  3. Spot the moment - This is the tricky one. People who are very self aware are constantly keeping track of their emotions and noticing how they feel in the moment so they can alter their actions, be more calm or be more open etc. They are also able to use their emotions to help others - yes emotional intelligence! This is where it starts. You can learn this skill by setting an alarm for every half hour or hour or whenever you can do it. When the alarm goes off you stop, look in the mirror and acknowledge how you feel right then, then decide how to change your actions. After a few weeks of doing this you won't need the alarm.

Practicing self awareness is the first step in managing all those roles even more effectively, something incredibly invaluable in running and creating an efficient organisation, it all starts with the leader.

Do you know yourself as a leader?

Dr Louise Metcalf

Associate Lecturer at

Internationally published leadership expert. One of the top 100 Sustainability Leaders in the World (ABC Carbon, 2011, 2012). BA (Hons in Psych), Masters of Applied Psychology Organisational, MBA, PhD, Member APS College of Organisational Psychologist, membership of Academy of Management. Louise has decades of experience in the field of organisational psychology and general psychology. She is a highly respected leadership and change management consultant in Australia

Comments (2)
Steven Freeman

Steven Freeman at

Taking mindfulness to the daily grind is ever so import. I agree it's essential you have time to sporadically think, energize and continue to strategize from different angles. Being stuck in micro-tasks for too long is the surefire way to fast burnout!

Phil Khor

Phil Khor, Founder at

Great post Louise. I find self awareness so critical at all levels yet often neglected. The fall out can be severe, esp for leaders when there is great disparity between how we view ourselves and how others view us. Knowing thyself is easier said than done. Being a sanguine, it took me years coming to grips with my shortcomings which wasn't apparent until I meticulously set aside time each day to self assess and process the information. I'm still doing this from time to time these days, and I don't always like what I find. No one's perfect I guess but if we're serious about growing our team and our business, it's the first and most crucial step to discovery to growth. Thanks for sharing.