Leadership / Awareness / Development

Self-Awareness in Leaders

How do you know about yourself?

Mark McMillion
7 min readSep 11, 2023

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

Something I struggled with as a young leader was a complete lack of self-awareness. Part of that goes hand in hand with self-confidence but they aren’t mutually exclusive. Part of that also goes with youthful inexperience. You don’t know what you don’t know but think you know a whole lot more than you actually do!

As a young lieutenant, I was extraordinarily confident in my decisions and abilities. West Point kind of bakes that into cadets. Something I firmly believe and have heard many times as well is all these high school studs go to the Military Academy, each a big fish in their small pond. The Academy then breaks them down during Cadet Basic Training aka Beast Barracks. It takes that massive high school ego and crushes it to make room for the West Point ego to come, much like an old building is demolished to make room for the shiny new skyscraper.

That doesn’t make it right. Self-confidence is incredibly important for a leader at any level. Like a vaccination, it prevents a whole host of negative things while serving as armor to enable the leader to get things done. Just as too much medicine becomes poison, it is with self-confidence.

As I’ve aged, it’s dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, what other people think, matters. My wife has always been that voice of reason trying to help me understand the delta between me and the rest of the world (thanks Toni!). It only took a couple of decades for me to start listening to her.

But it isn’t simply what other people think that matters — it matters how they perceive you as well.

How do you observe yourself?

Great question! There are several ways to gain self-awareness, some more direct than others.

Asking others directly seems like an idiot-proof solution, right? We-l-l-l-l, not exactly. People are almost always reluctant to give feedback and even more so to their boss. As a leader, you should never forget you’re the boss. The reality is, sometimes you will. I’ve written about that before here and here.

But you know who will never forget you’re the boss? Your people. So when you ask them for…

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Mark McMillion

Retired Army officer with two tours in Baghdad, married with four kids. Proud West Virginian and West Point grad. Works available on Amazon.