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Self-awareness matters [Here’s why]

October 11, 2017 Richard Leider

Executive coach Richard Leider is widely recognized for his work helping leaders discover the power of purpose. His sage advice about finding purpose gives us the opportunity to look inward; to discover new things about ourselves—and to lead differently.

We’re thrilled that he’ll be joining us as co-chair of our Global Institute for Leadership Development®, October 22-27, 2017 in Palm Desert, CA. He will help our participants tackle big questions like: “Why would someone choose to follow me?” and “Am I on a path to becoming a purposeful leader?”

Self-awareness—having a developed sense of who you are, what you stand for, whom you stand with—has been long acknowledged as contributing to individual effectiveness. Self-awareness impacts all aspects of our lives—health, career, relationships and longevity.

Self-awareness also contributes to effective leadership and correlates with organizational performance.

Despite its close association with high performance and career success, self-awareness is generally in short supply—even though it can be developed in leaders.

One of the long-standing dichotomies in the 60-billion-dollar field of leadership development is whether to teach leadership and “skills” that lead to higher performance (a competency model that is easy to measure), or to teach leadership as a complex moral relationship between the leader and the led (a purpose-based model that is challenging to measure).

Daniel Goleman pioneered the idea that “the ability to understand and recognize your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others” was a hallmark of effective leaders.

Self-awareness can directly translate into better professional and personal choices and result in more fulfilling careers.

Goleman suggests that when it comes to an organization’s leadership competency model, there is a strong pattern: “When it comes to the top echelon leaders, companies find that 80–90% of the competencies that distinguish star leaders are built on emotional intelligence.”

Self-awareness is at the core of why followers follow leaders.

The Ultimate Leadership Challenge: Becoming
Purposeful leaders are constantly growing and “becoming” self-aware, self-led and self-less:

Self-Aware is about knowing our gifts, passions and values—our intentions.

Self-Led is about knowing that whatever comes our way, we can stay calm under pressure—the degree to which we have a sense of certainty in our own abilities, based on a realistic view of our strengths and limitations.

Self-Less is about knowing our purpose and unlocking it for the sake of others—our understanding that, ultimately, it is all about others. We often judge our leaders by what they “do.” But a purposeful leader is judged by what they “don’t do”—lead with arrogance, ego and self-interest.

“Becoming” a purposeful leader should be the foundation of any leader development process or plan because it is the core for leading in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. Being able to “hold the center” is an essential life skill for leaders today.

A purposeful leader does not seek followers. He or she wants to inspire others to become leaders. Not through control, but by becoming transparent. Not through coercion, but by becoming more caring.

Becoming a purposeful leader means fully embodying our “credo”—our point of view about what truly motivates others. Purposeful leaders are human-led—they have a clear awareness of “why” they lead and what drives them to get up and go to work every day.

Purposeful leaders provide a new perspective—a vision of work itself and a motivating reason for people to bring their whole selves to work every day. People today increasingly want their leaders to be clear on what they stand for, what they won’t stand for, and whom they stand with. They want work that gives them meaning, purpose and dignity, and to become part of something bigger than themselves.


Purposeful leaders are clear on “why” they lead. Becoming a purposeful leader means embodying a stand—becoming a champion of “why” in the organization. Why we lead determines how well we lead.

Increasingly, there is evidence to show that when leaders engage others in the “why,” they bring more of their full selves to work. They perform better, and so do their teams and organizations.

When Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a nearly 5,800-word letter on February 16, 2017, he introduced it with this phrase:

“I know a lot of us are thinking about how we can make the most positive impact on the world right now.”

Then, he asked a bigger question: “Are we building the world we all want?”

“We don’t want to wake up in the morning with the primary goal of making money… Instead, Facebook was built to accomplish a social mission—to make the world more open and connected.”

He further declares: “We expect everyone at Facebook to focus every day on how to build real value for the world.”

Well, that’s Facebook. And, that’s Zuckerberg. But is it just naive moralizing from a young, idealistic billionaire with over two billion customers? Or is he becoming a purposeful leader?

The will to meaning is the most fundamental of human motivations. Meaning matters to everyone.

The ultimate leadership challenge is, first, to become a purposeful leader, and second, to help others find and connect to the deeper meaning of their work.

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Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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