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Understanding Yourself to Lead Others Better

Have you ever overestimated your ability to get a project done? I have. I've committed to projects and timelines, later wondering how I could be so off in the first place. It has taken me more than a few years to realize that my point of view is not always the best. A large study by Korn-Ferry found that poor-performing businesses have 20% more leaders with blind spots as compared to high-performing businesses. As a leader, a lack of self-awareness is hazardous to you, your team, and your business. Receiving feedback is the most effective way to gain awareness of your strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. But not all feedback is created equal, and more is not always better. With a little effort, you can understand yourself better – and not regret it later – by keeping these three keys to feedback in mind.

Why self-awareness matters in leadership

To know yourself means that you can see yourself objectively, you are aware of similarities and differences from others, and you understand the perspective from which you see others and the world.

"To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom." Socrates

Leadership is a relationship, and it is vital to know what others think. If you only consider your perspective, you have an incomplete picture.

Like trying to navigate a ship on the open seas without a sextant or GPS, lacking self-awareness limits a leader’s ability to realize professional and personal goals. Self-aware leaders are not naive about their habits and are able to develop better habits.

The importance of self-awareness is not new. However, a recent study of 486 companies demonstrated that the most self-aware leaders populate the best organizations. Poor-performing businesses had 20 percent more leaders with blind spots as compared to high-performing businesses.

Additional studies have linked greater self-awareness with improved leadership relationships,⁠ self-control, better decision-making, and life satisfaction.⁠ In today's increasingly complex and culturally-diverse workplace, leaders that are able to perceive, assess, and regulate their own and others' emotions accurately are able to better leverage diversity and create team cohesion⁠.

Evidence also suggests that leaders with a lack of self-awareness are more likely to not be able to effectively regulate their emotions and behaviors well. Contributing to poor physical health, work performance, and social interactions.

3 Keys to feedback

The difference between useful and useless feedback is its reliability, validity, and fairness.

Key 1: Reliability

Reliable feedback has a high probability that the same actions lead to the same feedback in the future. When feedback lacks reliability, it creates confusion and can slow your development. Reliability is important because it helps reveal key themes for improvement.

Especially when using structured feedback tools like 360 surveys that increase the amount of feedback you are receiving, reliability helps you focus. It may be tempting to try and put in place development plans for every piece of feedback, but you will see the most growth in building better habits when you pick one change and then gradually increase.

Key 2: Validity

Feedback based on a deep understanding is most valid. Validity relates to the extent that the feedback takes into consideration the subject matter expertise of the topic, your situation, and the context.

The validity of the feedback is crucial because it directly affects the quality of any insights or conclusions that you can draw. When you use feedback that is inaccurate or incomplete, the conclusions you make will be unreliable and potentially misleading. Poor validity can lead to faulty decision-making, inaccurate predictions, and, ultimately, wasted time and resources.

Key 3: Fairness

Feedback bias happens when personal experiences shape the feedback. We all have bias, and likewise, all forms of feedback have some degree of bias. The greater the bias, the less useful and fair the feedback. I like asking my mom for feedback, but I must realize that she has a vested interest in being my mom. Likewise, the higher you ascend within your organization, the more challenging it becomes to receive fair feedback.

When you receive feedback, it is important to test it for reliability, validity, and fairness. Ask yourself:

  • How consistent and dependable is the feedback?

  • How logical is the feedback and factually informed is the source of the feedback?

  • How impartial and free from bias is the feedback?

Rather than responding with a yes or no, score each question using a scale of one to ten. Where a rating of one is not at all and ten is to a great extent. To become more self-aware and develop, it is best to get curious, embrace the variability of feedback as a path to improvement, take the valuable parts of the feedback, and disregard the rest.

“Look outside, and you will see yourself. Look inside, and you will find yourself.” Drew Gerald

Discover Your Leadership AHA

What if I told you that the greatest threat to your personal and professional success as a leader is not hiding in metrics or data—but in the routine practices you perform automatically in your daily life?

It's important to recognize that your habits significantly impact the life you live and your team's success. While you may be aware of some leadership habits, there are likely others that you are completely unaware of - those accidental habits go unnoticed but significantly impact your leadership.

To help you uncover these habits, I've created a leadership accidental habit assessment (AHA). By taking this free survey, you'll gain valuable insights into your leadership and identify areas for improvement.

Don't let your accidental habits hold you back any longer. Take the assessment now and start your journey to becoming a more effective and self-aware leader.

What is your real self-awareness challenge?


Bratton, V., Dodd, N., & Brown, F. (2011). The impact of emotional intelligence on the accuracy of self-awareness and leadership performance. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 32(2), 127-149.

Brickhouse, Thomas C.; Smith, Nicholas D. (1994). Plato's Socrates. Oxford University Press.

Goldstein, G., Allen, D. N., & Deluca, J. (2019). Handbook of psychological assessment. Elsevier Science & Technology.

Oltmanns, T., Gleason, M., Klonsky, E., & Turkheimer, E. (2005). Meta-perception for pathological personality traits: Do we know when others think that we are difficult? Consciousness and Cognition, 14(4), 739-751.

Pekaar, K., Bakker, A. B., van der Linden, D., & Born, M. (2018). Self- and other-focused emotional intelligence: Development and validation of the Rotterdam emotional intelligence scale (REIS). Personality and Individual Differences, 120, 222-233.

Wilson, T., & Gilbert, D. (2005). Affective forecasting: Knowing what to want. Current Directions in Psychological Science: A Journal of the American Psychological Society, 14(3), 131-134.

Zes, D., & Landis, D. (2013). A better return on self-awareness. Korn Ferry Institute.

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I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

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Are you ready to make this year your best ever?

Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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