Self-Awareness: Understanding of the Inner Self

First Step: Self-Awareness

Self-leadership starts with self-awareness. Leadership starts with us and requires both self-awareness and the decision to improve our own leadership capital. This is what is called in academic jargon authentic leadership. Workshops and training, which are developed based on authentic leadership, would always emphasize the development of our true self, rather than an ideal substitution.

The key assumption behind is that every person is valuable and unique and, therefore, he or she has something to offer to the world. The development challenge is focused on developing our own personality and becoming the one we are called to be. This is the idea behind these words by H. Thurman:

There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls (Thurman 1980).

The first step, then, is the same that the Oracle pointed to Socrates: know thyself. We have to find our aptitudes and reinforce them. It is not so much about finding our weaknesses and fighting them but working on our strengths. This book fosters the readers to become the authors of their life, their career, and their actions. For this reason, self-awareness is tied to self-responsibility—I know myself, I am true to myself, then, and I can become the best self.

Difference Between Authentic Leadership and Nonauthentic Leadership

When people know themselves, the leadership capacity they develop evolves naturally from their existing aptitudes. This is the reason why an authentic leadership style ensues from the authentic personality of everyone. “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant” (Pree 1987).

Understanding our own reality is the first step toward developing leadership. (Gandz 2006) uses the terminology leader-breeder and leader-blocker to label authentic and nonauthentic leaders. As indicated in the following table 1.1, the latter is a leader who blocked his or her own leadership capacity and the capacity of other people.

Looking at this table, we can easily have a first initial assessment of on which side of the authentic–nonauthentic scale we are. As we will see later in the book, when using assessment scales of our observed behavior (Likert scale in academic jargon), we are never aiming to a precise score.

Table 1.1 Developing leadership talent



Recruit and select high potentials even if they are hard to handle

Recruit and select easy-to-manage people

Coach for skills development

Do not coach or mentor effectively

Mentor for career development

Lack candor in their feedback

Give totally candid feedback on performance

Fit people to jobs that are inside their comfort zones

Create stretch assignments

Do not establish stretch goals

Reward and reinforce success

Do not reward differentially for success

View failure as a learning opportunity and help their people learn from failure

Blame people for failures

Surrender their high performers for corporate challenges and personal development

Horde the people who get the job done

Source: (Gandz 2006)

Particularly Practical Advice for Learning Self-Awareness

While working on their own self-awareness, it is very important for you to keep in mind one of the main assumptions in positive psychology: what is good in us is always more than what is not so good. It might sound a bit abstract. Let us put it in more simple terms: all of us, consciously or not, have been amassing experiences, knowledge, talents, and so on.

In our practice, we generally see that people are inclined to underrate themselves, leading to certain negative attitudes toward self-assessment exercises (even though they externally display an overconfident personality). Somehow, nobody wants to see more bad news about ourselves! We are not asking you to see yourselves only with positive spectacles. We are asking though to keep a healthy level of self-belief.

How we think about ourselves has an impact on the way we contribute to ourselves and other people. Seligman, probably the main researcher on positive psychology, would say that a successful life depends on “using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification” (Seligman 2017). In order to understand it and practice it, one exercise is offered.

Self-Awareness—An Exercise

Write down how you have contributed over the past week. Look back seven days and write down anything you said or did that you are willing to call a contribution. It does not matter how big or small it is, it still counts (e.g., carefully read Chapter 1 of this workbook, solved a specific issue at your work, helped an old woman cross the street, set your boyfriend straight, smiled at your mother-in-law).























AHA of this exercise: There are many unconscious and positive deeds we do without even realizing them. What happens is that many times, we do not do those things with deliberation, they are rather automatic. Knowing thyself largely starts with knowing our own goodness first.

The Impact of Lack of Self-Awareness—A Usual Case

One of the most common cases we see among the participants of our training is the so-called alpha male (or female, if you want). This term describes someone who is ambitious and is a highly motivated professional, whose priority is to achieve personal goals in the professional field. We are sure that your organization is full of this character!

Many times, alpha males come from less privileged backgrounds and have built their careers based on a powerful intellect, hard work, self-motivation, and sacrifice. Generally, these individuals rise rapidly through the ranks, triggering their goal orientation and, often, they end up disregarding the importance of people skills. Without proper feedback, an alpha male faces enormous personal crises when they do not manage to achieve their expected and deserved goals.

Alpha male cases are exemplary to understand the concept of personality, how self-awareness works, the importance of reflection, the relevance of feedback on self-development, and the impact of culture on personality.

There are three main dimensions that can be used to describe any personality (based on Cloninger et al. “The temperament and character inventory,” 1994):

1. Self-direction: capacity to be proactive on career and life development. Someone that is very high in self-directness is high in responsibility, accountability, purpose, career goals, efficacy, self-acceptance, self-esteem, consistency. On the contrary, people who are low in self-directedness tend to live in denial, blaming others, being reactive, inertial, with inefficacy, with poor self-esteem, and with inconsistency.

2. Cooperativeness: capacity to develop interpersonal relationships: People who are high in willingness to cooperate practice tolerance, patience, empathy, helpfulness, forgiveness, principled behavior are recognized as selfless.

The ones with low cooperativeness are known for their intolerance, impatience, criticism, individualism, resentment; they are opportunistic and manipulative.

3. Capacity of transcendence: to see beyond short-term goals.

People with high self-transcendence can be characterized as people with healthy doses of humility, self-irony, holistic ideals, spirituality, and without rejection of what is intangible. On the other hand, low self-transcendence is characterized by pride, self-sufficiency, individual goals, materialism, measurable.

Alpha males are people (men or women!) who are generally high achievers with a high level of proactiveness, with relative difficulties to create linkages of cooperation with other people and normally with low level of self-transcendence. This personality profile limits their capacity to confront short-term serious crises when they arrive, especially if they feel that their desired goals are in serious danger. Alpha males seem to live in a different self-made world. The problem is that most of their life and career partners do not share the same interests and goals.

Careers in leadership positions nowadays, independently of the sector, stress the necessity of creating an alpha male profile. This trend helps in terms of corporate performance but creates very high risks for the longterm life satisfaction of the executives who embark on these careers.

Exercise of Self-Awareness: The Best Self-Portrait

This exercise provides you with feedback about who you are when you are at your best. You will request positive feedback from significant people in your lives, which you will then synthesize into a cumulative portrait of your bestself. The exercise can be used as a tool for personal development because it enables you to identify your unique strengths and talents. Your portrait should be approximately 2 to 4 pages in length (double-spaced, 12 pt. font, 1” margins) and should focus on your interpretation of the feedback you receive. However, we strongly recommend that you start as soon as possible.

An example of a good best self-portrait is inserted in Appendix 6. Once completed, please answer the questions in the Leader’s Journal Section 1.1.2.

Self-Awareness and the Development of Our Personality

Daniel Goleman, one of the most renowned writers on emotional intelligence, positions self-awareness as the first step toward any substantial change in ourselves that would eventually create a positive impact on others. The reason, as figure 2.1 indicates, is that the level of self-awareness governs our capacity to understand others and to control our own behavior. Goleman looks to self-development through the prism of the influence of our personality on other people, what is a valid point as it can help on making more tangible its importance.


Figure 2.1 Emotional intelligence as a matrix

Source: (Goleman 2006)

Prof. Rivera in his doctoral dissertation worked along the same lines as Daniel Goleman: the level of awareness of our personality is a determinant factor on our capacity to lead (leadership capital). As figure 2.2 indicates, our leadership capital depends on our largely fixed nature (personality that is inherited and developed during the first years of childhood) plus/minus the variable nurture (positive or negative habits that we develop in our adulthood and during the teenage years under the influence of values or role models or crises).


Figure 2.2 Sources of leadership capital

Source: (Rivera 2013)

A wrong analysis (low self-awareness) of our starting point (nature) will diminish our possibilities of developing the leadership capital we need. Kotter, for example, speaks of three sources of leadership that can foster or restrain leadership attitudes: natural origin (heredity and childhood), education and professional life (career experiences), and company culture (corporate culture) (Kotter 1990).

Though this is not a book on theory of leadership, we want to highlight that there is an important philosophical difference with a large part of the practice on leadership development. Many consultants and instructors set as starting points for the development of leadership skills the needs of the context (situational leadership). Our starting point is the needs of the person we want to develop and the identification of the authentic leader who he could be independently of the context.

Using modern terminology, we can say that personality is like the internal navigation system each one of us has. This navigation system produces from time to time admiration and suffering as we need to work intensively on it. Chroningler defines personality as the “individual pattern of behavior that integrates cognitive traits, habits of willpower, emotional characteristics, and automatic tendencies that are noticeable and persist for long periods.” In other words, this navigation system is composed of different, complex, and ambiguous characteristics that interact between each other, creating the source of every action we take. Human beings are everything but simple.

The main word of the definition is integrates. We might share with other people similar ways of thinking (cognitive traits), capacity for action (habits of willpower), emotional reactions (emotional characteristics); however, the composite is unique. People with similar upbringings, cultural roots, and professional backgrounds might have similar personalities, but they will not be identical. It is important we understand this; otherwise, we will wrongly apply the different tests we use to identify personality types.

Johari Window—An Exercise

Johari window (see figure 2.3) was created as a tool to help people to improve their understanding of their inner relationships and relationships with others. In other words, it was created to understand our personality! This is a group exercise, meaning, you will need to find 2 to 4 people to work with you.

When doing this exercise, you must choose several adjectives from a given list (next page) by picking the ones you believe portrays their personality. Your peers, friends, and colleagues (between 3 and 5 will do) are asked to pick the same number of adjectives from the same list describing the same person, meaning “you.” When all have picked the subjects, all of you must insert them in the Johari window.

The rules for inserting the adjectives are as follows:

Open area—The matching adjectives should be inserted in this quadrant.

Blind area—Adjectives that were only selected by your peers, friends, and colleagues go there

Hidden area—Adjectives that were selected only by you should be in this quadrant, because either you do not know it or your selection does not fit reality (Luft 1969)

Unknown area—The adjectives that were not selected by any parties go here.


Figure 2.3 Johari window

Source: (Luft 1969)

Please, find the Johari adjectives:

























































Part of Exercise—Your Johari Window

Please do the exercise.








It is important you observe the difference between your perception of yourself and how others perceive you. Your development potential will largely depend on how you deal with this gap (blind area). Alpha males are generally extremely talented people with full open areas but with important elements in the blind area as well. Their long-term success will depend on how ready they are to confront the blind area.

Keirsey Temperament Sorter—An Exercise

As said before, personality is a configuration of observable personality traits, such as habits of communication, patterns of action, sets of characteristic attitudes, values, and talents. It also encompasses personal needs, the kinds of contributions that individuals make in the workplace, and the roles they play in society. Each personality has its own unique qualities and shortcomings, strengths, and challenges. In a variation of the most popular personality test (MBTI), Dr. David Keirsey has created his own test along the lines of four basic temperaments: artisan, guardian, idealist, and rational. We have used this test hundreds of times; therefore, we know how powerful it is.

The four mentioned temperaments are not simply arbitrary collections of characteristics, but spring from an interaction of the two basic dimensions of human behavior: our communication and our actions, our words and our deeds, or, simply, what we say and what we do (Keirsey Temperament Sorter n.d.). These personality tests are self-evaluation of our perceived behavior, which means that they are not a precise picture of our personality. We always suggest to our participants that they share their findings with people who know them quite well.

You can find the test in Appendix 2 of this book with the accompanying instructions on how to read it. There is plenty of information on the Internet as well. We suggest that you complete the assessment in one sitting and in a time slot of approximately 20 minutes. When responding to each question, think about how you are most naturally. Do not think about how you wish you were, or how others expect you to be.

For some questions, both choices may seem to fit. In those cases, just ask yourself, “Which one happens more automatically? Which alternative is slightly more comfortable for me?” and pick that option (Keirsey Temperament Sorter n.d.).

AHA. Now, you should turn to the first exercise in your personal and career journey “Leader’s Journal” and should start filling in the roadmap with a summary profile of your personality based on the results of the Kersey test—1.1 Self-awareness and 1.1.1 My personality according to the Keirsey test.

The Importance of Cultural Background

Culture is the collective mental programming of a society, which distinguishes one group of people from another. This mental programming influences patterns of thinking, which are reflected in the meaning people attach to various aspects of life and which, with the passing of generations, become crystallized in the institutions of a society.

Our culture influences our personality, though it does not determine it. Other factors might have an even bigger impact: family, religious beliefs, education, early life experiences, and so on. Still, our national culture can offer important insights about our behavior and personality.

Hofstede’s research on cultural differences is probably one of the most popular descriptors of the differences between the national cultures. It assigns scores on six cultural dimensions: power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, long-term orientation, and indulgence. Observing the scores of our culture of origin in comparison with other cultures offers interesting insights on the impact of our cultural background on our preferences of behavior.

Next in figure 2.4 we can see the comparison between two European Union (EU) countries, Latvia, and Germany. According to this graph, German culture fosters more empowerment to the lower ranks (lower power distance), both cultures discourage team-based relationships (high individualism), Latvian culture resists assertive use of power (low masculinity), both cultures restrain risk-taking attitude (high uncertainty avoidance), both cultures are quite conservative in values (high long-term orientation), both cultures reward hard work (low indulgence).


Figure 2.4 Germany and Latvia country comparison

Source: (Hofstede-Insights n.d.)

If we explore for every culture these six dimensions, we can get an useful overview of the deep drivers of any culture relative to other world cultures (Hofstede-Insights, n.d.). For more detailed information regarding each category, please visit their webpage.

AHA. Culture is a very important input in the development of our personality, though, as we said before, it does not explain the whole story. In the next session, we will invite you to assess your own cultural background using the Hofstede Cultural Assessment tool.

Hofstede Cultural Test—An Exercise

You will have the chance now to fill the test. But, before, we recommend reading the definition of each dimension as given by Hofstede. Please complete the Hofstede questionnaire (Appendix 4).

Now, please turn to your personal and career journey “Leader’s Journal” and fill in your road map—1.1.3 The impact of my culture (Hofstede test and paper) and the conclusions from this test.

Conclusions—Avoiding the Citizen Kane Dilemma

Citizen Kane is Orson Welles’ masterwork (#1 in the American Film Institute’s list of Best American Movies), and it remains grand entertainment, sharply acted (starring many of Welles’ Mercury Players on the road to thriving film careers), and directed with inspired visual flair.

Chronicling the stormy life of an influential publishing tycoon, this Best Original Screenplay Academy Award winner is rooted in themes of power, corruption, vanity—the American Dream lost in the mysterious last word of a dying man: Rosebud. A classic to this day, Citizen Kane has only grown in stature since its release, although it was not exactly ignored at the time of its 1941 premiere, garnering nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture (Warner Bros n.d.).

Through this movie, you can see how a person with so many resources was actually not capable of finally succeeding due to the lack of self-awareness. Even though his life changed radically during the early teenage years, the impact of his childhood stayed forever. The movie is very clear that the resources that he had were harmful to attaining his main life’s goals. The reason is that he was never fully aware of both his own evident limitations and the most important means to attain his happiness. The cost he paid was loneliness.

During this chapter, we have considered the relevance of self-awareness to understand our development potential and the real roadmap for our lives and careers. Self-awareness is not everything, but it is the main starting point for any serious personal development project. The core concept of the chapter was authentic leadership. Understanding ourselves will guarantee that we will not lead other people’s lives, but we will work on the maximum development of our natural self.

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