The Stanford Graduate School of Business surveyed its advisory council on the leader’s most important quality. And their answer was unanimous: self-awareness, this means that self-awareness is considered a crucial quality for effective leadership. It allows leaders to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and to develop coping strategies for their weaknesses while enhancing their strengths. 

The Korn Ferry Institute found in their survey of executives that self-awareness measurably contributes to peak performance and is a crucial indicator of success in a career.

Self-awareness as a starting point for Authentic and Powerful Leadership

Through my work as an HR Manager in many different organizations and now as a leadership & strengths coach, I am convinced that developing a strengths-based approach is the key to positive and effective leadership. It starts with developing a good self-image and understanding one’s own strengths and leadership abilities. Effective leadership begins with the leaders themselves. It is important for leaders to be aware of their skills and strengths, as well as their weaknesses. They should be able to reflect on their own behavior and be open to feedback from others.

Self-awareness, self-regulation, self-efficacy, self-development, self-respect, and self-confidence form the core of authentic leadership development. As you can see, there is a lot of “self” involved 😉, but that is where strong leadership begins. However, in practice, it appears that few leaders take the time for the necessary reflection and development.

Effective leadership is developed by first generating personal leadership. Personal leadership is the ability to lead oneself by developing one’s own qualities and talents. Effective leaders are constantly engaged in personal development. The ability to reflect on oneself and one’s actions is crucial for successful leadership.

‘Leadership begins with you –and you will not succeed as a leader unless you have some sense of who you are’ – ‘Why should anyone be led by you’ – Goffee & Jones

You can’t manage others if you don’t manage yourself first. The essence of managing oneself is to know our strengths and to fully develop a strength-based leadership approach. What are my strengths? How do I perform? What are my values? Where do I belong? What should my contribution be? – Peter Drucker

Self-awareness is so important but numerous leaders harbor blind spots concerning their skills, values, strengths, weaknesses, potential and the impact of their behavior. Therefore, apart from introspection, embracing feedback from others is crucial for leaders, as they often lack insight into how their qualities and leadership style are perceived by their stakeholders. It takes courage to look at your own behavior and what you need to change to improve your leadership.

Engaging in a conversation where you openly acknowledge to your team that you are actively working on improving your leadership, even though you haven’t fully figured it out yet, is powerful and a display of strength. I am proud of the managers that have embarked on this leadership journey with me.

Strengths-based Leadership


Bill George, professor of leadership at Harvard Business School and former CEO of Medtronic, argues that self-awareness is the starting point of leadership. Self-awareness is the ability to be aware of one’s thoughts, emotions, and values. Authentic leadership begins with self-awareness. Bill George is an authority on authentic leadership and has written several books on the subject, including True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership and Discover Your True North. 

According to him, authentic leadership begins with self-awareness and developing a deep understanding of your own goals, values, and personality. By embracing these dimensions of authentic leadership, leaders can work from their own leadership strength and have a positive impact on their teams and organizations.

We all have the capacity to inspire and empower others. But we must first be willing to devote ourselves to our personal growth and development as leaders.
Discovering your authentic leadership requires a commitment to developing yourself. Like musicians and athletes, you must devote yourself to a lifetime of realizing your potential.

Bill George

“Self-awareness includes the knowledge that a leader has about his or her own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the assessment of how their employees perceive their leadership style (Walumbwa et al., 2010). Coaching can be valuable in increasing self-awareness. John Whitmore is a well-known author in the field of leadership and coaching, and he is also the creator of the well-known and widely used coaching model GROW, described in his book Coaching for Performance. He says..

Only when you are authentic, does it give the good feeling that goes along with believing in yourself.

Avolio and Gardner (2005) identified four elements of self-awareness that they believe are specifically relevant to the development of authentic leadership:

  1. Values
  2. Knowledge related to identity
  3. Goals
  4. Emotions


Research consistently emphasizes the importance of self-awareness for effective leadership. Self-aware leaders are better able to understand themselves, regulate their emotions, and show empathy towards others. This increased self-awareness also leads to more self-confidence, the ability to make informed decisions, positive influence on employees and the organization, and success in their careers.

However, despite the proven value of self-awareness, studies indicate that many leaders have blind spots when it comes to their skills, values, strengths, weaknesses, and potential. These blind spots can hinder their ability to lead effectively and achieve their goals.

According to research by Korn Ferry, 80 percent of leaders don’t fully acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses, and up to 40 percent underutilize their potential.

The Korn Ferry Institute found in their survey of executives that self-awareness measurably contributes to peak performance and is a crucial indicator of success in a career.


The inscription “Know Thyself” (γνῶθι σεαυτόν) on the temple of Apollo in Delphi is one of the most famous aphorisms from ancient Greece. The aphorism “Know Thyself” was attributed to various Greek philosophers, including Socrates and Pythagoras. The aphorism was considered a call to self-knowledge and self-reflection and was seen as an important virtue for leadership and personal development. Today, it is still used as a call to self-reflection and personal development.

Authentic leaders are aware of their strengths and weaknesses by reflecting on their own behavior (Lutken, 2010). Reflection leads to self-knowledge (Smith, 2001), which is the essence of authentic leaders (Walumbwa, Wang, Wang, Schaubroeck & Avolio, 2010). By being aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, authentic leaders can align their leadership style with their personal values and goals.


Self-awareness directly affects other essential aspects of leadership, such as self-regulation and empathy. By being self-aware, leaders can better exercise self-control, emotional control, and show empathy toward others.

“Daniel Goleman, an authority in the field of emotional intelligence – and author of the book Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence – considers self-awareness to be the essence of emotional intelligence. The ability to understand oneself and recognize one’s emotions, motivations, and reactions is crucial for good leadership.

Self-awareness is crucial for effective leadership and is often overlooked in leadership development programs - Terese Amabile

Terese Amabile, psychologist and professor at Harvard Business School and author of the book The Progress Principle (more on this interesting ´lesson for leaders´ in my newsletter soon), emphasizes that self-awareness is crucial for effective leadership and that this aspect is often overlooked in leadership development programs.

According to Amabile, honest, consistent, and frequent feedback is essential to increase self-awareness. Leaders need someone who can coach and guide them in understanding feedback and identifying areas for improvement.

360degrees FEEDBACK

An effective tool for increasing self-awareness is 360-degree feedback. This provides feedback from different perspectives of stakeholders, allowing leaders and managers to get a broader view of their strengths, weaknesses, effective and ineffective leadership behavior, their potential, and development needs.

Reflection is an essential part of self-awareness: leaders should take the time to regularly reflect on their work, their influence on others, their values, intentions, and the emotions that influence their behavior. This can help them gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their leadership style. But introspection is not enough, studies show that external self-awareness is also important.


Tasha Eurich, an American author, speaker, and organizational psychologist known for her work on leadership and self-awareness, emphasizes the importance of self-awareness for personal and professional growth in her best-selling book Insight. The book provides insights into how we can develop our self-awareness and how this can lead to better relationships, more effective leadership, and greater satisfaction.

According to Eurich, self-awareness is a crucial factor for success and happiness in life. By understanding ourselves better, we can leverage our strengths and better manage our weaknesses. 

Self-awareness is important for effective leadership because it enables leaders to understand and improve their own style and impact on others, leading to more authenticity and effectiveness in leadership. Self-awareness also enables leaders to understand and improve their impact on others, leading to better relationships and greater job satisfaction.

Research suggests that when we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and creative. We make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. We are better employees who get promoted more often. And we are more effective leaders with more satisfied employees and more profitable companies. Although most people think they are self-aware, self-awareness is actually a rare trait.

Tasha Eurich identifies two categories of self-awareness: internal and external self-awareness. She emphasizes that it is important for leaders to actively work on developing both their internal and external self-awareness.

Internal self-awareness

Internal self-awareness refers to having a clear understanding of our own values, passions, and emotions. It’s about being in tune with our thoughts, feelings, and motivations. According to Eurich, internal self-awareness is crucial for personal growth and well-being. It helps us make better decisions, manage our emotions effectively, and align our actions with our values.

External self-awareness

External self-awareness involves understanding how others see us. It’s about being aware of how our behavior affects others and how others see us. Eurich emphasizes that external self-awareness is important for building strong relationships, effective communication, and leadership. It allows us to understand how our actions and words are interpreted by others and helps us adjust our behavior accordingly.

In short, internal self-awareness is about understanding ourselves, while external self-awareness is about understanding how others see us. Both are important for personal and professional growth, and developing both aspects of self-awareness can lead to improved relationships, better decision-making, and increased effectiveness in various areas.


Self-awareness is not a soft skill, a nice-to-have. It is playing out in your bottom line. This is about leadership effectiveness. – Dana Landis
Leadership’s First Commandment: Know Thyself… No tool can help a leader who lacks self-knowledge – Harvard Business Review editorial


Managing weaknesses leads to a decrease in employee engagement and has a negative effect on customer satisfaction for the organizations (Gallup). The Corporate Leadership Council has drawn the following conclusion based on a survey of 90,000 employees in 135 organizations; a supervisor’s focus on the strengths of their employees showed a strong positive impact on performance: 36% increase. When managers focused on weaknesses / areas for improvement, performance decreased significantly: 27% decrease! Managers who focus on someone’s strengths experience better performance from their people, more motivation and positive energy, leading to more commitment and a willingness to go the extra mile for the organization.

Insight into one’s own leadership strengths form the basis for authentic leadership. By understanding and leveraging your strengths, you can address your blind spots and better understand yourself and align your leadership style with your personal values and goals. By understanding what your strengths are, you can better understand what’s important to you and what makes you stronger, making you lead more authentically, effectively and with more impact.

Strengths-based leadership focuses, among other things, on identifying and developing the strengths of individuals and teams. And by working as a manager based on your own values, goals and personal strengths, you can develop and strengthen an authentic, talent-oriented style of leadership.

Managers need a lot of self-insight and that is sometimes lacking in practice. And they often have blind spots regarding their qualities and the way their leadership is perceived by stakeholders.

In addition to introspection, it is also important that managers are open to feedback from others, as they often have blind spots regarding their qualities and the way their leadership is perceived by stakeholders.

I offer strengths-based leadership coaching, an online academy with many resources, tools and assignments so that you can immediately test the acquired knowledge in practice. You will start with the unique Strengthscope Leader assessment. This is aimed at identifying performance risks and developing strengths, leadership skills, effective leadership behavior. It helps leaders become more self-aware and understand how their leadership is perceived by others. As a manager it is important to invest in your own development, take the step to explore strengths-based leadership coaching and the Strengthscope Leader assessment.

To strengthen your leadership qualities and have a positive impact on your team and organization. This program also aligns with the need for feedback for effective leadership development from different perspectives, such as colleagues, team members, and executives.

Managers need a lot of self-insight and that is sometimes lacking in practice. Do you know what effect your behavior and leadership style have on others? What helps you and what hinders you from leading well? What your strengths and weaknesses are? Awareness of your managerial style and the effect of your behavior on employees is of great importance.

A common problem is that there is often is a big difference between how leaders perceive their own qualities and leadership style and how their employees experience and value this. Many leaders have an incomplete picture of themselves, often exaggerating or underestimating their strengths and having little knowledge of their pitfalls and other performance risks. Therefore, 360-degree strengths-based feedback is a valuable tool, as it provides insight into how others see the leader’s strengths and which qualities and behaviors they value and find most effective.

Work from an authentic, effective leadership style that suits you as a person and what your team and organization expect from you as a leader in this time. Interested? Start with my leadership program for developing authentic, powerful, talent-focused leadership. If you want more information, please contact me.

My services are in Dutch and English to strengthen your leadership skills and become a more Positive and Effective Leader.

I use strengths-based coaching. I am a Strengthscope® practitioner. Strengthscope® is the only strengths profile with a British Psychological Society registered test.

Get your personal StrengthscopeLeader™ profile. With access to the assessment, feedback from your stakeholders, the online academy Leadership & Talent and personal coaching, you’ll gain clarity on your strengths, values, skills, aspirations, vision, leadership behaviors, and leadership outcomes. This serves as a great starting point for your leadership journey.


Research confirms that leveraging your strengths and values is a more effective way to grow as a leader. By focusing on your strengths, you can maximize your performance and achieve greater impact, this approach also improves engagement and delivers better results.

About The Author

Kitty Schaap

CoAchieve | Versterk leiderschap en talent vanuit een Strengths-based aanpak. Voor leidinggevenden, HR-professionals, organisaties.

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