In all my years working in organizations coaching some pretty smart leaders, I’ve found one thing that separates the great bosses from the good-enough bosses: Self-awareness. It’s true that you must know yourself well before you can successfully lead others.

Those who become really great at leading others are the ones who work hard to know themselves and accept themselves. Not many managers start out with a lot of self-awareness, but those who are willing to take  the risks and master the art of introspection and self-honesty, make the best bosses. They know their inner motivations and quirks. They’re comfortable with their imperfections.

They know their strengths and weaknesses and are willing – even eager – to take a hard look at their blind spots. They’re not afraid of feedback because they know they can’t possibly see what others see. They are willing to learn and grow.

When it comes to self-awareness, not everyone is willing to see themselves naked – psychologically speaking, of course! Most of us have blind spots which protect us from feeling weak or vulnerable. Yet hiding or trying to avoid transparency is a major trust-buster. And if your people aren’t sure if they trust you, you’ll have a very hard time trying to lead them to achieve great things.

In The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook by Charles H. Green and Andrea P. Howe, the authors articulate three common blind spots high-achievers (i.e. managers, bosses, leaders) usually have:

  1. You don’t realize the full extent of your need to be liked. How often do you not say or do something because it might be unpopular? While this may sometimes be wise, it lowers your credibility, effectiveness and overall trustworthiness.
  2. You’re not fully aware of the intensity of your internal drive to achieve. Because of your results-orientation, you habitually move too quickly from listening fully to pushing for commitments.
  3. You don’t fully grasp your discomfort with feeling unprepared, not knowing for sure, and not having all the answers. This uneasiness prevents you from engaging in collaborating and depending on others.

All of these blind spots are fairly common in bosses, even the good ones. Marshall Goldsmith writes about them in Mojo and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Unless you take off your blinders, it’s hard to see the blind spots in yourself.

Self-awareness is the foundation for building trust and gaining influence over others. Without self-knowledge you risk damaging the trust you need to have with people and you won’t even notice it.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this; you can contact me here or on LinkedIn.