Why Great Leadership In Any Area Of Life Requires Self-Awareness

Smiling couple enjoying the benefits of self-awareness in their relationship.

Do you know yourself well enough to be a great leader?

At some point we’ve all thought about the qualities of a great leader based on our experience with a poor leader. A heartless boss, a hypocritical politician, a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do parent. Sometimes the absence of admirable qualities makes us all the more aware of what we admire. We intrinsically know the qualities of great leadership. And self-awareness tops the list.

You know what it’s like to be under someone else’s authority. A teacher, coach, manager – anyone  charged with influencing an outcome by directing the behavior of others can wield a lot of power. And that power can shape more than just your salary or performance in the classroom or on the field.

Leadership isn’t limited to those with direct authority or power. It’s a quality that is cultivated (or starkly absent) in anyone who exudes influence in the lives of others. When someone is a leader in name or by appointment only, everyone suffers. But, when someone blends leadership and self-awareness into an expression of personal integrity, all things become possible.

The beauty of leadership is that it’s a quality available to everyone, regardless of professional rank. And it’s applicable to every area of life.

But, no matter what area of life calls upon your leadership, your leadership will always call upon your self-awareness. 

Here’s why.

Self-awareness is a component of emotional intelligence. It’s the ability to recognize your own emotions, thoughts, and values and to understand how they impact your own behavior. This means being in-tune with your inner-workings and not simply going through life as a victim of yourself and your circumstances.

Think for a moment of what it would be like to trust a “leader” who has no concept of his own anger triggers. Or a “leader” who can’t recognize the signs of overwhelm and ends up not being able to make decisions. Or a “leader” who uses racial or bigoted language because “that’s how he grew up,” and he never took the time to question it.

These so-called leaders may have a position or title. But they don’t have the qualities of leadership. And self-awareness is the most essential missing ingredient that leads to all the others.

A true leader is grounded in an awareness of his or her strengths and weaknesses. This humility – this honest self-assessment – is at the heart of what’s called “the trinity of self-awareness”: know thyself, improve thyself, complement thyself.

Only when you are aware of your own strengths and weaknesses can you strategically apply that knowledge to the benefit of your circumstances. 

Obviously you want to capitalize on your strengths and minimize your weaknesses while working to improve on them. Pretending that your weaknesses don’t exist will only breed confusion, hypocrisy, disloyalty, and failure.

It’s precisely this self-awareness that inspires trust and loyalty in others. When others look to you and see that you’re confident in your strengths, they’re inspired to emulate you. And, when they see that you’re humble about your weaknesses, they learn how to self-improve without fear or shame. 

In this way, you bring your strengths to the table to serve the greater good. You become an example to be admired and followed, not an authority to be blindly obeyed.

It’s obvious that leadership and self-awareness can lead to success in the workplace. But what about other areas of life, like your personal relationships?

In order to understand leadership and self-awareness in a more personal context, it’s important to make a shift in the perception of leadership. 

Too often we think in terms of “leaders” and “followers.” The first have their act together, and the others default to walking in their shadow.

But leadership doesn’t imply superiority or even authority. And the self-awareness at the heart of it serves the greater good as well as the individual. 

Emotional intelligence implies not only the ability to be aware of emotions, but to appropriately apply and manage them. It also implies the ability to recognize and help manage emotions in others. And this is the foundation of empathy.

How can you recognize the facial expressions of sadness or fear in someone else if you deny those emotions in yourself? How can you extend compassion and create an emotionally safe space for someone else if you scorn your own vulnerability? 

Self-awareness is essential to integrity, and integrity is the inspiration for loyalty. Only when you can recognize your feelings, thoughts, and values and their connection to your behavior can you objectively assess your choices. 

Are you acting in accordance with your values? And are you empowering others by the consistent application of your strengths and your openness to feedback on your weaknesses?

This connection between leadership and self-awareness extends to communication, as well. If you can’t recognize and identify your own feelings, how can you possibly manage their expression? And, if you can’t exercise self-control when you don’t like how you feel, how successful will your communication be?

Consider that in any relationship – personal or professional – the only entity over which you have control is yourself. Attempting to skip over the work of self-awareness and go straight to managing others will be disastrous from the get-go. 

The success of any interaction will come down to your ability to modulate your own words and behavior based on an intently cultivated self-awareness. This includes that essential but often neglected component of communication: listening.

Leadership isn’t limited to those elected to public office or doling out company policy from the C-suite. It’s a character quality hard-earned through self-reflection and practice. And it finds its expression in every area of life that connects you to your values.

Whether you’re managing a sales team, directing strangers through a life-saving rescue, resolving a conflict with a friend, or encouraging your child in their attempt to master math, leadership qualities will determine your success.

And the best way to develop those leadership qualities? Learn how to be more self-aware.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in cultivating greater self-awareness and becoming a better leader.

Looking for more information about how you can cultivate your self-awareness? You’ll find what you’re looking for in How To Be More Self-Aware.

7 Success And Happiness Quotes – It Is Possible To Have Both

Man wearing sunglasses and smiling after reading success and happiness quotes.

Do you believe it’s possible to be successful & happy? You’re in good company if you do.

It’s not too much to ask, is it? To be successful and happy? After all, it seems only logical that if you can only achieve success, you’ll be happy. But you don’t have to be knee-deep in adulthood to know that’s not necessarily how life works. So let’s look to the sages, past and present, for some success and happiness quotes that illuminate the path to having life both ways.

Here are 7 pieces of success and happiness wisdom to convince you that both are possible.

  1. “Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success.  If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”  (Albert Schweitzer

    I’ve listed Schweitzer’s wisdom at the top of the success and happiness quotes because all the others flow from it. 

    How many times have you heard stories of people leaving six-figure Wall Street jobs for a more Thoreauan, stress-free life? It’s as if some benevolent force swoops in and saves them just before they sign their souls over to the Devil. They’re exhausted, numb, and so poor that all they have is money. Everything they thought they wanted…and it didn’t make them happy. 

    And how many times have you heard stories of people who have “lost everything” but managed to walk away teeming with gratitude? Or the person who “just knows” what s/he is supposed to do in life, even if it means a sustenance of Ramen Noodles? 

    It’s the happiness – the genuine, permeating, contagious happiness — that is foundational to success, not the other way around.
  2. “Happiness is not something readymade. It comes from your own actions.” (Dalai Lama) 

    Leave it to the Dalai Lama to make us look at our own choices as conduits to happiness. He understands that happiness is not a destination, but a way of life. And we choose it every day – not by wishing, but by choosing actions that cultivate happiness. 

    As great spiritual leaders have emphasized through the ages, we must stand guard at the “source.” Our thoughts become words, our words actions, our actions habits, our habits character…and our character our destiny. 

    When we know and live our values, we become authentic. Happiness, in this light, really is an inside job. 
  3. “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” (Winston Churchill) 

    Churchill, another great icon of success and happiness quotes, knew a thing or two about success, despite the odds. 

    The drudgery of the message is that the road to success is paved with failure. 

    The allure of the message is that enthusiasm, passion, happiness can connect all the dots. 

    When your heart is convicted toward its purpose, failure becomes just a weeding-out process. You learn what not to do. Yea! You learn whom not to trust. Yea! You learn what to hold onto and what to release. Yea! 

    And you most definitely learn what you’re made of as you grow in your determination. Yea!
  4. “If you can do what you do best and be happy, you are further along in life than most people.” (Leonardo DiCaprio) 

    If anyone should know about the connection between success and happiness, it’s this bright Hollywood star. DiCaprio is doing what he loves, and he does it well. 

    But, before you assume his fame and fortune were handed to him on a silver platter, check out his inspiring rags-to-riches story

    This Oscar-winning leading man led with his heart and the source of his happiness. He also inherently understood that most people never know what it’s like to be happy at what they do best. Too many believe that success is the byproduct of hating what you do, but doing it anyway in order to succeed.
  5. “You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job and not be paid for it.”  (Oprah Winfrey) 

    Lest we get blinded by her wealth and industry dominance, let’s recall Oprah’s rags-to-riches story. She took risks that most of us wouldn’t dream of taking –
    She fought hard for her success. But her fight was born out of passion for something that fueled her happiness. 

    Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. 

    Find your passion. Lean into it. Laugh when the hours while away without your realizing.

    Life has a way of responding to dedicated passion with the opening of unforeseen doors.
  6. “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” (Oprah Winfrey) 

    Of all the success and happiness quotes we’ve heard spill from Oprah’s lips over the years, the topic of gratitude tops the list. In one way or another, she always manages to come back to it. 

    How otherwise could you do a job for which you might not be paid? How otherwise could you be happy when any number of life’s tragedies befall you? 

    Gratitude keeps you grounded in the present. It is a posture of awareness of all that has been lavished upon you, even when you think you have nothing. 

    Gratitude allows you to walk in nature and feel transcended in the moment. It allows you to taste your food with a mindfulness of all that was done and sacrificed to provide it. It allows you to recognize love, kindness, beauty, and possibility. 

    It also allows you to recognize in others a need that you can fulfill. 

    But, if you see only what you don’t have, you will forever compare yourself to those who have more. They will have more money, more stuff, more success, more anything-you-can-think-of. And you will want it. 

    And, while you’re drooling over Oprah’s millions of dollars, you’ll forget that she was once just grateful to be alive.
  7. “It’s never too late — never too late to start over, never too late to be happy.” (Jane Fonda) 

    And in the end, it all comes full circle, doesn’t it? Happiness really is the Holy Grail – the success for which we are too often willing to slay dragons (and our fellow man). It’s the object of every quest, the calling from deep within the well. And yet, most of us spend the most vital years of our lives not paying attention to it, and therefore not recognizing it.

What all happy people know about being genuinely happy is this: It’s never too late to align your concept of success with the happiness that has been there all along.

You simply have to open your heart…

…and listen.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in putting together the pieces so you can experience both success and happiness.

Looking for more information about how you can have a happier life? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Building A Happy Life.