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Self-awarenes is the conscious understanding of one's personality and the perceptions others have of you.  It includes the conscious knowledge of one's character, feelings, motives, and desires.

An Easy Case for Self-Awareness
To many leadership development professionals, it is intuitive that self-awareness is the most critical trait of an effective leader. And it has even been quantified.
As reported by Entrepreneur, a survey of 75 members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council rated self-awareness as the most important competency for leaders to develop. Victor Lipman, a contributor to Forbes, cited a study conducted by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations who examined a number executive interpersonal traits found that:

“Leadership searches give short shrift to ‘self-awareness’ which should actually be a top criterion. Interestingly, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success. This is not altogether surprising as executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in categories in which the leader lacks acumen. These leaders are also more able to entertain the idea that someone on their team may have an idea that is even better than their own.”

Today, many MBA programs also recognize the important role self-awareness plays in the effectiveness of leaders. An MBA candidate’s ability to demonstrate self-awareness in their application is now a consideration to be accepted more and more MBA programs. And once there, many of the schools have more programs within the schools to foster even greater self-awareness as part of their curriculum.
How to Become More Self-Aware
The journey to become self-aware is not sexy nor is it easy. There is no glamour in the quest. Self-awareness is not a destination. It’s a challenging humbling ongoing journey. Looking at yourself squarely in the face can be unflattering. Hearing the perceptions of others can be brutal. None-the-less, self-awareness is a key enabler to effective leadership. The good news is that it can be cultivated. Here are some things you can do on your journey to be self-aware:

• Self-Examination: There is an array of assessment instruments available online and offline – free and for fee. Assessments like Meyers Briggs, Strengths Finders 34, SDL and more are effective tools. These tests are not exhaustive, but can lay the foundation to gain conscious knowledge of your character, feelings, motives, and desires. They are guides.
• Feedback from Others: Gaining insight into how you are perceived is imperative. 360-degree feedback from your team, peers and management is key. Getting perspectives from your friends and family is also important. Feedback can be gotten in many ways – anywhere from an anonymous survey to an earnest conversation across a shared cup of coffee.
• Self-Reflection: While not the end-all, looking in the rear view mirror and reflecting on “what” you have done and “how” you got it done can be invaluable. Part of this assessment includes insight from others who were with you along the way. It also means you may have to “journal” or track metrics or other information that can be part of your “postgame” assessment.
• Awareness of Others: Having a good understanding of yourself helps you understand and work better with others. As a leader, you can leverage the same tools you used to assess yourself, team and partners with your team and even your peers. By inspiring the same journey in those around you, you can create a value system and culture that is more open, inclusive, creative and innovative.
• Own Mistakes: One of the hardest things for anyone to do is to admit that they made a mistake. A hallmark of a great leader is that they acknowledge their mistakes, apologize for that mistake and accept and use the insights from the feedback they invariably receive. This is not a sign of weakness. Done well, it is a signal to your team that you value accountability and that everyone, even you are held accountable. The lessons you learned from your mistakes, are lessons that are also learned by those around you. Everyone wins.

Risk of Low Self-Awareness

There are a number of risks of having low self-awareness. Briefly, here are a few:

• Low Team Engagement: Leaders who have low self-awareness probably don’t have a good handle of their strengths and weaknesses, consequently they have limited insight into and empathy for others. This negatively affects the strength and genuineness of the relationships and partnerships they have with their team, peers and management.
• Poor Business Performance: As reported by Forbes, the Green Peak’s research summary astutely said that “soft skills drive hard results”. That is NOT to say that soft skills alone, such as self-awareness, can be a substitute for traditional leadership skills. At the risk of being redundant, if you have low relationships and engagement by others, it will be difficult for you to lead teams and influences others toward common goals.
• Derailed Careers: It’s pretty simple. If your team is not engaged and you are not getting business results, that pretty much negatively affects your promotion potential.

What We Do at Kaleidoscope
In our annual Leadership Forum, we help participants examine themselves through their own eyes and through the reflection of others. We use an assessment and a series of exercises, workshops, discussions and feedback tools to help each participant understand themselves and use that self-awareness as fodder to accelerate their leadership journeys.
Because the number of participants in each of our Leadership Forums is limited to 50 participants, our faculty and Institute Leaders are able to coach at a specific and personal level.
In the end, we believe that there are many characteristics, traits and attributes of an effective leader. These “best practices” can help propel you toward success in your professional and personal life. We are resolute in our belief that self-awareness is a vital enabler to effective leadership. Without self-awareness all other best practices (even contextual understanding) are less effective and lead to unengaged teams and less successful business results.

We invite you to go to our website and:

• Register for our next Kaleidoscope Leadership Forum, November 16-20, 2016 where you can experience this empowering 4-day event to pivot your journey to be an effective leader

• Check out our Leader “Click Tips” from our faculty, speakers and contributors

• Subscribe to become a member of the Kaleidoscope Leadership Institute and access:

- Kaleidoscope’s quarterly Reflections Blogs
- Kaleidoscope’s semi-annual Insight Newsletters
- Kaleidoscope’s semi-annual webinars
- Kaleidoscope’s “Click Tips” Leadership Tips
- Member Peer-to-Peer Forum


Some say that people know effective leadership when they see it. Yet, a leader's effectiveness is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes an effective leader in one environment may not be successful in another.

But surely there must be a list of best practices that act as a formula for effective leadership.

So we looked. We found no formula.

Instead, we found a dizzying array of lists that call out characteristics, traits and attributes of an effective leader. Take a look at what is out there. Do an online search or go to a book store and glance through books on leadership by known and lesser known authors. We at Kaleidoscope found as many lists of best practices for leadership as there are letters in the alphabet! Even more, we actually found a list with over 50 attributes. Amazing! Of course, there was overlap among lists. So, where to start? Which are most important? Is there a "silver bullet" to effective leadership?

Here at the Kaleidoscope Leadership Institute, we took a step back to think about this confusing state of affairs. As a leadership institute, we thought we should weigh in with our point of view on what it takes to be an effective leader.

Though our focus is on women of color, especially those in education, the principles are the same across color, race, creed, national origin, gender, and profession.

After much thought and research, we believe there are 2 critical traits an effective leader must have and that these 2 traits provide the foundation on which all other best practices are built:



Without self-awareness and contextual understanding, other effective leadership characteristics, traits and attributes tend to be rudderless and reactive. Kaleidoscope believes that the more self-aware an individual is and the better they know the environment in which they find themselves - the better they can lead. It's that simple.

The challenging thing about these 2 traits is that mastering them is an ongoing life-long journey.There is no “one and done” here. Coincidentally, the same is true for the myriad of leadership best practices that are informed by one’s self-awareness and contextual understanding.

The following is a glimpse of how we see these 2 traits:

1. SELF AWARENESS: We define self-awareness as the conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, desires and strengths. It is no surprise that the journey toward self-awareness is not easy. Looking yourself squarely in the face is difficult. Hearing the perceptions of others is not easy and can be humbling. Yet, both perspectives are necessary to gain the insight into the "you" that you see and the "you" others see. This perspective is necessary to be a successful effective leader.

In our Leadership Forum, we help our participants examine themselves through their own eyes and through the reflection of others. Because the number of participants in each of our Leadership Forums is around 50 participants, our faculty and Institute Leaders are able to coach them through exercises and discussions to turbo charge their journey to self-awareness and pivot their perspective.

2. CONTEXTUAL UNDERSTANDING: We define contextual understanding as the ability to grasp, comprehend and appreciate the circumstances, conditions, factors, background and state of affairs for one's self, situation, team, department or organization. As with self-awareness, gaining an understanding of one's surroundings - the people, processes, policies, politics, perspectives and more can be challenging. The greater your understanding, the better you are able to focus and apply the right leadership characteristics, traits and attributes that are effective for that situation.

In our Leadership Forum, we use case studies and exercises to highlight elements of one's environment that one must know to have contextual understanding. Because we hold our Forums to around 50 participants, each participant can be heard, rigorous discussions had and deeper personalized insights gained.

Most people think of leadership as something that's done at work or in an organization. At the Kaleidoscope Leadership Institute, we know that the attributes of effective leadership can be utilized at home as well. We will talk about this point in a future blog.


In the end, we believe that there are many characteristics, traits and attributes of an effective leader. These best practices guide you toward success in your professional and personal life. We are resolute in our belief that self-awareness and contextual understanding are critical as the foundation on which all other leadership best practices can be built. Without these 2 critical leadership traits, all other best practices will be less effective, leading to less successful business results.

We invite you to go to our website and:

- Reflections, Kaleidoscope’s quarterly blog

- Insights, Kaleidoscope’s semi-annual newsletters

- Semi-annual webinars

- Leaders’ Tips

- Peer-to- Peer Forum

- Reference list

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