How To Develop Self-Awareness In Business (Yes, It Matters!)


A business friend of mine named Garret once played a mischievous trick on his employees. He pulled out their resumes from his file and made a few changes to them. 

He altered the employees’ names, the names of the companies they’d worked for, and other details that would identify each employee. At the next staff meeting, Garrett passed out copies of the resumes. “These are some folks we’re thinking of hiring,” he said, “What do you think?”

The results were startling. The team members didn’t even recognize their own backgrounds. To make matters worse, they all agreed that they’d never hire any of these people!

“Know thyself” is a traditional bit of philosophical wisdom. It may sound simple, but as Garrett’s story illustrates, self-awareness in business isn’t as common as you might think. However, it’s a vital skill to cultivate if you wish to go farther and do more than the competition.

What Does Self-Awareness In Business Look Like?

Self-awareness may seem pretty explanatory, but being self-aware in business takes focused, intentional work.

You will need to know what makes you, you – your instincts, biases, character and beliefs. You will need to honestly evaluate both your strengths and your weaknesses. It may be tempting to emphasize one over the other, but do not downplay either one.

If you don’t understand why you react the way you do to situations around you, you will find it difficult to control your responses and lean into your strengths during those situations.

This is the gift of self-awareness – knowing yourself so you can better manage your life and career. But to really excel in business, you will have to take it one step further. 

Good self-awareness in business doesn’t just mean being aware of how others affect you, but also of how you affect others. You are not operating in a silo: how you impact others is crucial to standing apart from the competition. Self-awareness is not just about “finding” yourself, it’s about becoming the person you want to be.

Self-awareness is not just about “finding” yourself, it’s about becoming the person you want to be. @debrabenton sharing insights on "How To Develop Self-Awareness in Business." Click To Tweet

How To Be Self-Aware In Business

Like most worthwhile ventures in your career, being self-aware will take some work. It may even take some outside input, but the payoff is worth it. The more you know about yourself, the more you can choose to be whomever you want.

Increase Your Self-Awareness by Writing Down Your Story

If it’s not already obvious from the name, self-awareness always starts with….self! It takes serious thought, self-examination, and reflection to find out whom you are at this point so you can decide whom you want to be going forward.

Make some time for this process- turn off the phone, shut down email (set up a meeting with yourself if you have to), and retreat to a quiet place. You may need to do this more than once. Honest self-evaluation takes some time.

While there’s nothing wrong with taking a personality test (there are plenty of them out there – over 2,500 according to an article by the BBC!), I believe you’ll get more benefit in writing down your life story. 

Why? Who you are comes from your exposure to date—a sum of all your experiences—and it’s beneficial to ponder about it. So write your story.

The purpose of writing your story is not to navel-gaze but to take a personal inventory, make a self-assessment, inspect your life, and “peel back the onion a little.” It is also to help you:

  • Find your own truth to grasp what makes you, you.
  • Know where your instincts come from and find all sides of your nature.
  • Get knowledge of your character and feelings, and find the emotional biases and beliefs you carry around.
  • Make yourself aware of things simmering below the surface so you can understand your anxieties.
  • Identify your strengths and capabilities so you can leverage them as you need to. 
  • Isolate your weaknesses, know your blind spots, and identify your limitations to overcome. (One CEO told me, “I’d rather be made aware of my failings through self-reflection than from friends.”) 
  • Get a handle on all of your hard and soft assets.
  • Accurately assess your talents and see what makes you special—what makes you one of one.
  • See what you’re really committed to.
  • Realize what and how your kids learned from you.
  • Communicate well and share your background clearly, effectively, and thoroughly.
  • Define your personal brand.

Self-awareness is not an instant process, but it is a worthwhile one. Don’t neglect the time or work it takes to know who you are.

Who you are comes from your exposure to date—a sum of all your experiences—and it’s beneficial to ponder about it. So write your story. Click To Tweet

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Other People For Their Insight

Even if you have a good self-awareness of who you are and how you operate, you are likely to overlook some aspects of your personality or presence that could be affecting your ability to grow professionally. No one 100% sees themselves the way others do.

You need to learn how you’re viewed by others so you can take action to change if necessary. 

So ask. 

Many companies provide some sort of 360-degree interview exercises to senior people — but don’t wait until it’s offered to you. Initiate your own version. When you do, be open to the results. Be careful not to become defensive.

Questions To Ask Other People About Yourself

If you’re ready to hear what others honestly think about you, here are some questions you can use. 

  • How well do I look for ways to meet or exceed customer needs?
  • How well do I look for ways to meet or exceed manager’s needs?
  • How well do I take a positive approach to business?
  • How well do I work effectively with people in a wide variety of circumstances?
  • How well do I analyze complex situations accurately and in a timely manner?
  • How well do I minimize activities that do not add value to the organization?
  • How well do I value others’ thinking; champion others’ thoughts?
  • How well do I understand how to get things done in the organization?
  • How well do I have in-depth industry knowledge?
  • How well do I overcome obstacles?
  • How well do I quickly act when I see an opportunity?
  • How well do I demonstrate intellectual curiosity?
  • How well do I make sure I can be counted on?
  • How well do I remain in control when stressed or pressed?
  • How well do I gain trust?
  • How well do I admit responsibility for failures or mistakes?
  • How well do I help others?
  • How well do I follow through to get results?
  • How well do I set a good example?
  • How well do I see and understand the broad view of business?

You don’t want to ask in an anxious, aggressive, or intimidated manner. Just straight out seek the person’s opinion with genuine interest and inquisitiveness. Pick one or two questions to try with one person, ask others, and continue over time.

If the person says something you don’t quite understand, ask for an example. Sometimes you have to ask the same question 3-4 different ways to help someone answer.

Always thank the person for their candor and later report back to him or her about what you’ve done following up on the feedback and the results you’ve experienced. 

You need to learn how you’re viewed by others so you can take action to change if necessary.  Click To Tweet

Evaluate Other People’s Responses Objectively And Humbly

Not everything you hear will be relevant feedback. You may even hear contradictory opinions as to how your attitude or presence affect others, but more likely than not, you will learn some things about yourself you did not know.

As you consult people, take note if any pattern emerges that is not productive for your career advancement and decide to do something about it. Knowledge only gets you part of the way – it’s up to you to use it to your advantage.

So You’ve Become Self-Aware, Now What?

You’ve done the work, you’ve asked the questions, and you have a good idea of who you are and how you impact others around you. So what’s the next step?

The next step is to take action.

Pick a goal – a behavior to correct, a faulty belief to change, or a skill you need to develop and craft a plan to meet it. Changing just a few habits can add a measurable impact to your presence and career.

Small steps turn into big steps, so a little course correction can sometimes make all the difference. The important thing is that you are taking actionable steps to affect the change you want to see. Like Nike touts, “Just do it!”

Self-Awareness in Business Is Crucial, But It’s Only One Step Towards Success

Self-awareness is not an end goal, but a tool for you to use. Its purpose is to equip you to grow. If you aren’t using it to pursue change and growth, you are missing out on the primary reason for self-awareness in business.

Take the time to learn who you are and how you affect others, but then use that knowledge to grow into the person you want to be. After all, you are the CEO of your life and career, so be a good one.

If you are interested in growing your self-awareness or need help taking that next step in your career, contact me to discuss coaching, or if you have a group of emerging leaders, for a speaking engagement.

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