Self-awareness is a key component of effective leadership. It’s difficult to modify our behavior and its effect on others if we fail to objectively make observations about how we react during challenging situations. Improving our ability to recognize our emotional reactions in real time allows us to make a rational plan going forward.

Looking inward to understand ourselves well is a positive step. There are, however, some self-awareness strategies that are more effective than others. As Tasha Eurich, author of the book Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life, points out that introspection and insight are two different avenues of self-awareness that can create very different results.

When we are being introspective, we ask the question “Why?” “Why are we the way we are?”  We question our beliefs, our motives and our values. Using introspection may not increase our self-awareness because “we tend to search for the easiest and most plausible answers. Generally, once we’ve found one or two, we stop looking. This can be the result of our innate confirmation bias, which prompts us to lean towards reasons that confirm our existing beliefs.” 

Euirch goes on to suggest that using introspection may even create a negative effect. These negative perceptions can lead to self-doubt and increased anxiety.

When we are being insightful, we ask the question “What?” “What emotions am I feeling now, what’s another way to see this situation?” Using the “what” question allows us to identify our emotion then focus on options, choices, and a path forward. The outcomes of using insight are proactive and problem-solving in nature and can help us “better understand and manage our emotions.”

There is a time and place in our work environment when using the “why” question is important. When a project or process fails to bring value to the company, it’s important to ask “why” in order to understand the dynamics that lead to the undesired outcome. Once the “why” questions are answered, the company can avoid repeating the mistake.

Eurich summarizes this way, “…’why’ questions are generally better to help us understand events in our environment, and ‘what’ questions are generally better to help us understand ourselves.”

Self-awareness is multi-faceted. There are layers of emotions that we learn to compartmentalize as a way to move forward in a fast-paced world. This can affect our individual performance and our culture at work. At Possibilities, we provide tangible emotional intelligence tools through our Executive Coaching and Leadership Development programs. We help large and small organizations develop Intentional Culture. Visit our Testimonials page to hear from other companies with whom we work.