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This Fast Company article – 4 Habits Of Employees You Should Promote Immediately – contains signs that every leader should be aware of and looking out for. Keeping team members engaged and supporting them with suitable challenges is all part of keeping both individuals and the team energized. To do this leaders have to be closely observing the team in order to recognise when to act.

The article covers 4 signs to look out for:

  1. They don’t always say what you want to hear
  2. They already lead
  3. They’re fully invested
  4. They’re self-aware

It’s the fourth point I wanted to cover more as I believe self-awareness is such an important habit to have. But the challenge comes when someone isn’t self-aware, how do you promote/improve self-awareness in them?

self-awareness – conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires

This is often be perceived as a spiritual journey to enlightenment, and for many it is! I don’t see this though, I see that it as a practical path for improvement, we don’t need to lose our-self in meditation to get there. It’s about being honest with ourselves coupled with the passion and humility to want to be better.

They care what others think and are more respectful of differences in the workplace.

Having team members who are already self-aware is a real advantage, for them it’s about feeding suitable tasks to keep them growing. For others that don’t come across as self-aware it can be challenging and care needs to be taken not pressure someone that simply isn’t interested. For leaders, it’s your job to mentor your team, part of this should include promoting self-awareness.

There are different ways to do this, depending on the person you could start with one activity, or push more if you feel it won’t be too much. I’m no psychology expert, these are only opinions based on my experience.

Looking at yourself objectively
It can be very difficult getting someone to be critical about themselves, many don’t want to think about it. We’re good at creating blind spots in our self-awareness that we’re happy to be left hidden, opening some of these doors could be extremely challenging. The trust relationship needs to be firmly in place before trying this, only then can you try getting them to open up. I’ve found the best place to start is with one specific event involving the person that impacted others, describe the event so they remember and ask for their thoughts. If they are not aware how it impacted others it needs to be explained so they have the understanding, then observe their reaction. If they take it well you know there is space to work on others in the future (not all in one go!), otherwise give them breathing space to think and bring it up again in a future chat.

As a mentor you would hope that you can have open conversations with your team to build on this, but you could also recommend they talk to some of their trusted friends to get their opinions. It’s never easy opening up but if they can see the benefits that small changes could make to how they are perceived they will also understand the value in this exercise. People who are self-aware can see the value and are usually doing this already, as a leader it’s important guide this process and add your feedback.

Write a self-review
A good way to promote self-awareness is to ask some to write a self-review. This shouldn’t be an essay, but a list how they believe they are perceived by others. You will get an idea of how open they are and see how realistic their assessment is. Either way it gives good areas for discussion and possibly points to go deeper into. It’s very telling if people have trouble doing this or being honest with themselves, you may have to test the water with particular events described above.

Get regular feedback
I find feedback from others a bit hit and miss, I’ve see a lot of feedback for me personally and others that are too “nice”! This is even when done privately. Don’t get me wrong, nice feedback is good and welcomed, but some of it feels a bit superficial like they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings! So I believe picking the right people to get feedback from is crucial, otherwise it can be futile. Ask for honest feedback and show a real desire to improve in the request, then we can see how closely it matches to our own self-review. Getting feedback like this can be a real eye-opener, possibly even hard to take, but if we are being open about our desire to improve we should be grateful to get these pointers.

Leaders should be encouraging and supportive when feedback comes in, if not it could have a negative impact on the individual and possibly the team.

Write down key plans and priorities
Another exercise is to get individuals to write down their plans and priorities for the next 6 months or year. This could be in the form of goals if there is formal process or else between yourselves. What we’re trying to see is how open are they about areas they need to improve. Usually this takes a few conversations to steer their thinking. The ideal outcome would be an honest review of areas of self-improvement and how they could be achieved, the exercise will give a good indication of how self-aware they are. Of course these plans are not only about self-awareness, areas of interest and career ambition are important to capture too!


There are many other activities that help promote self-awareness, these are the ones I’ve found useful. It’s important to remember these are not yearly exercises, they should be revisited regularly. For someone who isn’t coming across as self-aware, you need to tread carefully and choose which activity would best suit that person without being too intrusive. If you’re new to a team getting them to “write down key plans and priorities” can be a good entry point to learn more about them and how open they are.

self-aware employees are generally better suited to understanding how tasks can get completed (for instance, who might be willing to pitch in when there’s an emergency deadline), and they understand the broader direction that the company is headed

There is a big difference between people who care what others think and those who don’t seem concerned. We want those in our teams to have a habit of being self-aware, promoting this can help keep the habit healthy or introduce it to those not so familiar. One-on-ones are the perfect place to work on these areas, then encouraging and creating opportunities for growth constantly.

Recognising self-awareness in our team is important, but we cannot forget ourselves! Are you self-aware? I believe this can be one difference between managers and leaders. We cannot improve if we don’t know what to improve. It’s a challenge and often takes humility to honestly evaluate ourselves, but if you’re promoting self-awareness in your team you have to be the role model!

Self-improvement is impossible without self-awareness.

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