3 Things All Great Leaders Know About Themselves

Driven by a desire to improve what they do, truly committed leaders know more about themselves today than they did a year ago.

Inc. Les McKeown | 4/15/13

All good leaders possess a heightened sense of awareness–an ability
to read situations in which they find themselves and act accordingly.
Great leaders take this one step further. They are not only aware; they are also self-aware.
They know much about themselves. Perhaps not everything (who of us knows him- or herself entirely?), but more than most.
Driven by innate curiosity, passion, and a desire to improve what
they do, truly committed leaders know more about themselves today than
they did a year ago. If you want to start building your self-awareness
in areas that will yield immediate (positive) results in how you lead,
start with these three:


Do you typically undershoot or overshoot? The single most
immediate area for self-awareness improvement I see in most leaders is
to gain a clear understanding of how they set goals (formally and
informally). Again and again I work with leaders unaware that they are
consistently playing small ball (setting goals that are way too
conservative given their talents) or forever overreaching (setting goals
they won’t achieve, causing disappointment for themselves and
exhaustion in their team).
You can perform a self-analysis by using this routine: Grab a legal
pad, write out the last five or six leadership goals you set yourself,
and jot down whether or not you undershot or overshot. See if you can
decipher a pattern.
Not sure? Ask colleagues. Still not sure? Keep a running log for a month or two.
Once you know which is your tendency, the key of course is to
recalibrate your goal setting. If you’re undershooting, set your goals
higher, step by step. If you’re consistently overshooting, lower them,
little by little.
Once you’ve hit your sweet spot and are consistently hitting near or
at the goals you set, you will of course want to start edging those
goals upward. Nothing wrong with that–pushing goals based on a record
of consistent success is a good thing.
Is your tendency to analyze, fix, or delegate? The second area
I see leaders gain the biggest advantage from understanding is in
knowing how they respond when things go wrong.


Broadly, there are three possible responses: analyze what just
happened; “just fix it”; delegate responsibility for fixing it to
someone else. (These broadly map to the Processor, Operator, and Visionary styles of leadership, respectively.)

Try the same exercise as before: Take a yellow pad, list the last
five or six things that have gone wrong on your watch, and jot down what
you did in response. If in most cases you responded with a mixture of
all three possible responses (some analysis, some direction, and some
delegation), then all is well. If you consistently responded by going
straight to one option (analyze, fix, or delegate), then you have a
challenge ahead–you’re taking a knee-jerk, and hence blinkered,
approach to problem solving.
Try slowing down the time you take to respond when faced with
decisions like this. Force yourself to consider all three options: Do I
need more information here before making a decision about what to do?;
Do I need to intervene here directly?; Is there someone else who could
fix this better and quicker than I?

Do you usually say yes or no? This last one is easy to analyze
but just as profound: Do you consistently say yes to everything that
comes your way, causing you to overcommit and underdeliver? Or do you
consistently say no, building a reputation as a stick in the mud and
missing opportunities to innovate?

You don’t need the yellow pad this time–just go ask folks who know
you. If you have a tendency toward one or the other, believe me, they’ll
The answer? Well, sometimes the answer even to a leadership challenge
is a no-brainer. As one of my earliest mentors said to me when I
explained a behavioral problem I was having: “Just stop that. Now.”