Improving self-awareness: How great performers become exceptional leaders


Often, highly proficient employees struggle to transition to a leadership role, simply because it requires a different set of skills. So, how should they adapt? It all comes back to one key foundation: self-awareness. The ability to see ourselves and how we impact each other is the most important management skill we can master.


An employee is a top performer, hitting targets and goals. As a reward, they get promoted. A logical and well-deserved career step – however, some people really struggle to effectively lead their team.

We’ve probably all seen this happen, or had it happen to us.

As a leadership coach, I believe we should be promoting from within; everyone deserves the chance to become their best self. Otherwise they’ll lose motivation, or leave. However, if you do promote your best performers, it’s crucial make sure they’re equipped with the abilities they need to become leaders.

Because being able to do your own job well and being able to lead a team are two very different things. Tasks such as resolving conflict and delegation don’t always come naturally. It can be a shock; one day you’re performing your role very proficiently, the next you are faced with a totally different set of challenges.

Without support to develop leadership capabilities we all know what happens – leaders leave, at great cost to businesses.


A good leader is a self-aware leader


So where do we learn these skills and in the process, become a good or even great leader? Well, I’ve been running our unique leadership programs for several years now, and I’ve coached a lot of up-and-coming leaders, so I can confidently say it all comes back to one core attribute: self-awareness.

Developing self-awareness is the foundation of good leadership, because when you’re conscious of your behaviour, you can start to understand how you impact upon others. From there, you can put it all together and start negotiating and mentoring and delegating and everything else your leadership role requires.

I’ve seen many moments of realisation in our courses which have helped participants improve self-awareness and overcome roadblocks on the way to successful leadership.

Recently, we had a team from a large accounting firm do a team building workshop with us. Ralph, a young manager from the team, was very task-orientated. This made him a high achiever in his role. However, when he started leading, he had trouble connecting with his team. He had a plan and thought he had communicated it clearly. It was only when our horse, Vinnie, picking up on the confusion and reflecting what the entire team was experiencing, that he realised he was neglecting to really listen to his teammates and how they were feeling. Vinnie basically refused to budge, and – as we have said many times – you can’t ignore a 500kg teammate. The only way for them to move forward was for them to make sure everyone was on the same page and felt comfortable. Ralph had a huge personal “aha” moment about empathising with others and putting himself in their shoes. Improving self-awareness meant he was then able to work on connecting with the team, which made for better leadership and a happier and more supportive atmosphere overall.


Ways leaders can improve self-awareness


So, we’ve established that a good leader is a self-aware leader, but where to from here? Developing self-awareness is not easy – if it was, human relationships would be a whole lot more straightforward (or more horse-like)!

Here are some of my tips for up-and-coming leaders:

  • Be yourself. Often, we feel the need to act like someone else at work, driven by insecurities and predetermined notions about the workplace. But really, authenticity is an essential quality in a leader; letting others know you is a crucial part of knowing yourself.


  • Define your core values. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point – know what you stand for and constantly check in to see if you’re living up to these values.


  • Try to see situations from other people’s point of view. This includes accepting and more importantly, using feedback. I always say part of the magic of working with horses is they accept you for who you are, and their feedback is instantaneous. But, without a large animal there to help, it can take practice to be able to accept feedback and look for a more neutral perspective.
  • Be present. Another one the horses teach us about all the time! They live in the moment and they are great at helping us get better at this too. Being present not only helps your team, but allows you to better check in on your own behaviour. Worry about how you’re behaving now, not what might happen in the future.


Do you have any tips to add? Anything you’ve learnt from experience? If you want to develop your self-awareness and other leadership skills, email us at