Servant Leadership Workplace-Cultivating Self-Awareness

5 Ways to Cultivate Better Self-Awareness

How do you cultivate better self-awareness?

That’s a question good leaders – especially good servant-leaders – regularly consider.


Because good leaders know that self-awareness is a foundational part of emotional intelligence. And emotional intelligence, in turn, is a foundational part of good leadership.

While some people seem to be self-aware by nature, good leaders know that everyone can cultivate better self-awareness.

But cultivating self-awareness is not always easy.

First, self-awareness can bring us to face certain truths we might not want to face.

Robert K. Greenleaf, who coined the term “servant-leader” in his classic 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader, gives this little warning about self-awareness:

“Awareness is not a giver of solace – it is just the opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener. Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers after solace. They have their own inner serenity.”

Second, cultivating self-awareness can require a methodical, sustained investment of effort. It can be – and in some cases, needs to be – hard work.

Here are 5 ways to cultivate better self-awareness.

  1. Learn from a formal assessment of yourself. My favorite assessments include the Myers Briggs Type Indictor, DiSC and the Herman Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI). Tests like these certainly lead to greater self-awareness. Indeed, in my experience, self-aware leaders can describe their Myers Briggs types, DiSC scores or HBDI colors without hesitation.
  1. Learn from formal multirater feedback. A rigorous and robust multirater feedback process might be the best way to learn how others perceive you. Some of that feedback might confirm your self-awareness; some of that feedback might push you towards greater self-awareness. But in my experience, multirater feedback is valuable in every case.
  1. Learn from an inside mentor. Ask a person you really trust in your organization to be your mentor. Then you can have honest conversations about how your self-perceptions square with the perceptions of those around you. Moreover, good mentors will keep their ears open for and share things – positive and negative – that people are saying about their mentees.
  1. Learn from an outside coach. Outside coaches can offer you a perspective that is not influenced by inside politics and power dynamics. Furthermore, they can help keep you accountable for that methodical, sustained investment of effort you want.
  1. Learn from withdrawal and reflection. Servant-leaders often practice the “art of withdrawal,” to use Greenleaf’s phrase. During that withdrawal – perhaps just a few minutes each day away from urgent interruptions of the workplace – they ask themselves, “How am I being perceived by others today? What interactions went well? What interactions could have gone better?”

What do you think? Would you add or subtract from our list? Do you see it differently?

Let us know.

As always, we appreciate your views. Thanks!


And download our latest ebook, Servant Leadership in the Workplace: A Brief Introduction. It’s free!