Photo credit: Paul Skorupskas,

If you joined me in my last blog, you hopefully learned that all great leaders have one thing in common: they have high self-awareness and actively seek to understand how their words and actions affect others and their overall goals. We covered how a leader’s level of self-awareness can affect the clarity of his or her team, the trust their employees put in them, and their ability to make decisions quickly and decisively. We also saw some symptoms of a team headed by a leader low in self-awareness.

Research shows that senior executives who lack self-awareness are 600% more likely to derail.

However, developing awareness is much more easily said than done. It’s one thing to be aware of your environment and how others’ actions impact your business, but much more difficult to turn that spotlight back on yourself. Most of us have tunnel vision created from years of limited perspective, assumptions, and faulty interpretations.

But, don’t lose hope! There are some ways you can increase both your internal self-awareness (how well you know and understand yourself and your motivations) and your external self-awareness (how clearly you see how you come across to others and the impact you’re having) as a leader.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Increasing Internal Self-Awareness

Much of the work you will do on self-awareness takes place within. You’ll have to do a lot of soul-searching and tons of self-evaluation and you’ll probably encounter some ugly truths. But, the potential payoff to your business, relationships, and personal stress levels, provides plenty of incentive to make the journey!

Here are three internal tools that can help you with the process:

Identify your triggers:  Do you know what your emotional triggers are? All of us have a tendency to overreact to certain events, people, or actions. This is usually based on past occurrences and how we interpret them. For example, maybe you always blow up when one of your employees challenges an idea of yours. We each have lots of triggers, but it’s rarely helpful and generally pretty harmful, to try to focus right away on everything you think needs improving.

To get started, choose one trigger which you know you’re reacting to in a way that has a negative impact on your desired outcomes. Decipher which situations most often result in alarming this trigger. Now, think about what a more positive response could be. When you find yourself headed into one of those trigger-inducing situations, remember your “better” response and keep it in your mind. You’ll soon find that you’re far less triggered and are responding positively more often and more naturally.

Practice mindfulness: Though it’s getting tons of media attention in the past decade or so, there really isn’t that much to mindfulness. It’s simply being aware. When you’re aware, you notice your physical, mental, and emotional reactions to events and other people without judging them as good or bad.

When practiced daily, it results in an ability to more easily and quickly recognize and name those thoughts and emotions buzzing around in your head all the time. Though it’s true that mindfulness isn’t difficult, there is incredible power in it. Practiced regularly, it will help you stay in the moment and ease the mental stress of the constant replaying of past mistakes, or anxiety about the future, that our subconscious minds like to engage in.

Resist the urge to dwell: Okay, so you blew up at one of your employees, then spent the rest of the afternoon in your office beating yourself up about it. Not the best example to set for your employees, right? It’s important that you give yourself a break when you go through this process. Are you going to screw up? You bet! But, focusing there doesn’t lead to improvement.

Instead, go ahead and spend a little time understanding your reaction and where it was coming from. But, then take that information, choose what you’re going to do with it, and put that into action. Keep your focus on the “what’s next”.

Try incorporating these internal tools in the next few weeks and see what happens. In my next article, you will get some information on how to increase your external self-awareness and clarify the picture of how you’re really coming across to others.

I hope you’ll join me! And don’t forget — comment below with your thoughts.

Trish Cody has over 20 years of experience as a strategic consultant for global L&D initiatives with some of the world’s top Fortune 500 companies and has coached senior level leaders and teams in planning, designing, launching, and measuring the return for major initiatives.