Self-awareness is the key to becoming an effective leader, a topic we discussed here. As Tasha Eurich states in her book Insight, self-awareness in leadership is “the single most important, and yet least examined, determinant of success or failure.” She goes on to cite a PDI Ninth House study, “Accurate Self-Insight Decreases Derailment Risk,” which concluded that senior leaders who lack self-awareness are 600% percent more likely to derail, which costs companies a staggering $50 million per executive. So it’s probably safe to stay that developing self-awareness belongs at the top of the development list for all leaders. However, the question often arises about the best way for one to get started in developing this crucial skill.

Developing Self-Awareness

While self-awareness is a relatively self-explanatory concept, getting to a place where you are regularly practicing effective self-awareness is not always simple. Many leaders have gotten so caught up in their hectic businesses and lifestyles that they’ve forgotten how to put themselves in a place where self-awareness is even possible. That’s why I wanted to rewind a bit in this post and talk about the basic building blocks of self-awareness: noticing and mindfulness.

Mindfulness has gotten a lot of press recently and I’m sure you’ve all seen countless articles on using mindfulness to fight anxiety, be more present in your daily life, and find inner peace. Unfortunately, many people don’t even know what mindfulness is. Really, what it all comes down to is noticing. Once you start noticing, your awareness increases and you can put mindfulness practices into place that will help you notice even more.

So what should you be noticing, anyway? I usually find it helpful to increase noticing in three key areas:

Noticing the Now

As you’re sitting at your desk, think about what was on your mind before you started reading this post. More than likely, you were either going over something that has happened in the recent or distant past, or you were concentrating on an upcoming meeting or event you needed to prepare for or were worried about. It’s human nature to focus on the past or future, but noticing the now is vital for mindfulness. An easy way to bring ourselves back to the present is to concentrate on our breathing. Another is to take note of your environment: what do you see, smell, and hear? When you notice the now, you can better appreciate the moment and release any fear or anxiety that comes from worrying about the future.

Noticing Your Thoughts and Emotions

We are constantly experiencing thoughts and emotions, but many of us have found ways to tune them out. A huge part of mindfulness is finding ways to notice those again. Is there a pit in our stomach? Why? Is it fear, worry, shame, etc? Where did it come from and what are we telling ourselves it means about us? Start naming the different emotions you are feeling, especially if they are powerful ones such as joy or hurt. Then notice how those emotions affect our thoughts and the meaning we are assigning them.

Noticing How You Affect Others

As leaders, we are in positions of power and what we do and say greatly affects those we lead. Do you notice how your team reacts when you’re angry? When you blame others? When you shut yourself in your office and isolate yourself? How about when you’re in a great mood and full of ideas? Really start paying attention to how your different words and actions affect your team. You’ll probably be surprised at how just a few words or one look can instantly change the atmosphere in your office.


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.

As a Certified Professional Coach and Energy Leadership Master Practitioner, Trish works with entrepreneurs, senior leaders and their teams and to uncover their real desires for their organization and to align those desires with their values to co-create a strategy for execution and accountability. The leaders Trish partners with are working their own best plan for success, achieving their desired “new state” and thriving through the changes that success brings.

Photo Credit: Lesly Juarez,