Only 15% of People are Truly Self-Aware. Here’s How to Change That.


According to Dr. Tasha Eurich, organizational psychologist and author of Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More Than We Think, self-awareness is one of the most important skills to work on, particularly for those in leadership positions.

There’s a snag, though. Eurich and her team of researchers discovered that while 95% of people claim to be self-aware, research shows that only 10-15% of people actually fit the criteria for self-awareness.

Contrary to what you might assume, CEOs and top-tier leadership are less likely to be in that top percent. This is partly because people in executive positions often find it harder to gather continuous and honest feedback, and feedback is critical to developing genuine self-awareness.

Fortunately, leaders at all levels can improve their self-awareness with a few easy and accessible steps. Of course, the very first step is recognizing that you might stand to benefit from having more self-awareness in the first place. Not sure you do? Let’s take a closer look at what it is, why it’s important, and how to start improving it with four simple tips.

Self-Awareness: What It Is & Why You Need It

Eurich offers this definition of self-awareness:

“It’s the ability to see ourselves clearly. To understand who we are, how others see us, and how we fit into the world.”

Self-awareness has both external and internal components.

Internal self-awareness involves knowing who you are on the inside. According to Eurich, self-aware people “know what makes them tick, they know their values, they understand their patterns of behavior….” In short, they have a strong handle on their place in the world.

External self-awareness is about knowing how other people see you. For instance, leaders with strong external self-awareness are better able to understand and accept different perspectives, and they have a stronger ability to practice empathy.

Leaders who want to avoid an ego blind spot and practice both components of self-awareness stand to reap substantial benefits. It may sound intimidating to gain a more honest perspective of oneself, but knowing oneself more clearly can also be a source of empowerment.

Research connects greater levels of self-awareness to higher personal fulfillment, creativity, problem-solving, and communication skills. In research reported by Forbes, Korn/Ferry International found that there is a direct correlation between self-awareness and better business performance.

This is echoed in Eurich’s findings. Leaders who are self-aware are also more effective leaders at more profitable companies.


4 Tips for Improving Your Self-Awareness

Everyone can benefit from improving their levels of self-awareness, and that holds especially true for leaders who want to make a positive impact on employees and their organizations as a whole. Below are four tips for getting started.


Ask what, not why

If there’s one thing you can do to immediately improve your self-awareness, it’s to make a simple swap from why questions to what questions.

Questions like “Why did I do this?” prompt moments of introspection, which most people associate with self-awareness. However, Eurich discovered that it is often too difficult to get past our own unconscious biases and thoughts and tap into meaningful insights when we pursue moments of introspection by using why questions. For instance, “Why did I do this?” might trigger a spiral of self-deprecation and doubt, which is neither healthy nor productive.

Eurich recommends changing your approach. Rather than ask why, ask what

For example, if you make a leadership decision that does not go as planned, your first question might be, “Why did this happen?” However, a better question to ask is, “What have I learned and what can I do differently next time?” That action-oriented adjustment will lead to genuine learning and enhance your growth mindset. Rather than succumbing to a spiral of emotion and criticism that why questions can trigger, what questions shift the focus to finding and enacting solutions.


Practice self-awareness check-ins

People who are self-aware often practice check-ins with themselves. Here are three basic what questions that self-aware people might typically ask themselves on a daily basis:

  • What went well today?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What can I do differently tomorrow?

You can run through these questions on your commute home from work, while you’re wrapping up the day, right before you go to sleep, or anytime you have a few moments to spare in your day. By practicing self-awareness briefly but consistently, you can establish an ongoing habit. The result: you’ll begin to identify patterns and develop a clearer picture of who you are and what you want to achieve.

Get trusted and honest feedback

Self-awareness involves what Eurich calls a “more holistic understanding” of ourselves. There’s only so much we can see clearly about ourselves on our own. When it comes to external self-awareness, you need to get outside your own head and embrace vulnerability by gathering credible and trusted feedback from others.

While it might be tempting to cast as wide a feedback net as possible, Eurich advises leaders to keep their feedback circle to a select few. Choose people you believe have your best interest at heart and who will give you honest feedback, no matter how difficult.

If you receive unsolicited feedback from outside that circle that you aren’t sure you can trust, you can always get feedback on your feedback. Not all feedback is created equal, and you don’t necessarily need to (or want to) apply every piece of advice.


Identify and leverage your strengths

Improving self-awareness is not just about confronting shortcomings, though that’s a piece of the larger process. Self-awareness is equally about identifying what you excel at and then using those insights to achieve higher performance. In other words, self-awareness is a skill that helps you maximize your strengths.

When you have a stronger handle on your strengths and weaknesses you are in a better position to understand your leadership philosophy, mitigate weaknesses, avoid biases, and build on your unique superpowers. You can then dedicate your energies and time to what you are most likely to excel at, and that means better outcomes for the business as a whole. At the same time, you will also be modeling positive behaviors to your teams and inspiring them to leverage their collective strengths to support improved productivity.


Bottom line: self-awareness is an ongoing learning process that leaders at any level can tap into to improve personal fulfillment, leadership prowess, and organizational success.


Want to keep the learning going? Check out these other resources on leadership skills from The Forem:

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