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Check Yourself

October 17 2016 - by Dr. Lois Parkes, CLP's Regional Project Manager

Perhaps the greatest leadership challenge that any leader will face is leading one’s self. This is because we often are so much better at describing and assessing the behaviours of others, but are unable to assess ourselves realistically. To quote John Maxwell from The Leadership Handbook, “We tend to judge others according to their actions…However, we judge ourselves by our intentions.” Additionally, there is a widespread philosophy promulgated under the umbrella of self-confidence that encourages us to believe in ourselves, and label all negative feedback as emanating from haters.

While leaders do need self-confidence in order to be successful, it is equally (or perhaps more) important that leaders develop the ability to be self-aware and to self-assess. This is because leadership is never a solo operation. Leadership is a process carried out with and through other persons, whether they are employees, peers, managers or other stakeholders. How a leader manages their emotions and how a leader acts do matter, and has implications for:

  • The level of cooperation and engagement they may get from colleagues in undertaking work tasks
  • How conflicts are managed
  • The quality of communication and collaboration
  • The amount of influence and impact that a leader has

If you want to be successful as a leader, you must develop the willingness and the techniques to check yourself. For me, it has meant becoming a student of myself and my leadership. There is a plethora of books and techniques available to help leaders to develop self-awareness, and certainly, one size does not fit all. Here are some tips that I have found very useful in checking my own leadership.

  • Set time aside to reflect on your leadership. One can easily find an excuse why time cannot be found to do this. The demands placed on leaders are many and complex. However, I found that if I spent time to reflect on my leadership, and my leadership tasks, I could actually strategize, be more effective, and accomplish much more.
  • Have that trusted advisor. A trusted advisor is someone who cares about you, wants you to be successful, and isn’t afraid to tell you the truth. This can be a mentor, a coach or even a great friend.
  • Ask the people who you are leading for feedback on your leadership. This tip is really not for the insecure. You may hear things that you do not want to hear. However, I have found this to be useful on many fronts, if you handle the feedback well. First, it greatly enhances employees’ respect for the leader. Second, it improves communication in the workplace. Third, employees feel more comfortable bringing their suggestions forward. Fourth, with greater communication and more suggestions being offered, it usually leads to better problem-solving, innovation and performance.
  • Reflect again. This is because feedback received has to be evaluated to determine validity, usefulness, and what you will do with it. Also, leadership is a journey. You always want to set new goals, and take your leadership to the next level, however you define it. Ultimately, I ask myself, what is the story of my leadership that I want to tell, and is it a story of which I can be proud?

As you complete your reading of this blog, I invite you consider and comment on the following:

  1. How aware are you of your leadership style, your strengths and the things you need to work on?
  2. How aware are you of how others perceive your leadership?
  3. What techniques have you used to assist you in developing your own self-awareness?
  4. What can organisations do to help its leaders develop self-awareness?

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I have a trusted adviser who is not a "yes man" but who I can depend on to provide me with honest feedback.  I also strive to develop an atmosphere in the office in which persons feel free to disagree with me and to share their views without fear of judgement or reprisal. 

I believe that as leaders we can do more by (i) investing in the development and implementation of periodic employee surveys designed to provide honest feedback about issues in our organisations that need to be addressed; and (2) taking action to treat with those issues. 

The focus should be on "continuous improvement" for self and for the organisation.

Lois Parkes

Thanks for your response, Denise. That is definitely an excellent approach that you have shared, and shows personal responsibility for one's development as a leader

Jamir Nazir - Reply

Having read the article I am in agreement with the author that in a number of cases the default that operates is that persons have a tendency to judge others by the emperical evidence of their actions and outcomes but judge themselves by the intent of their own actions. This obviously leads to false aself assessment and stymies personal and leadership development.

I have reflecte don the questions posed by the author and comment on them as follows:

How aware you ar eof your leadership style, your strengths and the things you need to work on?

  • As an individual who has bene exposed to leadership positions and challanges both in the corporate private sector and the public sector i continue to try and understand how as a leader I interact with people, systems and the enviroment. I have made it a central part of my awareness campaign to obtain feedback both formally and informally on the way I interact with various constituents and the reaction to my actions and responses. Such a practise has allowed me to constantly review my perfomance as a leader and to make teh necessary adjustmnets as required in striving to reach optimal perfomance.
How aware are you of how others percieve you as a leader?
  • I am extremly aware of how others percive me as a leader; as stated above I constantly recieve feedback and incorproate in my behavious and actions as required to make me a better leader .
What techniques have you used in developing your own self awareness ?
  • I have utilized a number of personality tools and leadership self and external assessment tools to improve self -awareness .  Many of these exist and I will not used this forum to promote my personal choices.  Additionally, significant introspection has played a significant part in my my self-awareness.
What can organizations do to assit leaders to develop self-awareness?
  • In my respectful view organizations must first inculcate a base culture where they ecourage, promote and foster learning and self developmnet.  They must encourage leadership to understand the impact of their decesions and interactions on themselves and the organization.Persons must be exposed to programs that allow them to understand, enhance and practise emotional intelligence and broader leadership skills.  

Lois Parkes

Jamir, thanks a million for your responses. Shows a great deal of depth and thought. In relation to your response to question 4, I totally agree with you; at the heart of the issue is developing, creating and sustaining the type of organisational culture that you want, and leadership is central to the development of that culture. Also this is not a one-off activity, but is a continuous effort.

Trudy Waterman - Reply

It takes a great level of maturity to be honestly able to reflect and acknowledge your shortcomings in order to make improvements.

Lois Parkes

Thanks for your comment, Trudy. I believe you are so correct; maturity is definitely a requirement for honest self-assessment

Claire Davidson Williams - Reply

I have recently started deceided to return to my reflection journal as I think its the best way for me to stay true to the process and help me become more deliberate in actions.  I find it to be useful to make a note of particular situations, my specific action or decision, how person or persons react and what is the outcome. 

To be aware of how others perceive my leadership skills, it  is helpful to ask. After a session or discussion, it is useful to ask someone, who seem confident enough to give reasonalbly genuine answers, how he/she felt I handled the meeting/discussion and what they felt was the turning point. 

There is value in having a plan for debrefing leadership actions within the organisation. A process shared learnings. This builds team spirit, trust and confidence that allows for open commnication 

Lois Parkes

Thanks for your comments, Claire. Let me commend you for all the steps you are taking to develop yourself as a leader, and for sharing these useful tips

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