Self Awareness & Authenticity:
The Making of a Progressive Leader

The five practices of progressive leadership provide much insight into the leadership behaviors required for high-functioning organizations in today’s world. But truly embracing and modeling the five practices requires more than learning a set of behaviors. It requires a fundamental shift from a focus on doing to a focus on being.

In other words, progressive leadership is grounded not in what a leader does, but in who the leader is – how they “show up” in the world.

Today’s leaders are finding that bringing their attention within – and working toward a more authentic expression of themselves in the workplace – is helping them become far more effective in leading their organization to greater results.

So, how do you develop the self-awareness and authenticity required for exceptional leadership?

The Art of Leadership is the Mastery of the Self


The keys to becoming a more effective leader in the 21st century are self-awareness and authenticity.

Self-awareness is about making the time to reflect on and examine your experiences – your inner world. Powerful leaders work hard at developing self-awareness through persistent and often courageous self-exploration.

Why courageous?

We are built to protect ourselves emotionally. Which means we don’t always see what we don’t want to see. We need courage to break through the denial that can keep us from accurately accessing who we are and how we’re showing up.

Authentic leaders, and those striving to become more authentic, ask for and listen to honest feedback from others. They use formal and informal support networks to help them continually look in the mirror and to encourage them to stay grounded in who they are.

Being authentic means being genuine and real. It means being yourself, rather than copying others. Authenticity is, for example, saying what you feel needs to be said, rather than what you think others want to hear.

Authentic leaders are almost always passionate about their purpose because they know what they care about. And they know what they care about because they’re clear on their values and honor them 24/7 – even when no one is looking.

In short, authentic leaders lead with both their heads and their hearts, and they establish real, not phony, relationships.

Just as the five practices of progressive leadership take time and work to master, developing and expressing your authentic self takes time and work, too. Specifically, the work of self-discovery.

So, how do you develop greater self-awareness?

The Johari Window shows the four quadrants of self-awareness:

The upper left quadrant holds what is known to ourselves and to others (what we are totally aware of and that which everyone else knows about us, too); the lower left quadrant holds what is known to ourselves, but not to others (the part of ourselves we hide from the world and which blocks our authenticity); the upper right quadrant holds what we don’t know about ourselves, but that which everyone else knows about us (this is where our denial lives); and, finally, the lower right quadrant holds what we don’t know about ourselves and that which others don’t know about us either (along with the denial quadrant, this is where deeper self discovery needs to happen).

The goal in using the Johari Window for self-discovery is to expand the “known to ourselves” quadrant and to share as much of ourselves with others as is possible and appropriate. We can do this through self-reflection and by eliciting, listening to and incorporating feedback from others.

Of course, opening ourselves up to self-discovery and feedback can be tough, because we also have to be willing to break through our denial – something we all have at varying levels around various things.

When The Singer Group coaches executive directors, the first goal is always to create a space and culture that’s safe for self-discovery, so that we can help the leader break through denial and put an end to the blame game. When blame ceases, a much stronger leader is able to emerge – a leader who can be more effective than ever.

Following are three ways to create a safe space for self-discovery, as well as to work on authentic expression.

Build a support team: Leaders working on becoming their authentic selves benefit from a support team comprised of people who share the same purpose, values and interest. In truth, though, your support team could include anyone you respect and with whom you feel a connection. While your support team can certainly exist for the sole purpose of supporting your personal process, it can also be reciprocal, with each person helping and receiving help from everyone else on the team.

Engage a coach: In addition to your support team, consider finding a coach or mentor, or even participating in peer coaching. The role of your coach is to ask the hard questions and point out what you might not be seeing. Coaching is considered invaluable by countless high-performing leaders in today’s world and is being used more and more in organizations.

Practice integration: Ask yourself whether you show up the same way in different environments and situations (home, work, in a relationship), or if you blow like a leaf in the wind, adjusting yourself to the circumstances. Practice your ability to remain you – present and confident – no matter where you are or who’s around you.

Taking these actions can be a fast track to progressive leadership, no matter what level of self-awareness and authenticity you are starting from. Simply bringing your attention to who you are being can trigger the journey toward your full potential. Only when you, as the leader, take that first step, will your organization ever stand a chance of reaching its own.

Next Time: The final cornerstone of progressive leadership – Emotional Intelligence

The Singer Group is a Baltimore-based human resources and organizational development consulting firm.  The Singer Group serves clients nationwide, including in Maryland; Baltimore; Baltimore County; Washington, DC; Virginia; Delaware; New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Illinois; Indiana; Ohio; Colorado; Washington; Phoenix; Arizona; Tucson, Arizona; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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