Understanding Self-awareness And How It Applies To Middle Management

Self-awareness is a topic that is frequently discussed but not often examined. Many people associate self-awareness with individual growth and development but may not think about it on a professional level.

However, self-awareness can impact your professional life. A recent study in the Harvard Business Review conducted by Tasha Eurich of The Eurich Group aimed to produce a clear definition of self-awareness, learn how self-aware people developed the skill, and see how it might be taught to leaders.

What is self-awareness?

The study identified two definitions of self-awareness, internal and external self-awareness. Internal self-awareness relates to how clearly we see our goals and values, how we react to an environment, and how we perceive others’ reactions to our behavior. Employees with high internal self-awareness tend to have greater job and relationship satisfaction.

External self-awareness is acknowledging and understanding how other people view us and our actions. Managers who understand how their team views them tend to have better rapport and empathy with their staff.

People who are highly internally self-aware are not necessarily externally self-aware and vice-versa. It’s important to develop both types of self-awareness to be fulfilled and have strong relationships.

Promotion Can Hinder Self-awareness

The study found that people at the top are less self-aware than people who hold lower positions in a company. Many leaders in the study also overestimated their skills and abilities. There are two proposed reasons for the lack of self-awareness in high level leadership:

  • You are insulated at the top. The higher you rise in power and influence, the less likely people are to give honest observations and feedback.

  • As you rise in a company or any organization, there are fewer people to evaluate and critique your performance. It seems there is some truth to the old saying, “It’s lonely at the top.”

As you rise to, and through, the ranks of middle management, you receive plenty of feedback from your superiors. You have an experienced team above you to make suggestions about your performance. However, it’s hard for upper-level management to receive similar advice. After all, most people who leave a company from an executive position don’t return to mentor the people who took their place.

Simple Introspection Isn’t The Answer

You might think that examining yourself and considering why you behave the way you do would naturally lead to a higher level of self-awareness. The study revealed that introspection can be effective only if you ask yourself the right questions.

Researchers found that when most people consider their behavior they ask themselves “why” questions. They want to know why they reacted a certain way during an incident or meeting. Asking yourself why you made a mistake can often lead you to the wrong conclusions and isn’t often effective.

The study found self-aware leaders often ask themselves “what” questions instead of “why” questions. For example, instead of asking themselves “Why am I opposed to this project?” they ask themselves “What about this project is causing my opposition?” “What” questions are more productive because they are focused on specific problems and processes that can lead to solutions.

Introspection isn’t the only way to increase self-awareness. People with high external self-awareness sought feedback from people who had their best interests at heart and were willing to be honest with them. They corrected their behavior based on what these “loving critics” told them and were able to improve their relationships with others.

How We Help

To have self-aware employees in the workforce, you need self-aware leaders. Middle management is the training ground for your future executive leadership. If you want to promote and mentor the best candidates, or if you want to be in the pool of candidates for future executive positions, consider working with qualified HR experts to help build self-awareness skills.

If you have any questions about this article or would like to discuss the possibilities of working with us, please contact Equal Parts Consulting for a consultation.