Knowing Yourself and Leading Others

A good leader knows who they are. They understand their fears, they’re courageous, and they can relate to others. Occasionally, emotions get in the way of sound judgment. It’s how we handle and respond to our emotions that allows us to be the best leaders we can be. We are flawed, but it’s those flaws; the “bad”, that allow us to understand others and become stronger leaders. When you are self-aware as a leader you have the opportunity to look at a situation subjectively. It’s through this step that we’re able to become stronger, more aware, and effective at leading others.


The starting point of leadership is self-knowledge. You’ve got to be intimately familiar with your inner workings. You need to know what makes you tick, and what ticks you off. You’ve got to know your values, interests, talents, and triggers. You need to be clear about what you can do well, and what you’ll do well to have others do. You’ve got to know what energizes and de-energizes you, and what you’re drawn to and repelled by. You’ve got to know you. Really well.

Having run a courage-building consulting company for two decades, I’m now convinced that the single greatest courageous action that any human being can take is the journey to the center of one’s self. This journey of self-discovery takes bravely facing, and accepting, various truths about yourself. It means coming to terms with all the facets of your very human nature, good and bad.

Each person, including every leader, is a pair of opposites. Knowing Thyself will teach you that you are likely caring, passionate, smart, disciplined, generous, and good. You are also likely occasionally judgy, uptight, petty, selfish, and less-than-good. In other words, you’re human! Just like every other leader who has ever lived.

The Good and the “Bad”

Depending on the situation, mood, or even sheer randomness, you may be happy or glum, content or anxious, trusting or suspicious, confident or unsure, generous or piggish. None of those characteristics needs to be rooted out. There’s no need to reject the “bad” elements of yourself, because what constitutes “bad” is always shifting. All your emotions can be absolutely appropriate given the right context, and vice versa. There are plenty of work instances where impatience, skepticism, hesitancy, and even fright or anger is the right emotional response and plenty where such emotions will do damage.

One’s thoughts precede and, more importantly, dictate one’s actions. Knowing what’s going on in your inner world and being able to gently tame your thoughts and emotions will keep wild mood swings from impacting your outer world. A lot of wreckage has been left in the wake of leaders who let their emotions get the best of them. Left uncontrolled, anger, resentment, jealousy and envy, revenge, and lust are potent poisons, and nearly always the causes of failed leadership.

What fear might be behind this?

That doesn’t mean you have to be emotionally neutered – you are human after all – but it does mean you have to be mindful of the effects your inner self is having on the people you outwardly lead. Be astute to the fact that your personhood will have an impact on the reactions and results you will receive. The ability to observe our own thoughts and feelings, and alter them when they are undermining us, differentiates us from wild beasts.

Don’t Let Fear Lead

As a new leader, you have one key self-reflective question you should ask yourself anytime you feel angry, frustrated, anxious, or emotionally charged: What fear might be behind this? Very often, the reason you’re so upset is that you’re fearful that you will lose something, or not get something you feel you deserved. As a leader, you will learn that your fear, wherever it comes from, will be your biggest enemy and inhibitor. Nothing will twist your actions, decisions, and attitude as much as being afraid that you’re not going to get the [fill-in-the-blank: recognition, compensation, acknowledgment, admiration, respect] that you think you deserve. The journey to the center of yourself takes courage because it involves confronting your fears.

Knowing Yourself and Leading Others

The value of self-discovery is that it helps you take personal inventory of everything that makes you you. Knowing yourself will also help you better understand those around you. While your values, thoughts, and emotions are uniquely your own, they are also universally felt. They will help you relate to the people you’re leading. As you advance as a leader, in influence, power, and stature, people will want to know that, at the core human level, you haven’t forgotten that you are just like them.

They need to know that when they are upset, overwhelmed, or feeling insecure. You should know where they’re coming from because you know what it’s like to feel those feelings. They understand that you may operate at a higher rung on the organizational ladder, but they want to know that you get where they are coming from, that you are made of the same gooey human source material, and that you have had, and can relate to, their hopes and hurts.

People’s insides always affect their outsides.

When you’re in a leadership role, it’s vital to have a clear understanding of human nature. You will spend the bulk of your time dealing with human beings and all their fickle insecurities and eccentricities. Self-awareness is a key differentiator between successful and unsuccessful leaders. People’s insides always affect their outsides. Knowing how people’s emotions impact their morale, well-being, and performance is a first-order responsibility.

After taking a personal inventory of your own emotional disposition and understanding how your emotions impact others, you will be much less perplexed when you see human idiosyncrasies interfere with people’s work performance and productivity–as they often will.

This post is based on an excerpt from Leadership Two Words at a Time: Simple Truths for Leading Complicated People.

You Might Also Like…

Risk Being Yourself

Risk Being Yourself

Risk being yourself. This concept is far from new. Throughout the ages, the most consistent prescription for personal well-being is this: Be who you must be. The Greek poet Pindar said, “Grow into what you are.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Insist on yourself, never...

Leading People

Leading People

The old saying is true: if you claim to be a leader and you turn around and nobody is following you, you’re not a leader. You’re just out for a walk. The impact you have on people can, potentially, be positive and enduring. In the same way that good leaders before you...

7 Ways To Improve Your Professionalism

7 Ways To Improve Your Professionalism

Professionalism is not just a trait; it's an art form that can dramatically elevate both individual and organizational success. At Giant Leap Consulting, we offer an entire professionalism workshop that highlights the following 7 characteristics. These key areas are...