Become a Superhero Leader, Partner, and Parent with this One Skill

What’s self-awareness, why is self-awareness important, and two ways to develop it.

Scott Henderson
Published in
8 min readFeb 10, 2021


A few months ago I was speaking with my brother about my personal leadership values and principles, one of which is psychological safety. After describing what psychological safety is to my younger brother he said, “I usually don’t feel psychologically safe around you.”

[Well crap.]

I wasn’t living my number-one principle with my own brother! What’s more eye-opening, is I thought I was creating a psychologically safe space for him. This was a major problem.

Self-awareness leads to getting what you want

Awareness is all about restoring your freedom to choose what you want instead of what your past imposes on you. — Deepak Chopra

You might have similar challenges. We all have personal standards, professional goals, and general responsibilities and they are not always easy to achieve or fulfill, and that's frustrating. One of the most subtle but disruptive obstacles that get in our way is our own lack of self-awareness.

These last two years have been transformative for me because of certain experiences that have required me to become more self-aware. I’m by no means completely self-aware, but I’ve learned some really important lessons. I’m 100% positive this skill has not only forever changed who I am for the better, but it has also helped me achieve more in the last year than I ever have in my life.

Self-awareness is a superpower — it differentiates you from people. It can take you from feeling frustrated, scared, unsure, and stuck — and turn you into a confident leader and/or contributor who makes a meaningful impact wherever you go.

Self-awareness is defined as knowing who you are and how you are seen. It’s also the ability to know yourself well enough so you can intentionally choose how you behave. Only about 15% of people can say they are self-aware at work. This is a major problem because when we are not self-aware we -

  • don’t listen to or accept critical feedback
  • fail to empathize with others or consider other’s perspectives
  • have a hard time reading a room and customizing a message to the listeners
  • overestimate the value of our contributions and performance
  • unknowingly hurt others
  • take credit for success while blaming others for failures

Becoming self-aware is a life-long process that few people proactively embark on. When we seek to become better at this skill we can more intentionally live our lives, make more strategic decisions, and accelerate towards our personal and professional aspirations. Below are some actionable suggestions to start working on your own self-awareness today.

Thoughtfully take some personality tests

“It does not matter how strong and well prepared you are if you have no direction.” — Yulia Peralta, PhD

Thoughtfully means to review test results while knowing they do not perfectly reflect who we are. Any result from any test is just one foggy view into a part of ourselves. Personality tests are helpful instruments to understand the direction you are likely to be going and compare it to the direction you want to be going. They should not be used to label or bucket oneself (or others) and they should not limit us from developing new skills or trying new things.

I like to use this metaphor — think of your self-awareness as a large gourmet dinner. The dinner is made up of multiple dishes, all of which have different nutritional purposes- the main entree, a few sides, a couple of beverage options, perhaps a dessert. We are best nourished with a variety of foods.

Similarly, your self-awareness is better nourished when you feed it with multiple different personality tests. The variety of tests help you gain a better holistic understanding of yourself than if you were to just take one — that said, listed below are three of the most helpful personality tests to start with.

Three Fundamental Personality Tests

Big Five Personality Test — What are my general inclinations?

This test is the most scientifically validated personality test out there. Simply taking the test and knowing where you land on each of the five traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) helps some — but what really helps develop self-awareness is thoughtfully considering how your different trait scores interact with the other trait scores.

For example, if someone scored low on openness to experience but high on extraversion that could indicate that the person does not thrive in large groups with new people, but in a group with people they are familiar with they might. Knowing this could help the person be more intentional about how they behave in new settings.

Another example might be someone scoring high on neuroticism (characterized by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability) and high on agreeableness.

This combination might nudge a person to be too much of a pushover. After learning this about themselves the person could create/adopt interventions to tweak how they show up and are experienced by other people, as a way to proactively move their career and relationships in the direction they want them to go.

DiSC — How do I like to interact with others?

This test is meant to provide you insights into how you like to communicate and interact with others. While everyone is a mix of the four categories one can fall into, the test provides you with your primary way of connecting, relating, supporting, and working with others. The categories are -

  • Dominance — direct, firm, strong-willed, forceful, and results-oriented
  • Influence — outgoing, enthusiastic, optimistic, high-spirited, and lively
  • Steadiness — even-tempered, accommodating, patient, humble, tactful
  • Conscientiousness — analytical, reserved, precise, private, and systematic

Depending on which provider you take the test from they also provide you with insights on how you are motivated or stressed and how you can best work with people who are typed differently than yourself. This is one of the tests I score differently on depending on the workgroup I am in.

Sometimes I come out the supportive type with an inclination for action and sometimes I come out the influencing type. It might be helpful to take this one after starting a new job so you can better understand your experience and better engage with others. I recommend sharing your results with your team and nudge them to take the test.

Conflict Style Assessment — How do I tend to handle conflict? What are my strengths and weaknesses when handling conflict?

Conflict is one of those unavoidable things that most people are bad at navigating. This is because when we feel threatened, the part of our brain responsible for the fight or flight response high-jacks our rational thinking.

If we are not aware of how we as individuals tend to approach conflict then we may handle the conflict in counterproductive ways that don’t serve our or the other party's end-goals.

A lot of different conflict assessments exist online, I like this one because the user experience is better than some others I found. It essentially informs you where you land inside a 2x2 matrix like below.

It’s easy to assume collaborating is the best place to land. Collaboration is the best approach for some situations — however, in other situations, avoiding will be the best approach (the same goes for competing and accommodating).

The point of becoming self-aware of your conflict tendency is to understand different situations require different approaches, that you can cater your approach, and that your natural tendency might be getting in the way of you effectively navigating conflict.

(There are a lot of other personality assessments are out there — some of them are bad and some of them are quality.)

An additional tool to strengthen self-awareness

Another helpful (yet imperfect) way to build our self-awareness is to simply ask people for their feedback/reactions to your behaviors. For instance, if you have a meeting that didn’t go how you wanted, then ask someone who was there what their feedback for you might be or what their reactions might be to how you behaved.

Try saying something like -

  • I’m trying to get better at _________. How would you say I did in that last meeting?
  • In your opinion, what is one thing I could be doing just a little better regarding _________?
  • What do you think I am doing that causes (fill in the undesired outcome here), and do you have any suggestions on what I can do differently?

The best leaders adhere to two rules when using this approach. First, do not get defensive. We are not asking these questions so we can justify our behaviors — so make an extra effort to not defend yourself. Second, replace those inclinations to be defensive with asking questions and seek to understand what exactly the other person is communicating.

If they say “you come off as abrasive” follow up with “I really want to understand that because I don’t want to be abrasive — what exactly am I doing that comes off that way?”

Again — (1) don’t get defensive, (2) ask lots of clarifying questions so you understand.

Both Imperfect and Effective

It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Both personality tests as well as seeking for feedback are imperfect tools because they can’t capture everything — however, they can serve as effective tools to gaining a better understanding of one’s self because —

  • With multiple personality tests, we can gain a more holistic view of ourselves because some tests can make up for other test’s shortcomings.
  • Results from personality tests put words to things we may have never realized before — resulting in a better understanding of ourselves.
  • Other people’s feedback and reactions can add contextual examples to help us best understand how others are experiencing us and inform how we interpret any personality test results.

If these approaches don’t work for you, then find another way. The most important thing to take away from this reading is that the more self-aware we become, the more enabled we are to live the life we want.

To Wrap up…

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” — Carl Jung

Take the time to get to know yourself better through personality tests and feedback conversations. Journal regularly so you can put words to your own process and development.

When we better understand ourselves — our natural inclinations/tendencies, our thoughts, our behaviors, and how others experience us — we can strengthen our confidence in our abilities to handle our emotions, we can master social situations, and we can wisely manage relationships.

These skills result in us more effectively navigating our worlds while we progress towards accomplishing our goals and fulfilling our responsibilities. Good luck!