Self-Awareness: The Hidden Ingredient for Effective Team Performance

Monique Russell

30 April 2019

Building a successful team is a science. It’s no secret that to achieve business success, following a certain set of prescriptive methods will increase the chance of positive results. But what happens when the results aren’t happening at the rate we planned? What happens when team goals aren’t fully achieved and the full potential of the team isn’t realized?

This month, Leadercast has focused on the topic of Dysfunction on teams. A lack of momentum in achieving results is a clear sign something is amiss. So, how do you jumpstart results?

It starts with the self-awareness of the team’s leader. The UC Berkeley HR team puts it this way: “The first rule to team building is an obvious one: to lead a team effectively, you must first establish your leadership with each team member. Remember that the most effective team leaders build their relationships of trust and loyalty, rather than fear or the power of their positions.

Being a leader isn’t for the faint of heart. There is a lot of responsibility that is placed on your shoulders including making complex decisions, mediating conflict, inspiring others and having a clear vision.

Featured Resource: Accountability in Leadership

Leadercast Now Series - Accountability in Leadership


It is a calling where you get to choose to be the best version of yourself in order to help those around you become their best. This is not always easy. As leaders, we can’t do this without being self-aware, and we can’t do it alone, either.

Take for example this real-world story: Our company was called in to lead a series of team-building workshops for a client. The morale was low, employee engagement at a bare minimum and internal conflict had begun to brew—typical signs that often motivate leaders to ask for external help. The leader felt tired, burdened and overwhelmed. He felt he was the only one carrying the weight of forward thinking and solving problems while having to generate consistent enthusiasm. Can you relate?

After the team-building workshops, he was inspired to hear how motivated and enthused his team was and was blown away by some of the ideas they came up with as solutions to their problems. He said, “I don’t know why no one ever shared those ideas before. I felt like I was the only one coming up with ideas.”

What this leader was missing was the self-awareness required to build trust and foster creativity among the team. While he was great at what he did, he was short-sighted in his view of how his position and communication created a natural resistance to sharing ideas and didn’t have the skill or expertise needed to facilitate this type of environment at work.

You Don’t Have to Do It Alone

Being able to seek outside help is a sign of strength, not weakness. A skilled facilitator with advanced techniques and strategies was just the tweak this leader needed to gain momentum in moving toward the team goals.

Self-awareness is the essence of effective leadership. This means knowing and owning up to your weaknesses as well as your strengths. It means understanding your personality and how others react, respond, and seem to understand or misunderstand you. A self-aware leader, possessing developed emotional intelligence, “can consciously influence the situation and the potential climate of the group,” as described in this article from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Self-aware leaders draw on the collective knowledge of the group while leaders lacking self-awareness may be prone to flaunt their expertise in ways that appear intimidating or off-putting. They may also not know when to rein in a rambunctious exchange of ideas to regain control of chaos initiated by their approaches.

Leaders who lack self-awareness are often the result of hiring processes that look for evidence of talent without paying attention to interpersonal skills or emotional intelligence. When selecting leaders for your team, remember to be attentive to well-rounded social skills in addition to technical expertise. When acting as a leader, be sure to constantly assess your own interpersonal and intrapersonal preparedness and ability to listen to reasonable constructive criticism without excessive sensitivity. One way to do this is to seek advice from superiors and feedback from your team frequently.

Monique Russell

Monique Russell helps leaders and teams practice leadership living from the inside out. She is a professional speaker and an inspirational teacher providing effective communication strategies that reduce conflict, improve productivity, and boost the quality of professional and personal relationships. She is the managing partner of Clear Communication Solutions, and an advisory board member for Leadercast. Connect with her on LinkedIn to learn more.

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