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Cultivating Self-Awareness: The Foundation of Effective Leadership

By Andre J. Wicks, President of Everyday Principal, author of What Is Standing in the Way, Consultant and Leadership Coach, and Principal of Carla O. Peperzak Middle School.

2024 Summer Development Series: Join thousands of other school leaders, and leaders from the private sector, in this Summer's development series focusing on you. The effectiveness of every single leadership move you make is predicated on who you are as a leader. Take a few minutes each Monday this Summer (June 24 through August 26) to make an investment in the powerplant for effective leadership. Yourself.

Welcome to the first installment of our summer series on personal leadership development. First in this series, we are diving into a topic that is not only foundational but also transformative: self-awareness. Our goal is to unpack what self-awareness means, why it is vital for effective leadership, and how you can cultivate it to become a more impactful leader in your school, school district or organization.

A more self-aware leader is a more effective leader.

Understanding Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is often described as the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection. It involves recognizing your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, and emotions and understanding how these elements influence your behavior and interactions with others.

Daniel Goleman, a pioneer in emotional intelligence, breaks down self-awareness into three primary components:

  1. Emotional Self-Awareness: Recognizing and understanding your own emotions and how they affect your performance.

  2. Accurate Self-Assessment: Knowing your strengths and limitations, which fosters confidence and humility.

  3. Self-Confidence: A strong sense of your self-worth and capabilities.

These components form the bedrock of self-awareness and are essential for effective leadership. When you are self-aware, you can make more informed decisions, communicate more effectively, and build stronger relationships with your team.

Why Self-Awareness Matters in Leadership

In the context of K-12 education, where leadership extends beyond administrative duties to shaping the lives of students and staff, self-awareness is crucial. Here’s why:

Enhancing Decision-Making

Self-aware leaders are better decision-makers. They understand how their biases, emotions, and personal experiences influence their choices. This understanding helps them make more balanced and objective decisions, especially in high-stakes situations typical in school settings.

Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, in their book Resonant Leadership, emphasize that self-aware leaders are able to manage their emotional responses and maintain a clear focus on their values and goals. This ability is particularly valuable in schools, where decisions often impact a diverse range of stakeholders, including students, parents, and teachers.

Improving Communication

Effective communication is at the heart of good leadership, and self-awareness plays a critical role. When you are aware of your emotions and how they influence your tone, body language, and choice of words, you can communicate more clearly and empathetically. This clarity fosters trust and transparency, which are essential for a positive school culture.

In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner highlight that self-aware leaders are better able to articulate their vision and values in ways that resonate with others. This skill is vital for inspiring and motivating your team.

Building Stronger Relationships

Relationships are the cornerstone of a thriving school community. Self-awareness allows you to understand your impact on others and to build stronger, more authentic connections. When you are aware of your own emotional triggers and how they affect your interactions, you can respond more thoughtfully and create a more supportive and collaborative environment.

Stephen Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust, argues that trust is built on self-awareness and the ability to be transparent and authentic in your relationships. For school leaders, this trust is the foundation of a healthy and productive school culture .

Cultivating Self-Awareness: Key Insights

Now that we’ve explored why self-awareness is so important, let us delve into how you can cultivate it. Here are some key insights and practical strategies to help you enhance your self-awareness as a leader.

Practice Regular Self-Reflection

Self-reflection is a powerful tool for developing self-awareness. It involves taking time to think about your experiences, actions, and emotions, and to consider how they align with your values and goals.

Key Insight: Reflective practice helps you gain deeper insights into your behavior and motivations, allowing you to make more intentional and conscious choices.

Practical Application:

  • Journaling: Set aside time each day or week to write about your experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Focus on significant events or decisions and reflect on what you learned and how you can apply those insights moving forward.

  • Guided Reflection: Use prompts or questions to guide your reflection. For example, "What went well today?" or "How did I handle that challenging situation?" This structured approach can help you dig deeper and uncover valuable insights.

Seek Feedback from Others

Feedback from others provides an external perspective on your behavior and performance, helping you to see yourself more clearly. It can highlight blind spots and areas for growth that you might not be aware of.

Key Insight: Constructive feedback is a mirror that reflects how others perceive your actions and interactions, offering a valuable opportunity for self-improvement.

Practical Application:

  • 360-Degree Feedback: Implement a 360-degree feedback process where you receive input from a range of colleagues, including peers, subordinates, and supervisors. This comprehensive approach provides a well-rounded view of your strengths and areas for development.

  • Regular Check-Ins: Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with trusted colleagues or mentors to discuss your performance and seek feedback. Be open and receptive to their insights and use this information to inform your self-reflection and growth.

Embrace Mindfulness

Mindfulness involves being fully present and aware of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings without judgment. It helps you to tune into your internal state and to respond to situations with greater clarity and intention.

Key Insight: Mindfulness enhances self-awareness by fostering a deeper connection to your emotions and thoughts, allowing you to observe and understand them more effectively .

Practical Application:

  • Mindfulness Meditation: Practice mindfulness meditation to cultivate a habit of being present and aware. Even a few minutes of daily meditation can help you become more attuned to your thoughts and emotions.

  • Mindful Pausing: Incorporate brief pauses throughout your day to check in with yourself and assess your emotional state. This practice can help you respond more thoughtfully to challenges and interactions.

Engage in Continuous Learning

Self-awareness is not a one-time achievement but an ongoing journey. Engaging in continuous learning and seeking new experiences can expand your self-awareness and enhance your leadership capabilities.

Key Insight: Lifelong learning fosters self-awareness by exposing you to new perspectives and experiences that challenge your assumptions and broaden your understanding of yourself and others.

Practical Application:

  • Professional Development: Participate in workshops, courses, or conferences that focus on personal and professional growth. These opportunities can provide new insights and tools for enhancing your self-awareness.

  • Reading and Reflection: Read books and articles on leadership, psychology, and self-development. Reflect on how the concepts and ideas you encounter apply to your own experiences and leadership style.

Practical Applications: Implementing Self-Awareness in Leadership

As you cultivate self-awareness, consider how you can integrate these insights and practices into your daily leadership activities. Here are some practical applications to help you get started.

Align Your Actions with Your Values

Your values are the core principles that guide your decisions and actions. Aligning your behavior with your values ensures that you lead with integrity and authenticity.

Practical Application:

  • Identify Your Core Values: Take time to reflect on and articulate your core values. What principles are most important to you as a leader? How do they influence your decisions and actions?

  • Evaluate Your Actions: Regularly assess how well your actions align with your values. Are there areas where you can improve? How can you make more intentional choices that reflect your core principles?

Communicate with Clarity and Empathy

Effective communication is essential for building trust and fostering collaboration. Being self-aware helps you communicate more clearly and empathetically, enhancing your relationships and leadership effectiveness.

Practical Application:

  • Listen Actively: Practice active listening by focusing fully on the speaker, asking clarifying questions, and reflecting back what you hear. This approach demonstrates empathy and understanding, strengthening your connections with others.

  • Be Transparent: Share your thoughts and feelings openly and honestly with your team. Transparency builds trust and fosters a culture of openness and mutual respect.

Foster a Culture of Feedback and Growth

Encouraging a culture of feedback and continuous improvement can enhance self-awareness and drive positive change within your school community.

Practical Application:

  • Model Receptiveness to Feedback: Demonstrate your openness to feedback by seeking it regularly and responding positively to constructive criticism. Your willingness to learn and grow sets a powerful example for your team.

  • Create Feedback Opportunities: Establish regular opportunities for feedback, such as team meetings, surveys, or informal check-ins. Encourage your staff and students to share their perspectives and use their input to inform your decisions and actions.

Lead with Presence and Intention

Leading with presence and intention means being fully engaged and purposeful in your interactions and decisions. This approach enhances your effectiveness and inspires others to follow your lead.

Practical Application:

  • Practice Mindful Leadership: Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine to enhance your presence and focus. Whether it is taking a few deep breaths before a meeting or setting aside time for reflection, mindfulness can help you lead with greater clarity and intention.

  • Set Clear Intentions: Before engaging in important activities or interactions, take a moment to set clear intentions. What do you hope to achieve? How do you want to show up as a leader? This practice helps you stay focused and aligned with your goals.

Wrapping it up: Embrace Becoming More Self-Aware

Cultivating self-awareness is a transformative journey that enhances your ability to lead with authenticity, empathy, and purpose. By regularly reflecting on your experiences, seeking feedback, practicing mindfulness, and embracing continuous learning, you can deepen your understanding of yourself and your impact on others.

As you integrate these practices into your leadership, remember that self-awareness is an ongoing process. It requires dedication, curiosity, and a willingness to explore and grow. Embrace this process with an open heart and a commitment to becoming the best version of yourself, and you will see profound benefits not only in your leadership but in all areas of your life.

Looking Ahead

This blog marks just the beginning of our exploration into personal leadership development. Over the coming weeks, we will delve into other crucial aspects of effective leadership, each building upon the foundation of self-awareness that we have discussed today. Here is what to expect in the coming weeks:

  1. July 1, 2024: Embracing Vulnerability - Discover how embracing vulnerability can enhance your leadership and foster deeper connections with your team.

  2. July 8, 2024: Building Emotional Intelligence - Learn how to cultivate emotional intelligence to better understand and manage your emotions and those of others.

  3. July 15, 2024: Practicing Authenticity - Explore the power of authenticity and how being true to yourself can inspire trust and loyalty in your team.

  4. July 22, 2024: Developing Resilience - Understand how to build resilience to navigate the challenges and stresses of leadership with grace and strength.

  5. July 29, 2024: Cultivating Mindfulness - Delve deeper into mindfulness practices and how they can enhance your leadership presence and decision-making.

  6. August 5, 2024: Creating a Vision - Learn how to craft a compelling vision for your school that inspires and guides your community.

  7. August 12, 2024: Empowering Others - Explore strategies for empowering your staff and students to foster a culture of trust and collaboration.

  8. August 19, 2024: Balancing Compassion and Accountability - Find out how to balance compassion with accountability to maintain high standards while supporting your team.

  9. August 26, 2024: Continuous Personal Growth - Embrace the journey of lifelong learning and discover how continuous personal development can keep you at the forefront of effective leadership.

Final Thoughts

I invite you to take a moment to reflect on what you’ve learned. Consider how you can start applying these insights and practices in your daily life. Begin with small steps—perhaps a daily journal entry, a moment of mindfulness, or seeking feedback from a trusted colleague. Each step you take toward cultivating self-awareness is a step toward becoming a more effective, compassionate, and impactful leader.

Remember, the journey of self-awareness is not a destination but an ongoing process of discovery and growth. Embrace it with curiosity and openness, and you will find that the person you become along the way will inspire and uplift those around you.

Thank you for joining the rest of the EP Network in the Summer Development Series. I look forward to exploring these vital aspects of leadership with you over the coming weeks. Together, we can build a foundation of personal development that will empower us to lead our schools with wisdom, integrity, and heart; maximizing our results.

If you would like to reach out to me personally, email me at

Call to Action

As we kick off this series, I encourage you to start your self-awareness journey today. Reflect on your experiences, seek feedback, and explore mindfulness practices. Share your thoughts and progress with us in the comments below. Let’s create a community of leaders committed to personal growth and the pursuit of excellence in education.

Stay tuned for our next post on July 1, 2024, where we will explore the transformative power of embracing vulnerability in leadership. Until then, lead with awareness and intention.


  1. Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Bantam Books.

  2. Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2005). Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion. Harvard Business Review Press.

  3. Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2017). The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations (6th ed.). Jossey-Bass.

  4. Covey, S. M. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2006). The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. Free Press.

  5. George, B. (2003). Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value. Jossey-Bass.

  6. Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0. TalentSmart.

  7. Senge, P. M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. Doubleday.


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BOOM! Great article. A year ago, I started a personal journey of health and wellness. While very personal, it also includes my professional self. And the biggest take-away a year into this journey professionally, is exactly what this article touches on. Self-awareness. Nowhere did that come up more than in my exploration of mindfulness. It has been a game-changer. And I am just scratching the surface. I strive to be more present and intentional in each moment. I also take time on a regular basis to journal. I am currently reading Kabat-Zinn's book Wherever You Go, There You Are. I really love his idea that you can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf. For too long I…

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Thank you, Chris! Your personal story will resonate with so many people. On behalf of all the people impacted by your leadership, thank you. Thank you for having the courage and the wherewithal to step past comfort to do “me” work.

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