The Fatal Flaw That Hinders Leadership Development

— June 19, 2017


We’ve all encountered people who can’t admit their mistakes or who genuinely seem to believe they can do no wrong. Working with these individuals can be challenging, as their behavior likely stems from a fatal leadership flaw: A lack of self-awareness.

Researchers increasingly are recognizing self-awareness, or being able to see ourselves as others see us, as a critical factor in leadership effectiveness. Here’s a look at how self-awareness can impact performance and what leaders can do to prevent this blind spot.

How Self-Awareness Impacts Your Company’s Bottom Line

Self-awareness has long been considered a soft skill, but recent research in a Forbes article shows it has a measurable impact on company performance.

Korn Ferry analysts reviewed 6,977 self-assessments from professionals at 486 publicly traded companies to measure the gaps between what these leaders believed about themselves and how their peers perceived them. They also examined stock performance at these same companies and found:

  • Professionals at poor-performing companies had 20 percent more blind spots than those working at financially strong companies
  • Those at poor-performing companies were 79 percent more likely to have low overall self-awareness than those at more successful companies

Leaders who lack self-awareness are generally less receptive to coaching and feedback. They also are less likely to surround themselves with people who complement their strengths and weaknesses. Their team members may see them as less authentic and therefore less trustworthy.

By contrast, those who are self-aware tend to be more proactive about improving the skills they lack and building well-rounded teams, which accelerates their development and career progression.

How to Incorporate Self-Awareness Into Leadership Development

These findings illustrate the importance of emphasizing self-awareness in your company’s overall leadership development strategy. Here are a few ways those in learning and development roles can do that.

  1. Conduct leadership assessments. Use a combination of leadership assessment tools to gather data, including self-assessments. Inviting leaders to learn more about themselves through personality tests and questionnaires can provide valuable insight.
  2. Use 360 feedback. Surveying a leader’s supervisors, peers and direct reports will give you and your leader a better idea of how others see them. This is a useful starting point for any development program. Periodically gathering 360 feedback and tying it to performance reviews also is a good way to measure improvement over time.
  3. Gather input in less formal ways. Consistently solicit input from a few trusted colleagues to assess performance of your leaders in key areas over time. Observing leaders in action, having casual conversations with those close to them and taking the time to talk with them individually are all useful ways to improve self-awareness.
  4. Track decisions over time to assess progress. One of the best ways to evaluate leadership is by reflecting on key decisions with them. Did leaders involve the right stakeholders when making an important decision? How did they feel about the result? What might they have done differently?

Self-awareness may be less visible than other leadership characteristics, but it’s just as important, particularly among virtual leaders. Leaders who have fewer in-person interactions with their teams must be even more aware of their own flaws because they’re less likely to hear about them from others. This underscores the importance of training and development that specifically addresses the unique needs of virtual leaders. Take the next step to prepare your virtual leaders for the future. Check out this short guide, Building the Business Case For Virtual Leadership Development.


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Author: Darleen DeRosa

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