Self-Awareness as a Path to Authentic Leadership

Key Takeaway:

This article will explore how self-awareness allows us to bring our authentic self to leadership, the challenge leaders of color face, and internal and external practices to deepen self-awareness.

Many leaders today are striving to be authentic in their approach.  A key component of authentic leadership is self-awareness.

I once heard a speaker who asked everyone in the crowd if they were self-aware. People sheepishly looked around and some hands quietly went up.  She then went on to say that if you think you are self-aware, then you probably are not.

How do we really know if we are self-aware? 

That’s an elusive trait driven through work done by an individual to learn themselves and become aware of the unexamined aspects of their character. I have found that practices that support self-awareness have allowed me to further my personal growth and development by being intentional about what legacy I want to bring to my work and my service.

What makes up authentic leadership?

In the article “The Truth About Authentic Leaders,” author Bill George defines five key characteristics of authentic leaders. 

According to George, authentic leaders demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • Authentic leaders explore their life stories and their crucible moments.  As leaders make meaning of their life experiences, they obtain the confidence to lean into challenges.
  • Authentic leaders engage in reflection and introspective practices. This is dedicated time for reflection, where one is focused on what is important to their lives and relationships instead of what may be urgent.
  • Authentic leaders seek honest feedback. Creating an environment of candor and seeking 360-degree feedback can allow leaders to truly understand how they are seen by others.
  • Authentic leaders understand their leadership purpose. This allows the leader to rally people around a common goal or task.  By aligning others to this purpose, they can make the most positive lasting impact.
  • Authentic leaders become skilled at tailoring their style. Being able to flex your style to the situation or audience is sometimes perceived as being inauthentic. The more a leader builds self-awareness, the more they can adapt their style without comprising their character.

All of these characteristics have threads of leaders taking time to engage in a deeper understanding of what motivates them, how they impact others and who they are at their core.

For leaders of color, this is an even more delicate process as knowing oneself does not always translate to the cultural norms of leadership. In the HBR article “Cracking the Code That Stalls People of Color,” author Sylvia Hewitt states, “Executive presence presents unique challenges for professionals of color because standards of appropriate behavior, speech, and attire demand they suppress or sacrifice aspects of their cultural identity in order to conform.   As a leader of color this can be challenging because you may be calculating the risk and reward of bringing your full self to the table.”

For leaders of color, the work of self-awareness becomes even more important as that self-knowledge will allow for confidence and ground in your worth. This allows a leader of color to assess the risk and safety when determining if they can bring their full self to an environment.

Practices to Deepen Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is critical to being an authentic leader.  How can one lead authentically if they don’t know who they are or what motivates them?  Practices that deepen self-awareness can be either internally or externally focused.

Internal learning practices include journaling, meditation, prayer and other mindfulness practices.  Getting in touch with your thoughts can allow you to slow down and learn more about what is motivating you in the moment and what your lived experience is telling you.

External practices may include working with a coach. A coach can provide accountability and direction while helping one explore their motivations. They can also be a partner in understating both internal and external feedback and translate that to actionable change.  This feedback may include a 360-degree review or stakeholder interviews for additional external feedback.

All of these practices focus on learning more about yourself and creating the space in your daily life to explore who you are and how that is demonstrated in your leadership.



George, B. (2016, July 06). The truth about authentic leaders. Retrieved from

Hewitt, S. A. (2018, March 12). Cracking the code that stalls people of color. Retrieved from



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.



Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.