Self Knowledge Helps You To Be A Great Leader  

The Human-Centred Leadership Series

“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” 


How well would you say you know yourself? Is it possible there are some blind spots getting in the way of you being the great leader you want to be?  

For centuries Philosophers such as the great and frequently quoted Epictetus have taught us that self-mastery comes from self-knowledge, and the daily practice of reflecting on our thoughts and behaviours so that we can improve who we are in the world.

Our Quest for Self-Knowledge 

In an article by psychology researchers at Ohio University it was identified that self-knowledge is obtained in 3 ways; biological, interpersonal and intrapsychic, demonstrating that the quest to understand ourselves is hard-wired into human beings.  

Increased self-knowledge can manifest in three major ways: via biological, interpersonal, and intrapsychic origins. Biological explanations of the origins of self-knowledge are mostly concerned with genetic expressions and brain activities. Interpersonal paths also help individuals develop self-knowledge. For instance, social comparison facilitates people’s formation of self-views by comparing themselves with similar others. Reflected appraisals increase people’s awareness of their own abilities, qualities, and identities through others’ lens. Intrapsychic self-knowledge can be obtained through self-perception, in which people learn about themselves by observing and analysing their behaviours in relevant situations. 

Knowing ourselves well not only helps us to navigate the world around us, but also equips us with the ability to explore and express our full potential, a state of being that the Psychologist Maslow called ‘Self Actualisation’ in his hierarchy of human needs model. Nowhere else is this truer than when it comes to you reaching your greatest potential as a Leader.  

When it comes to great leadership it is the intrapsychic self-knowledge that determines the type of impact we have upon our team.  

Intrapsychic self-knowledge can be obtained through self-perception, in which people learn about themselves by observing and analysing their behaviours in relevant situations. 

Essentially, making the conscious effort to understand how and why we behave the way we do in the situations that bring out the best in us, vs. those that bring out a more fear focused response. At Evolve we call these two human mindsets Thrive Mode and Survive Mode: 

  • Thrive Mode – You know when you’re here because you feel more positive, in control and obtaining your goals feels effortless. This state of mind enables you to respond calmly to challenges and be solution focused.  

  • Survive Mode – You know when you’re here because you feel more negative, out of control and obtaining your goals feels like walking through treacle.  This state of mind causes you to react to challenges and be fear focused.  

Your ability to understand the push and pull of these two modes in yourself and their impact upon your behaviour is what will empower you with the insight to understand them in your team. Appreciating and showing empathy for the human dynamics behind your team’s behaviour is what will make you the kind of leader that people admire, and the kind they won’t forget.  

Building Your Self Knowledge  

A quick google search reveals that there are varying definitions of the concept of Self Knowledge. Philosophy refers to it being ‘knowledge of one’s own mental states—that is, of what one is feeling or thinking, or what one believes or desires.’ The Cambridge Dictionary define it as; ‘an understanding of yourself and your abilities.   

At Evolve we like to think of self-knowledge as having 3 key components: Knowing who you are, what drives you, and how you tick.’ 
Let’s take a closer look at what these 3 components are and how you can cultivate more of them to enhance your impact as a leader.   

Knowing Who You Are 
What this is: Knowing your greatest qualities, strengths and the positive impact you make upon people and situations.  

How to understand yourself more: Start journaling the ways in which you naturally help and motivate your team the best. What qualities and strengths are you using to make this positive impact? They say people may not remember what you said but they will remember how you made them feel. Let how you want to make your team feel guide your actions, especially during challenging times.  

Knowing What Drives You   
What this is: Knowing the needs, values and aspirations that drive you every day.  
How to understand yourself more: Mind map the needs, values and aspirations that are important to you to have in your life both professionally and personally. How can you honour these drivers more through your role as a leader? How can you help your team to understand and honour their drivers too?  

Knowing How You Tick  
What this is: Knowing what triggers you and how you behave when you are in Thrive Mode vs. Survive Mode.  
How to understand yourself more: It is often when our needs aren’t being met or are being compromised that we tend to go into Survive Mode for self-preservation. Evaluate and compare situations that have brought out both modes in you over the last 4 weeks. What does this teach you about yourself and your leadership style that you can take forward?  

Finally, but importantly…  

Being a great and self-aware leader doesn’t mean having to be ‘perfect’ and get things right all of the time – that would mean turning yourself into an emotionless robot that is governed by self-editing rather than self-expression.  

The most inspiring leaders are the ones who are willing to lead with their hearts and make some mistakes along the way yes, but transform those wrong turns into moments of positive change for themselves, and everyone around them.  

What will you do to get to know yourself better, and be the great leader you know you can be from today?  

Team Evolve 

The Evolve Company - Coaching in Hampshire

Team Evolve