Experience and Power Block Self-Awareness

Self-Awareness: A Rare Quality

Self-awareness is a leadership buzzword — and for good reason. Leaders who are self-aware build stronger relationships, communicate more effectively, and tend to make better decisions. Yet self-awareness among leaders – especially among more experienced, higher-level ones – is a rare quality.

Two Dimensions of Self-Awareness

Self-awareness has two dimensions: internal and external.

Internal self-awareness is how clearly we understand our own values, passions, aspirations.

External self-awareness is how clearly we understand how other people view us. A person’s level of self-awareness is defined as  the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us.

What the Research Shows

Research by The Eurich Group, an executive development firm that helps companies succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders, found that only 10%-15% of the leaders they studied actually reflected a high level of self-awareness.1

Contrary to popular belief, this research has shown that leaders who see themselves as experienced don’t feel like they need to do their homework, seek disconfirming evidence, or question their assumptions.

Similarly, the more power a leader holds, the more likely they are to overestimate their skills and abilities. One study of more than 3,600 leaders across a variety of roles and industries found that – relative to lower-level leaders – higher-level leaders more significantly overvalued their effectiveness (compared with others’ perceptions).


Two primary explanations are cited for this phenomenon.

First, by virtue of their level, senior leaders simply have fewer people above them who can provide candid feedback.

Second, the more power a leader wields, the less comfortable people will be to give them constructive feedback. As one’s  power grows, the leader’s willingness to receive feedback tends to shrink, often because they think – subconsciously – they know more than their colleagues.

It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Leaders who improve their level of self-awareness typically do so by seeking out feedback from others who have their best interests in mind and are willing to tell them the truth.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend. . . “ (Proverbs 27:6).

They might make us more self-aware too. 


1Tasha Eurich, What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It), Harvard Business Review, January 4, 2018.

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