How to deepen your insight and see the blind spots that could be holding you back.

Dubbed by New York Times best-selling author and leadership guru Tasha Eurich as the meta-skill of the 21st century, self-awareness is as desirable as it is elusive, given that a staggering 95 per cent of people think they possess self-awareness, but only about 15 per cent of people really do. Self-aware people are more fulfilled, more creative, successful, more confident, build better relationships, and are more respected and effective leaders with more profitable companies. There’s just one problem: most people don’t see themselves quite as clearly as they could, and it's rare to get candid, objective feedback from colleagues, employees, and even friends and family.

In her new book, Insight, organizational psychologist Eurich tackles this paradox and offers an explanation for this disconnect. “The reason I call it the meta-skill is that it’s underlying or foundational to all of the skills that are required to succeed in the 21st century – things like emotional intelligence, influence, persuasion, sales. If you are not self-aware, if you do not understand who you are, how others see you and the role you play in the world, you are going to come up short. But for most people, it is easier to choose self-delusion over the cold hard truth.”

Eurich argues that the increasingly “me-focused” society makes it easier to fall into this trap. “Recent generations have grown up in a world obsessed with self-esteem, constantly being reminded of their special qualities, and it is fiendishly difficult to examine objectively who we are and how we’re seen.”

Indeed, psychological research indicates that are we are not very good at evaluating ourselves accurately, frequently overestimating our abilities: for example, the Dunning-Kruger effect results in “illusory superiority” - a condition of cognitive bias whereby a person overestimates their own qualities and abilities, in relation to the same qualities and abilities of others. What’s even more alarming is that those with the least ability are most likely to overrate their ability to the greatest extent.

Decoding self-awareness

For Anne Welsh, Executive Coach and founder of Synthesis-in-the-City, the first step for a leader is to have a willingness to be self-reflective and, from being self-reflective, to build greater self-awareness over time. “If we think about the old style of leadership, it was very different from now where leaders are asked to be a lot more relational. Personally, I think that it takes courage to build self-awareness, because if you become more self-aware in one area, if you like, you have to actually open to your shadow as well as the positive aspects of self-awareness. So, I think self-awareness is a leadership journey and it demands courage.”

For Welsh, this journey needs to be a conscious choice. “In some ways, this learning could come from feedback from others, from 360-degree feedback from subordinates, colleagues and supervisors, but also I think you can begin to choose to take ownership, even keeping a reflective journal, to begin to recognize what works well in my relationships with others and especially as a leader. Where do I, maybe, get caught where my own beliefs and mindsets are stopping me actually being able to be relational as a leader?”