Many of us think of leadership only as being exclusively about leading others. Setting vision and goals, driving results, motivating teams, and holding people accountable. But, the truth is that truly great leadership always starts with leading yourself well. Understanding who you are, what strengths you bring to the table, and how you impact those around you are all crucial for the serious leader, with these Four Surprising Ways Self-Awareness Can Improve Your Leadership

The path to answering these questions lies in self-awareness. The ability to slow down, reflect, and analyze your performance is crucial to anyone hoping to have an impact as a leader. 

Some of the benefits of self-awareness are obvious. Learning to see and adjust problem behaviors. The opportunity to leverage hidden strengths. The wisdom to identify areas for growth.

Other benefits are less obvious but just as impactful. Here are four of the hidden benefits of self-awareness I see in the leaders I work with:

1. Improved Decision-Making

Making decisions (hopefully good ones) is a key role of any leader. But, it can be difficult for humans to make decisions that are free of bias or emotionality. Both of these can seriously affect our results. 

Often, businesses focus on simply ignoring the more human side of decisions. They turn a blind eye to emotion or prejudice, but this approach does little to resolve the problem. Self-awareness can help a leader to recognize and address emotions, habitual thinking, and bias in her decision-making. By identifying rather than ignoring the various factors impacting her, the self-aware leader can more consciously choose the appropriate path forward.

2. Less Negative Impact from Stress

It’s a rare leader who doesn’t acknowledge that stress is a significant factor in her life. While self-aware leaders aren’t immune to stress, they are better equipped to deal with it constructively.

A leader who understands herself well can quickly recognize when she is under stress and identify the source of the stressor. Moreover, she is better able to “make peace” with her pounding heart, sweaty palms, and churning stomach- seeing them as useful pieces of feedback rather than something to be resisted or suppressed. More and more, experts are concluding that this ability to reframe our relationship to stress can help alleviate many of the negative outcomes we’ve come to associate with the stressed or burned-out leader.

3. Better Ability to Build High Functioning Teams

While leadership is about more than our interactions with others, it remains true that building and motivating teams are at the heart of the leader’s job. Building a truly great team means pulling together a group of individuals with different talents and viewpoints. However, they respect and work well with one another. It means helping them navigate the sometimes rocky terrain of interpersonal dynamics and keeping them always moving toward the goal.

The leader who is committed to self-awareness and has done the hard work of identifying his strengths and weaknesses is more easily able to identify the strengths of those around him and build teams of complementary people. He can see the interactions between team members, especially people in conflict, in a more nuanced way and mediate better solutions between them.

4. Better Ability to Coach and Develop Others

One of the key elements of coaching and developing talent is helping them along their journey toward self-awareness. Leaders who have walked the road of self-discovery and experienced first hand the challenges and benefits are much more adept at leading others on this journey. Rather than resorting to negative feedback as the only tool in their toolbox for motivating and developing others, the self-aware leader can look at her people. She can ask them the tough questions, and help them learn valuable things about themselves. This approach adds a richness to coaching and development that is missing with less aware leaders.

The path to great leadership starts by looking at yourself first. Learning how you’re wired, what triggers you, and how you are most effective. These key elements of self-awareness will bear sometimes surprising fruit.