Self-knowledge and self-reflection are precepts that humanity has valued since its earliest beginnings. In antiquity, both the Latins and the Greeks emphasized the importance of self-awareness. Nosce te ipsum (lat.) and gnōthi seauton (gr.) are aphorisms that have remained in use and are applicable all the way to our day and age, advising the young and old to take the time to know oneself and self-reflect.
And still, self-reflection and self-awareness are not easy tasks. Brill (2010) describes self-reflection as a “sometimes painful process” (p.20). Self-reflection takes time, a genuine willingness to self-analyze, a preparedness to accept whatever the self-reflection process will reveal, and a readiness to make changes. Van de Ven and Sun (2011) describe reflection as the revision of one’s mental model to better fit the change and the processes unfolding in the organization. It is thus, a process of identification and adjustment, which requires willingness, readiness, and adaptability.
Self-reflection is important in leadership and coaching as it helps one discover strengths and weaknesses, values, and the reasons behind certain behaviors. Self-reflection is important in helping leaders understand and define their own leadership style, and further communicate it to others. A 2010 Cornell University and Greek Peak Partners study found that a high degree of self-awareness was the strongest indicator of success in leadership. Tjan (2012) makes an interesting point in saying that a leader who knows his or her own weaknesses is better prepared to hire others who may compensate for them.
In coaching, self-reflection is an important component in building trusting relationships with the coachee. Aguilar (2013) contends that a coach needs to know his or her own triggers, be aware of emotional responses, and be prepared to take ownership of mistakes or areas of weaknesses. Aguilar suggests transformational coaching as the most desirable coaching model, as it involves a high degree of self-reflection from both the coach and the coachee, and it produces changes in both parties involved.
A self-reflection tool used by leaders and professionals worldwide is the Johari Window, created by Joe Luft and Harry Ingham. This model promotes self- or group-awareness through a disclosure/feedback pathway.
Fig. 1: The Johari Window
One of the most vulnerable positions to be in is in quadrant 2, the “Blind Area”, which pertains information about oneself not known to self, but known to others. This quadrant can be decreased through thorough and honest self-reflection, as well as through an sincere and consistent habit of inviting and responding to feedback from co-workers or followers.
Self-reflection may not be an innate predisposition for all leaders all professionals, but it is a habit which can be developed and which, in time, yields valuable benefits. A Romanian proverb states that those who don’t know their weaknesses are condemned to dwell in them. Building awareness of one’s strengths and areas of growth is comparable to enriching one’s toolbox and preparing to face the unknown of future interactions and challenges effectively.
Aguilar, E. (2013). The art of coaching: Effective strategies for school transformation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand.
Brill, F. (2010). Reflective storytelling as professional development: through storytelling, school administrators can make sense of the many challenges they face and become more effective in the art and science of school leadership. Leadership, (2), 18. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&AuthType=sso&db=edsgea&AN=edsgcl.243875198&site=eds-live&scope=site
Cipriani, J. (2004). Johari Window. Richer Experiences. Retrieved from http://www.richerexperiences.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Johari-Window.pdf
Gnōthi Seauton. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gnothiseauton.
Nosce Te Ipsum. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nosce eipsum.
QLK Team (n.d.). Leaders & Self-Reflection. Retrieved from https://www.qlksearch.com/blog/leaders-self-reflection.
Tjan, A. K. (2014, July 23). How Leaders Become Self-Aware. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/07/how-leaders-become-self-aware.html.
Van de Ven, A. H., & Sun, K. (2011). Breakdowns in implementing models of organization change. The Academy of Management Perspectives, (3), 58. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=sso&db=edsgea&AN=edsgcl.267864968&site=eds-live&scope=site