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Fostering Self-Awareness in Leaders: A Simple Tool

October 5, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: CPHR Manitoba

As featured in the Fall 2017 issue of HRmatters


Authored by Eric Stutzman


We need to become clear about the difference between management, individual leadership and organizational leadership. Clarity about the differences helps us position new supervisors and managers to provide healthy leadership. When managers lack appreciation for how they are providing leadership and how their leadership impacts others, they risk creating harmful environments for their direct reports. To paraphrase an old adage, people don’t quit their organization; they quit their direct manager.  


Have you ever noticed how easily we sling the terms “management” and “leadership” around together – almost as though they mean the same thing?  You might hear someone in your workplace say something like, “The management team is getting together today,” or “The leadership team is getting together today,” and in all likelihood that would mean the same thing to the speaker.  I believe that this is because many people who provide leadership get promoted into positions of management; and managers, owing to their positions, must provide at least some leadership.  But ultimately leadership and management function in different ways.  


Management connotes a function of control in an organization and is related to a position, often in a hierarchy.  However, any person within an organization may provide leadership, regardless of their rank in the hierarchy. provides a very helpful comment on leadership: “Unlike management, leadership flows from the core of a personality.” If this is true, then leadership is connected to how our personality impacts others. More on this in a moment, but first one other concept to be clear about.


The other way I have seen people get entangled with the terms leadership and management is by lumping organizational leadership and individual leadership into the same term, “leadership.”  This is unhelpful because it obscures the impact of our individual personality and leadership on those immediately around us.


Organizational leadership is about how an organization defines itself and its purpose in the world.  It’s about how the personality of an organization impacts others.  Organizational leadership focuses on charting a course for the future, and inspiring people to connect to a vision and work for that vision.  Not all leaders within an organization will provide organizational leadership, but all will provide individual leadership. Individual leadership, very simply, is how we influence others.  


Here is where things converge.  Our individual leadership gets amplified when we move into positions of management.  Managers have organizational power over other people.  A position in management has the effect of giving one person a microphone in a crowded room.  Their voice gets noticed more than others.  How a person leads becomes much more noticeable as soon as they step into a position of management.


So what does all of this mean for the HR professional?  I believe it means that we need to become intentional about helping newly minted managers understand their own individual leadership style and personality and their impact on other people.  In essence, we need to help new managers become self-aware.  According to a 2010 study conducted by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labour Relations, in which they looked at 72 top executives at large companies, self-awareness was the top predictor of executive success:


Leadership searches give short shrift to “self-awareness,” which should actually be a top criterion.  Interestingly, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.  This is not altogether surprising as executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in categories in which the leader lacks acumen.  These leaders are also more able to entertain the idea that someone on their team may have an idea that is even better than their own. 


There are an overwhelming number of tools designed to help people with self-awareness around their personality and leadership styles, and many of them are helpful.  In my own work with new leaders, I have focused in on using a simple matrix that involves two continuums of personality expression.  I’m indebted to Clifford Nass’s excellent book, The Man Who Lied to His LaptopWhat Machines Teach Us about Human Relationships for the genesis of this idea.   


Individual leadership is fundamentally experienced on two continuums: expression of control and expression of interpersonal connection. See figure below.









When plotted together, the two continuums result in four basic leadership styles as illustrated in the following graph:



Managers and leaders will tend to express one style more strongly than others. However, styles may shift depending on the pressures put on the leader. For instance, one leader may be experienced as the cheerleader most of the time; however, when the going gets tough that leader shifts to an authoritarian approach.


My goal with using this simple tool, or others like it, is to help people think more clearly about how their individual leadership is experienced by others, and how they may be experienced as they move into a role that amplifies their voice.  


Eric Stutzman is Managing Director of ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance in Winnipeg.



Phone: 204-783-2069


Reference List


Lifland, Shari. “New Study Shows Nice Guys Finish First.” American Management Association,


Nass, Clifford. The Man Who Lied to His LaptopWhat Machines Teach Us about Human Relationships. New York: Current, 2010.


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