Main Self-Awareness (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series)

Self-Awareness (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series)

, , , ,
Self-awareness is the bedrock of emotional intelligence that enables you to see your talents, shortcomings, and potential. But you won't be able to achieve true self-awareness with the usual quarterly feedback and self-reflection alone.

This book will teach you how to understand your thoughts and emotions, how to persuade your colleagues to share what they really think of you, and why self-awareness will spark more productive and rewarding relationships with your employees and bosses.

This volume includes the work of:

Daniel Goleman
Robert Steven Kaplan
Susan David

The HBR Emotional Intelligence Series features smart, essential reading on the human side of professional life from the pages of Harvard Business Review. Each book in the series offers proven research showing how our emotions impact our work lives, practical advice for managing difficult people and situations, and inspiring essays on what it means to tend to our emotional well-being at work. Uplifting and practical, these books describe the social skills that are critical for ambitious professionals to master.
Year: 2018
Edition: Kindle Edition
Language: english
Pages: 176
File: PDF, 522 KB
Download (pdf, 522 KB)
Read online

You may be interested in

bu kendimle alakalı bir not
13 May 2019 (07:27) 
You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.

Original Kriya Yoga Volume II: Step-by-step Guide to Salvation

Year: 2017
Language: english
File: AZW3 , 1.33 MB

Look 15 Years Younger: The 15-Minute-a-Day Yoga Plan

Year: 2003
Language: english
File: EPUB, 12.19 MB


Self-awareness is the bedrock of emotional intelligence that enables 
you to see your talents, shortcomings, and potential. But you won’t be 
able to achieve true self-awareness with the usual quarterly feedback 
and self-reflection alone.

This book will teach you how to understand your thoughts and  
emotions, how to persuade your colleagues to share what they really 
think of you, and why self-awareness will spark more productive and 
rewarding relationships with your employees and bosses.

This volume includes the work of:

Daniel Goleman

Robert Steven Kaplan

 Susan David


The HBR Emotional Intelligence Series features smart, essential  
reading on the human side of professional life from the pages of  
Harvard Business Review. Each book in the series offers proven  
research showing how our emotions impact our work lives, practical 
advice for managing difficult people and situations, and inspiring 
essays on what it means to tend to our emotional well-being at work. 
Uplifting and practical, these books describe the social skills that are 
critical for ambitious professionals to master.

Emotional Intelligence






ISBN-13: 978-1-63369-661-7

9 781633 696617

9 0 0 0 0


H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   iH7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   i 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   iiH7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   ii 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

HBR Emotional Intelligence Series

How to be human at work

The HBR Emotional Intelligence Series features smart, essen-
tial reading on the human side of professional life from the 
pages of Harvard Business Review.

Authentic Leadership

Confi dence

Dealing with Diffi  cult People




Infl uence and Persuasion

Leadership Presence

Mindful Listening


Purpose, Meaning, and Passion



Other books on emotional intelligence from Harvard Business 

HBR Everyday Emotional Intelligence

HBR Guide to Emotional Intelligence

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Emotional Intelligence

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   iiiH7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   iii 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   ivH7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   iv 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM


Harvard Business Review Press

Boston, Massachusetts

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   vH7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   v 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Copyright 2019 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into 
a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, 
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior 
permission of the publisher. Requests for permission should be directed to, or mailed to Permissions, Harvard Business 
School Publishing, 60 Harvard Way, Boston, Massachusetts 02163.

The web addresses referenced in this book were live and correct at the time of 
the book’s publication but may be subject to change.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Title: Self-awareness.
Other titles: HBR emotional intelligence series.
Description: Boston, Massachusetts : Harvard Business Review Press, [2018] 
 Series: HBR emotional intelligence series
Identifi ers: LCCN 2018022311 | ISBN 9781633696617 (pbk. : alk. paper)
Subjects: LCSH: Self-consciousness (Awareness) | Employees—Psychology. |
 Management. | Emotional intelligence.
Classifi cation: LCC BF311 .S4345 2018 | DDC 153—dc23
LC record available at

eISBN: 978-1-63369-662-4

The paper used in this publication meets the requirements of the American 
National Standard for Permanence of Paper for Publications and Documents 
in Libraries and Archives Z39.48-1992.

HBR Press Quantity Sales Discounts

Harvard Business Review Press titles are available at signifi cant quantity 
discounts when purchased in bulk for client gifts, sales promotions, and 
premiums. Special editions, including books with corporate logos, cus-
tomized covers, and letters from the company or CEO printed in the front 
matter, as well as excerpts of existing books, can also be created in large 
quantities for special needs.

For details and discount information for both print and ebook formats, 
contact, tel 800-988-0886, or www.hbr

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   viH7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   vi 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM


 1. The First Component of Emotional 
Intelligence 1

The key to understanding your emotions, 

strengths, and weaknesses.

By Daniel Goleman

 2. What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How 
to Cultivate It) 11

See yourself from the inside and outside.

By Tasha Eurich

 3. Successful Leaders Know What Made 
Them Who They Are 37

Lessons from the greats.

By Bernie Swain

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   viiH7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   vii 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM


 4. Two Ways to Clarify Your Professional 
Passions 49

Know what drives you.

By Robert Steven Kaplan

 5. Emotional Agility 59

Accept your feelings and act on your values.

By Susan David and Christina Congleton

 6. Why You Should Make Time for Self-Refl ection 
(Even if You Hate Doing It) 75

Stop dreading it and start small.

By Jennifer Porter

 7. You, By the Numbers 87

A data-driven path to knowing yourself.

By H. James Wilson

 8. How Are You Perceived at Work? Here’s 
an Exercise to Find Out 109

Two questions to get real feedback.

By Kristi Hedges


H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   viiiH7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   viii 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM


 9. How to Solicit Negative Feedback When Your 
Manager Doesn’t Want to Give It 119

Show you’re committed to self-improvement.

By Deborah Grayson Riegel

 10. Find the Coaching in Criticism 129

Counter your natural resistance.

By Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone

 11. Shakespeare’s Characters Show Us 
How Personal Growth Should Happen 149

To change yourself, discover yourself.

By Declan Fitzsimons

Index 157


H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   ixH7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   ix 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   xH7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   x 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM


H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   xiH7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   xi 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   xiiH7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   xii 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



The First 
of Emotional 

By Daniel Goleman 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   1H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   1 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   2H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   2 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM


Self-awareness is the fi rst component of emo-tional intelligence—which makes sense when one considers that the Delphic oracle gave 
the advice to “know thyself ” thousands of years ago. 

Self-awareness means having a deep understanding 

of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and 

drives. People with strong self-awareness are neither 

overly critical nor unrealistically hopeful. Rather, 

they are honest—with themselves and with others.

People who have a high degree of self-awareness 

recognize how their feelings affect them, other peo-

ple, and their job performance. Thus, a self-aware 

person who knows that tight deadlines bring out the 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   3H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   3 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



worst in him plans his time carefully and gets his 

work done well in advance. Another person with high 

self- awareness will be able to work with a demand-

ing client. She will understand the client’s impact on 

her moods and the deeper reasons for her frustration. 

“Their trivial demands take us away from the real 

work that needs to be done,” she might explain. And 

she will go one step further and turn her anger into 

something constructive.

Self-awareness extends to a person’s understand-

ing of his or her values and goals. Someone who is 

highly self-aware knows where he is headed and why; 

so, for example, he will be able to be fi rm in turn-

ing down a job offer that is tempting fi nancially but 

does not fi t with his principles or long-term goals. A 

person who lacks self-awareness is apt to make de-

cisions that bring on inner turmoil by treading on 

buried values. “The money looked good so I signed 

on,” someone might say two years into a job, “but 

the work means so little to me that I’m constantly 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   4H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   4 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

The First Component of Emotional Intelligence


bored.” The decisions of self-aware people mesh with 

their values; consequently, they often fi nd work to be 


How can one recognize self-awareness? First and 

foremost, it shows itself as candor and an ability to 

assess oneself realistically. People with high self-

awareness are able to speak accurately and openly—

although not necessarily effusively or confession-

ally—about their emotions and the impact they have 

on their work. For instance, one manager I know of 

was skeptical about a new personal-shopper service 

that her company, a major department-store chain, 

was about to introduce. Without prompting from her 

team or her boss, she offered them an explanation: 

“It’s hard for me to get behind the rollout of this ser-

vice,” she admitted, “because I really wanted to run 

the project, but I wasn’t selected. Bear with me while 

I deal with that.” The manager did indeed examine 

her feelings; a week later, she was supporting the 

project fully.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   5H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   5 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



Such self-knowledge often shows itself in the hir-

ing process. Ask a candidate to describe a time he got 

carried away by his feelings and did something he 

later regretted. Self-aware candidates will be frank 

in admitting to failure—and will often tell their tales 

with a smile. One of the hallmarks of self-awareness 

is a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Self-awareness can also be identifi ed during per-

formance reviews. Self-aware people know—and are 

comfortable talking about—their limitations and 

strengths, and they often demonstrate a thirst for 

constructive criticism. By contrast, people with low 

self-awareness interpret the message that they need 

to improve as a threat or a sign of failure.

Self-aware people can also be recognized by their 

self-confi dence. They have a fi rm grasp of their ca-

pabilities and are less likely to set themselves up to 

fail by, for example, overstretching on assignments. 

They know, too, when to ask for help. And the risks 

they take on the job are calculated. They won’t ask for 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   6H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   6 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

The First Component of Emotional Intelligence


a challenge that they know they can’t handle alone. 

They’ll play to their strengths.

Consider the actions of a midlevel employee who 

was invited to sit in on a strategy meeting with her 

company’s top executives. Although she was the 

most junior person in the room, she did not sit there 

quietly, listening in awestruck or fearful silence. 

She knew she had a head for clear logic and the 

skill to present ideas persuasively, and she offered 

cogent suggestions about the company’s strategy. 

At the same time, her self-awareness stopped her 

from wandering into territory where she knew she 

was weak.

Despite the value of having self-aware people in 

the workplace, my research indicates that senior ex-

ecutives don’t often give self-awareness the credit it 

deserves when they look for potential leaders. Many 

executives mistake candor about feelings for “wimpi-

ness” and fail to give due respect to employees who 

openly acknowledge their shortcomings. Such people 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   7H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   7 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM




What distinguishes great leaders from merely good 

ones? It isn’t IQ or technical skills, says Daniel Gole-

man. It’s emotional intelligence: a group of fi ve skills 

that enable the best leaders to maximize their own 

and their followers’ performance. When senior man-

agers at one company had a critical mass of emo-

tional intelligence (EI) capabilities, their divisions 

outperformed yearly earnings goals by 20%.

The EI skills are:

• Self-awareness: knowing one’s strengths, 

weak nesses, drives, values, and impact on 


are too readily dismissed as “not tough enough” to 

lead others.

In fact, the opposite is true. In the fi rst place, people 

generally admire and respect candor. Further more, 

leaders are constantly required to make judgment 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   8H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   8 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

The First Component of Emotional Intelligence


• Self-regulation: controlling or redirecting dis-

ruptive impulses and moods

• Motivation: relishing achievement for its 

own sake

• Empathy: understanding other people’s emo-

tional makeup

• Social skill: building rapport with others to 

move them in desired directions

We’re each born with certain levels of EI skills. But we 

can strengthen these abilities through persistence, 

practice, and feedback from colleagues or coaches.

calls that require a candid assessment of capabili-

ties—their own and those of others. Do we have the 

management expertise to acquire a  competitor? Can 

we launch a new product within six months? People 

who assess themselves honestly—that is, self-aware 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   9H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   9 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



people—are well suited to do the same for the orga-

nizations they run.

DANIEL GOLEMAN  is codirector of the Consortium for Re-
search on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers 
University, coauthor of Primal Leadership: Unleashing the 
Power of Emotional Intelligence, and author of The Brain and 
Emotional Intelligence: New Insights, Leadership: Selected 
Writings and A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for 
Our World. His latest book is Altered Traits: Science Reveals 
How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.

Excerpted from “What Makes a Leader?” in Harvard Business 
Review, January 2004 (product #RO401H).

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   10H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   10 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



 What Self-
Awareness Really 

Is (and How to 
Cultivate It)

By Tasha Eurich

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   11H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   11 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   12H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   12 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM


Self-awareness seems to have become the latest management buzzword—and for good reason. Research suggests that when we see ourselves 
clearly, we are more confi dent and more creative.1 We 

make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, 

and communicate more effectively.2 We’re less likely 

to lie, cheat, and steal.3 We are better workers who 

get more promotions.4 And we’re more effective lead-

ers with more satisfi ed employees and more profi t-

able companies.5

As an organizational psychologist and executive 

coach, I’ve had a ringside seat to the power of leader-

ship self-awareness for nearly 15 years. I’ve also seen 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   13H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   13 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



how attainable this skill is. Yet, when I fi rst began to 

delve into the research on self-awareness, I was sur-

prised by the striking gap between the science and 

the practice of self-awareness. All things considered, 

we knew surprisingly little about improving this criti-

cal skill.

Four years ago, my team of researchers and I 

embarked on a large-scale scientifi c study of self- 

awareness. In 10 separate investigations with nearly 

5,000 participants, we examined what self-awareness 

really is, why we need it, and how we can increase it.

Our research revealed many surprising roadblocks, 

myths, and truths about what self-awareness is and 

what it takes to improve it. We’ve found that even 

though most people believe they are self-aware, self-

awareness is a truly rare quality: We estimate that 

only 10%–15% of the people we studied actually fi t 

the criteria. Three fi ndings in particular stood out, 

and are helping us develop practical guidance for how 

leaders can learn to see themselves more clearly.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   14H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   14 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)



The major components of our research included:

• Analyzing the results of nearly 800 existing 

scientifi c studies to understand how previous 

researchers defi ned self-awareness, unearthing 

themes and trends, and identifying the limita-

tions of these investigations.

• Surveying thousands of people across coun-

tries and industries to explore the relation-

ship between self-awareness and several key 

attitudes and behaviors, like job satisfaction, 

empathy, happiness, and stress. We also 

surveyed those who knew these people well to 

determine the relationship between self ratings 

and other ratings of self-awareness.

• Developing and validating a seven-factor, 

multi-rater assessment of self-awareness, be-

cause our review of the research didn’t identify 


H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   15H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   15 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM




 any strong, well-validated, comprehensive 


• Conducting in-depth interviews with 50 peo ple 

who had dramatically improved their self- 

awareness to learn about the key actions that 

helped them get there, as well as their beliefs 

and practices. Our interviewees included entre-

preneurs, professionals, executives, and even a 

Fortune 100 CEO. (To be included in our study, 

participants had to clear four hurdles: (1) they 

had to see themselves as highly self-aware, 

which we measured using our validated assess-

ment, (2) using that same assessment, some-

one who knew them well had to agree, (3) they 

had to believe they’d experienced an upward 

trend of self-awareness over the course of their 

life. Each participant was asked to recall their

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   16H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   16 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)


 level of self-awareness at diff erent stages 

of their life up to their current (for example, 

early adulthood: ages 19–24, adulthood: 

ages 25–34, midlife: ages 35–49, mature 

adulthood: ages 50–80), and (4) the person 

rating them had to agree with the participants’ 


• Surveying hundreds of managers and their 

employees to learn more about the relation-

ship between leadership self-awareness and 

employee attitudes like commitment, leader-

ship eff ectiveness, and job satisfaction.

 Coauthors of this work are Haley M. Woznyj, Longwood Uni-
versity; Phoenix Van Wagoner, Leeds School of Business, Uni-
versity of Colorado; Eric D. Heggestad, University of North 
Carolina, Charlotte; and Apryl Brodersen, Metropolitan State 
University of Denver. We want to thank Dr. Stefanie Johnson 
for her contributions to our study as well.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   17H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   17 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



#1: There are two types 
of self-awareness 

For the last 50 years, researchers have used vary-

ing defi nitions of self-awareness. For example, some 

see it as the ability to monitor our inner world, 

whereas others label it as a temporary state of self- 

consciousness.6 Still others describe it as the differ-

ence between how we see ourselves and how others 

see us.7

So before we could focus on how to improve self-

awareness, we needed to synthesize these fi ndings 

and create an overarching defi nition.

Across the studies we examined, two broad cat-

egories of self-awareness kept emerging. The fi rst, 

which we dubbed internal self-awareness, represents 

how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspira-

tions, fi t with our environment, reactions (including 

thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weak-

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   18H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   18 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)


nesses), and impact on others. We’ve found that in-

ternal self-awareness is associated with higher job 

and relationship satisfaction, personal and social 

control, and happiness; it is negatively related to anx-

iety, stress, and depression.

The second category, external self-awareness, 

means understanding how other people view us, 

in terms of those same factors listed above. Our re-

search shows that people who know how others see 

them are more skilled at showing empathy and  taking 

others’ perspectives. For leaders who see themselves 

as their employees do, their employees tend to have 

a better relationship with them, feel more satisfi ed 

with them, and see them as more effective in general.

It’s easy to assume that being high on one type of 

awareness would mean being high on the other. But 

our research has found virtually no relationship be-

tween them. As a result, we identify four leadership 

archetypes, each with a different set of opportunities 

to improve, as seen in  fi gure 1.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   19H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   19 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



They know who they are, what
they want to accomplish, and seek
out and value others’ opinions.
This is where leaders begin to
fully realize the true benefits
of self-awareness. 



They can be so focused on
appearing a certain way to others
that they could be overlooking
what matters to them. Over time,
they tend to make choices that
aren’t in service of their own
success and fulfillment. 

High external

Low external


















They’re clear on who they are
but don’t challenge their own
views or search for blind spots
by getting feedback from
others. This can harm their
relationships and limit their

They don’t yet know who they
are, what they stand for, or
how their teams see them. As
a result, they might feel stuck
or frustrated with their
performance and relationships. 


The four self-awareness archetypes

This 2 × 2 maps internal self-awareness (how well you know 
yourself) against external self-awareness (how well you under-
stand how others see you).

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   20H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   20 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)


When it comes to internal and external self- 

awareness, it’s tempting to value one over the other. 

But leaders must actively work on both seeing them-

selves clearly and getting feedback to understand 

how others see them. The highly self-aware people 

we interviewed were actively focused on balancing 

the scale.

Take Jeremiah, a marketing manager. Early in 

his career, he focused primarily on internal self- 

awareness—for example, deciding to leave his career 

in accounting to pursue his passion for marketing. 

But when he had the chance to get candid feedback 

during a company training, he realized that he wasn’t 

focused enough on how he was showing up. Jeremiah 

has since placed an equal importance on both types 

of self-awareness, which he believes has helped him 

reach a new level of success and fulfi llment.

The bottom line is that self-awareness isn’t one 

truth. It’s a delicate balance of two distinct, even com-

peting, viewpoints. (If you’re interested in learning 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   21H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   21 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



where you stand in each category, you can take a free 

shortened version of our multi-rater self- awareness 

assessment at 

#2: Experience and power 
hinder self-awareness

Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that 

people do not always learn from experience, that 

expertise does not help people root out false infor-

mation, and that seeing ourselves as highly experi-

enced can keep us from doing our homework, seek-

ing disconfi rming evidence, and questioning our 


And just as experience can lead to a false sense of 

confi dence about our performance, it can also make 

us overconfi dent about our level of self-knowledge. 

For example, one study found that more experienced 

managers were less accurate in assessing their lead-

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   22H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   22 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)


ership effectiveness compared with less experienced 


Similarly, the more power a leader holds, the more 

likely they are to overestimate their skills and abili-

ties. 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 signifi -

cantly overvalued their skills (compared with others’ 

perceptions).10 In fact, this pattern existed for 19 out 

of the 20 competencies the researchers measured, 

including emotional self-awareness, accurate self- 

assessment, empathy, trustworthiness, and leader-

ship performance.

Researchers have proposed two primary expla-

nations for this phenomenon.11 First, by virtue of 

their level, senior leaders simply have fewer people 

above them who can provide candid feedback. Sec-

ond, the more power a leader wields, the less com-

fortable people will be to give them constructive 

feedback, for fear it will hurt their careers. Business 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   23H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   23 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



 professor James O’Toole has added that, as one’s 

power grows, one’s willingness to listen shrinks, 

 either  because they think they know more than their 

employees or because seeking feedback will come at 

a cost.12

But this doesn’t have to be the case. One analy-

sis showed that the most successful leaders, as rated 

by 360-degree reviews of leadership effectiveness, 

counter act this tendency by seeking frequent critical 

feedback (from bosses, peers, employees, their board, 

and so on).13 They become more self-aware in the pro-

cess and come to be seen as more effective by others.14

Likewise, in our interviews, we found that people 

who improved their external self-awareness did so 

by seeking out feedback from loving critics—that is, 

people who have their best interests in mind and are 

willing to tell them the truth. To ensure they don’t 

overreact or overcorrect based on one person’s opin-

ion, they also gut-check diffi cult or surprising feed-

back with others.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   24H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   24 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)


#3: Introspection doesn’t always 
improve self-awareness

It is also widely assumed that introspection— 

examining the causes of our own thoughts, feelings, 

and behaviors—improves self-awareness. After all, 

what better way to know ourselves than by refl ecting 

on why we are the way we are?

Yet one of the most surprising fi ndings of our 

 research is that people who introspect are less self-

aware and report worse job satisfaction and well- 

being. Other research has shown similar patterns.15

The problem with introspection isn’t that it is cat-

egorically ineffective—it’s that most people are do-

ing it incorrectly. To understand this, let’s look at 

arguably the most common introspective question: 

“Why?” We ask this when trying to understand our 

emotions (Why do I like employee A so much more 

than employee B?), or our behavior (Why did I fl y 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   25H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   25 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



off the handle with that employee?), or our attitudes 

(Why am I so against this deal?).

As it turns out, “why” is a surprisingly ineffective 

self-awareness question. Research has shown that we 

simply do not have access to many of the unconscious 

thoughts, feelings, and motives we’re searching for.16 

And because so much is trapped outside of our con-

scious awareness, we tend to invent answers that 

feel true but are often wrong.17 For example, after an 

 uncharacteristic outburst at an employee, a new man-

ager may jump to the conclusion that it happened be-

cause she isn’t cut out for management, when the real 

reason was a bad case of low blood sugar.

Consequently, the problem with asking why isn’t 

just how wrong we are, but how confi dent we are that 

we are right.18 The human mind rarely operates in a 

rational fashion, and our judgments are seldom free 

from bias. We tend to pounce on whatever insights 

we fi nd without questioning their validity or value, 

we ignore contradictory evidence, and we force our 

thoughts to conform to our initial explanations.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   26H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   26 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)


Another negative consequence of asking why—

especially when trying to explain an undesired out-

come—is that it invites unproductive negative 

thoughts.19 In our research, we’ve found that people 

who are very introspective are also more likely to get 

caught in ruminative patterns. For example, if an em-

ployee who receives a bad performance review asks 

Why did I get such a bad rating?, they’re likely to 

land on an explanation focused on their fears, short-

comings, or insecurities, rather than a rational as-

sessment of their strengths and weaknesses. (For this 

reason, frequent self-analyzers are more depressed 

and anxious and experience poorer well-being.20)

So if why isn’t the right introspective question, 

is there a better one? My research team scoured 

 hundreds of pages of interview transcripts with 

highly self-aware people to see if they approached 

introspection differently. Indeed, there was a clear 

pattern: Although the word “why” appeared fewer 

than 150 times, the word “what” appeared more than 

1,000 times.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   27H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   27 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



Therefore, to increase productive self-insight and 

decrease unproductive rumination, we should ask 

what, not why.21 “What” questions help us stay ob-

jective, future-focused, and empowered to act on our 

new insights.

For example, consider Jose, an entertainment in-

dustry veteran we interviewed, who hated his job. 

Where many would have gotten stuck thinking “Why 

do I feel so terrible?” he asked, “What are the situ-

ations that make me feel terrible, and what do they 

have in common?” He realized that he’d never be 

happy in that career, and it gave him the courage to 

pursue a new and far more fulfi lling one in wealth 


Similarly, Robin, a customer service leader who 

was new to her job, needed to understand a piece of 

negative feedback she’d gotten from an employee. 

Instead of asking “Why did you say this about me?” 

Robin inquired, “What are the steps I need to take in 

the future to do a better job?” This helped them move 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   28H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   28 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)


to solutions rather than focusing on the unproductive 

patterns of the past.

A fi nal case is Paul, who told us about learning 

that the business he’d recently purchased was no lon-

ger profi table. At fi rst, all he could ask himself was 

“Why wasn’t I able to turn things around?” But he 

quickly realized that he didn’t have the time or en-

ergy to beat himself up—he had to fi gure out what to 

do next. He started asking, “What do I need to do to 

move  forward in a way that minimizes the impact 

to our customers and employees?” He created a plan 

and was able to fi nd creative ways to do as much good 

for others as possible while winding down the busi-

ness. When all that was over, he challenged himself 

to articulate what he learned from the experience—

his answer both helped him avoid similar mistakes in 

the future and helped others learn from them, too.22

These qualitative fi ndings have been bolstered by 

others’ quantitative research. In one study, psycholo-

gists J. Gregory Hixon and William Swann gave a 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   29H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   29 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



group of undergraduates negative feedback on a test 

of their “sociability, likability, and interestingness.”23 

Some were given time to think about why they were 

the kind of person they were, while others were asked 

to think about what kind of person they were. When 

the researchers had them evaluate the accuracy of the 

feedback, the “why” students spent their energy ra-

tionalizing and denying what they’d learned, and 

the “what” students were more open to this new in-

formation and how they might learn from it. Hixon 

and Swann’s rather bold conclusion was that “think-

ing about why one is the way one is may be no better 

than not thinking about one’s self at all.”

All of this brings us to conclude: Leaders who 

focus on building both internal and external self-

awareness, who seek honest feedback from loving 

critics, and who ask what instead of why can learn to 

see themselves more clearly—and reap the many re-

wards that increased self-knowledge delivers. And no 

matter how much progress we make, there’s always 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   30H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   30 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)


more to learn. That’s one of the things that makes the 

journey to self-awareness so exciting. 

TASHA EURICH, PhD,  is an organizational psychologist, re-
searcher, and New York Times–bestselling author. She is the 
principal of The Eurich Group, a boutique executive develop-
ment fi rm that helps companies—from startups to the Fortune 
100—succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders 
and teams. Her newest book, Insight, delves into the connec-
tion between self-awareness and success in the workplace.

1. Paul J. Silvia and Maureen O’Brien, “Self-Awareness 

and Constructive Functioning: Revisiting ‘the Human 
 Dilemma,’ ” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 23, 
no. 4 (August 2004): 475–489.

2. D. Scott Ridley, Paul A. Schutz, Robert S. Glanz, and 
Claire E. Weinstein, “Self-Regulated Learning: The 
Interactive Infl uence of Metacognitive Awareness and 
Goal-Setting,” Journal of Experimental Education 60, 
no. 4 (Summer 1992): 293–306; Clive Fletcher and 
Caroline Bailey, “Assessing Self-Awareness: Some Issues 
and Methods,” Journal of Managerial Psychology 18, no. 5 
(2003): 395–404; Anna Sutton, Helen M. Williams, and 
Christopher W.  Allinson, “A Longitudinal, Mixed Method 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   31H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   31 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



Evaluation of Self-Awareness Training in the Workplace,” 
European Journal of Training and Development 39, no. 7 
(2015): 610–627.

3. Silvia and O’Brien, “Self-Awareness and Constructive 

4. Allan H. Church, “Managerial Self-Awareness in High- 
Performing Individuals in Organizations,” Journal of 
Applied Psychology 82, no. 2 (April 1997): 281–292; 
 Bernard M. Bass and Francis J. Yammarino, “Congruence 
of Self and Others’ Leadership Ratings of Naval Offi cers 
for  Understanding Successful Performance,” Applied Psy-
chology 40, no. 4 (October 1991): 437–454.

5. Bass and Yammarino, “Congruence of Self and Others’ 
Leadership Ratings of Naval Offi cers for Understanding 
Successful Performance”; Kenneth N. Wexley, Ralph A. 
Alexander, James Greenawalt, and Michael A. Couch, “At-
titudinal Congruence and Similarity as Related to Inter-
personal Evaluations in Manager-Subordinate Dyads,” 
Academy of Management Journal 23, no. 2 (June 1980): 
320–330; Atuma Okpara and Agwu M. Edwin, “Self-
Awareness and Organizational Performance in the Nige-
rian Banking Sector,” European Journal of Research and 
Refl ection in Management Sciences 3, no. 1 (2015): 53–70.

6. Daniel Goleman, blog, November 15, 2012, http://www; Shelley Duval 
and Robert A. Wicklund, “Effects of Objective Self- 
Awareness on Attribution of Causality,” Journal of Experi-
mental Social Psychology 9, no. 1 (January 1973): 17–31.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   32H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   32 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)


 7. Erich C. Dierdorff and Robert S. Rubin, “Research: We’re 
Not Very Self-Aware, Especially at Work,” Harvard Busi-
ness Review, March 12, 2015.

 8. Berndt Brehmer, “In One Word: Not from Experience,” 
Acta Psychologica 45, nos. 1–3 (August 1980): 223–241; 
Stav Atir, Emily Rosenzweig, and David Dunning, “When 
Knowledge Knows No Bounds: Self-Perceived Expertise 
Predicts Claims of Impossible Knowledge,” Psychological 
Science 26, no. 8 (July 2015); Philip E. Tetlock, Expert 
Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? 
rev. ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017).

 9. Cheri Ostroff, Leanne E. Atwater, and Barbara J. Fein-
berg, “Understanding Self-Other Agreement: A Look 
at Rater and Ratee Characteristics, Context, and Out-
comes,”  Personnel Psychology 57, no. 2 (June 2004): 

10. Fabio Sala, “Executive Blind Spots: Discrepancies Be-
tween Self- and Other-Ratings,” Consulting Psychology 
Journal: Practices and Research 55, no. 4 (September 
2003): 222–229.

11. Ibid.
12. Jennifer Pittman, “Speaking Truth to Power: The Role of 

the Executive,” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Feb-
ruary 1, 2007, 

13. Joseph Folkman, “Top-Ranked Leaders Know This 
 Secret: Ask for Feedback,” Forbes, January 8, 2015.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   33H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   33 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



14. Susan J. Ashford and Anne S. Tsui, “Self-Regulation for 
Managerial Effectiveness: The Role of Active Feedback 
Seeking,” Academy of Management Journal 34, no. 2 
(June 1991): 251–280.

15. Anthony M. Grant, John Franklin, and Peter Langford, 
“The Self-Refl ection and Insight Scale: A New Measure 
of Private Self-Consciousness,” Social Behavior and Per-
sonality 30, no. 8 (December 2002): 821–836.

16. Richard E. Nisbett and Timothy DeCamp Wilson, “Tell-
ing More Than We Can Know: Verbal Reports on Mental 
Processes,” Psychological Review 84, no. 3 (May 1977): 

17. Ibid.
18. Timothy D. Wilson, Dana S. Dunn, Delores Kraft, and 

Douglas J. Lisle, “Introspection, Attitude Change, and 
Attitude-Behavior Consistency: The Disruptive Effects of 
Explaining Why We Feel the Way We Do,” Advances in 
Experimental Social Psychology 22 (1989): 287–343.

19. Ethan Kross, Ozlem Ayduk, and Walter Mischel, “When 
Asking ‘Why’ Does Not Hurt. Distinguishing Rumination 
from Refl ective Processing of Negative Emotions,” Psy-
chological Science 16, no. 9 (September 2005): 709–715.

20. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Angela McBride, and Judith 
Larson, “Rumination and Psychological Distress Among 
Bereaved Partners,” Journal of Personality and Social 
Psychology 72, no. 4 (April 1997): 855–862; John B. Nez-
lek, “Day-to-Day Relationships Between Self- Awareness, 
Daily Events, and Anxiety,” Journal of Personality 70, 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   34H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   34 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)


no. 2 (November 2002): 249–276; Grant et al., “The 
Self-Refl ection and Insight Scale.”

21. Tasha Eurich, “Increase Your Self-Awareness with  
One Simple Fix,” TEDxMileHigh video, 17:17,  De-
cember 19, 2017, 

22. Paul Brothe, “Eight Lessons I Learned from Buying a 
Small Business,” LinkedIn, July 13, 2015.

23. J. Gregory Hixon and William B. Swann Jr., “When Does 
Introspection Bear Fruit? Self-Refl ection, Self-Insight, 
and Interpersonal Choices,” Journal of Personality and 
Social Psychology 64, no. 1 (January 1993): 3–43.

Reprinted from, originally published January 4, 2018 
(product #H042DK).

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   35H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   35 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   36H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   36 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



Leaders Know 

What Made Them 
Who They Are

By Bernie Swain

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   37H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   37 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   38H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   38 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM


Can you identify the one person, event, or in-fl uence that made you who you are as a leader and a person? Over the past 10 years, I’ve put 
that question to 100 of the eminent people I repre-

sented as chairman of the Washington Speakers Bu-

reau: Madeleine Albright, Tom Brokaw, Colin Powell, 

Terry Bradshaw, Condoleezza Rice, and many oth-

ers. I was curious to fi nd out what they felt were the 

turning points in their lives—the defi ning moments 

and infl uences from which they draw motivation and 


Identifying the foundational moments of our suc-

cess allows us to maximize our potential, uncover 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   39H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   39 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



our own passions, and become better leaders. In my 

case, the defi ning moment in my life was the realiza-

tion that I was never going to enjoy working for other 

people—a recognition that paradoxically came to me 

right at the moment when I was on the verge of be-

ing offered my dream job (which I eventually turned 

down to become an entrepreneur). The realization 

helped fuel me even during periods of uncertainty 

by reinforcing my will to succeed and comforting me 

that I was on the right trajectory. Everyone has such 

an event and can usually identify it after some refl ec-

tion. Among my interviewees, turning points fell into 

three broad categories.


Forty-fi ve of those interviewees identifi ed a per-

son as the single most enduring infl uence on their 

lives. For Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. sec-

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   40H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   40 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Successful Leaders Know What Made Them Who They Are


retary of state, it was her father, a serious man with 

far- ranging intellect whose career as a Czechoslovak 

diplomat was short-circuited twice: by the German 

occupation in World War II and by the Communist 

takeover after the war. After the family moved to 

the United States, he became a professor living in 

cramped faculty housing—quite a step down from an 

ambassador’s residence—but worked at his job cheer-

fully and diligently. She says that being secretary of 

state was challenging, but she never had any trouble 

staying focused: “I just had to picture my father in his 

fl ooded basement study, working away with his feet 

up on bricks.”

For Tom Brokaw, who had been student body pres-

ident and a three-sport athlete in high school, but 

who then dropped out of college twice, it was a strict 

and caring political science professor. For legendary 

basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, it was his mother, 

who had only an eighth-grade education. Her home-

spun advice to always “get on the right bus . . . fi lled 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   41H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   41 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



with good people” became the moral cornerstone of 

“Coach K’s” life and career. 


Forty of my one hundred interviewees identifi ed an 

event—a failure, an injury, a death, or the like—as the 

turning point in their lives.

What defi ned former secretary of labor Robert 

Reich, at fi rst, was his height. “I am 4'11" and have 

always been short,” said Reich. Starting in kinder-

garten, he was teased and bullied, and he learned 

to fi nd someone bigger who could act as a protec-

tor. One of those who watched out for him was an 

older kid named Michael Schwerner. Years later, in 

1964, Mickey Schwerner and two other young civil 

rights workers were brutally murdered in Neshoba 

County, Mississippi, by the Ku Klux Klan—a crime 

that shocked the country and horrifi ed Reich, who 

had just graduated from high school. The event gal-

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   42H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   42 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Successful Leaders Know What Made Them Who They Are


vanized Reich, setting him on a lifelong course of 

public service and commitment to social justice. 

“Mickey protected me,” said Reich, now a professor at 

UC Berkeley. “I, in turn, feel a responsibility to pro-

tect others.”

For Tony Blair, a rebellious troublemaker in 

school, it was his father’s stroke, cutting short the el-

der Blair’s promising political career and evoking in 

Tony the discipline and diligence that would eventu-

ally make him prime minister of Great Britain.

Debbi Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies, found 

the drive and passion to succeed as her unpretentious 

self when a boorish social superior threw a dictio-

nary in her lap because she had misused a word in 



Fifteen of my interviewees considered environ-

ments —such as a place, a time, or an enveloping 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   43H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   43 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



 experience—as the most powerful infl uence in their 

lives. For Condoleezza Rice, it was the love of read-

ing and education that was passed down through 

her family, beginning with her paternal great- 

grandmother, Julia Head, who learned to read as a 

slave on an Alabama cotton plantation. Rice’s grand-

father, born in 1892 to Julia and her sharecropper 

husband, was determined to go to college and went 

on to become a Presbyterian minister. One day he 

brought home nine leather-bound, gold-embossed 

books—the works of Shakespeare, Hugo, and oth-

ers—which cost $90, a huge sum at the time.

“My grandfather believed in having books in the 

home,” Rice told me, “and, more important, he be-

lieved in having his children read them.” Rice’s father 

earned two master’s degrees, and her aunt Theresa 

got a PhD in Victorian literature. In 1981, when Rice 

received her PhD in political science, her father gave 

her the fi ve remaining books from her grandfather’s 

set. They sit now on her mantelpiece.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   44H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   44 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Successful Leaders Know What Made Them Who They Are


For Chris Matthews, it was his stint in the Peace 

Corps in Swaziland that took him off his path to aca-

demia and sent him toward a life of engagement in 

politics and journalism.

Colin Powell’s enduring infl uence comes from a 

neighborhood in the South Bronx called Banana Kel-

ley, where he grew up among caring family members 

and a multilingual, nurturing community of hard-

working people. “I owe whatever success I’ve had to 

. . . Banana Kelley,” he says.

Successful leaders are self-aware. That’s the over-

riding lesson I’ve learned from working and talking 

with some the world’s most accomplished people 

over the past 36 years. For some, like Powell or Al-

bright, identifying and owning the turning points in 

their lives comes easily. But for many people, it can 

be diffi cult. It took three increasingly painful conver-

sations for Terry Bradshaw to fully get at his: As the 

number-one pick in the NFL draft by the Pittsburgh 

Steelers, he paid little heed to his coaches, goofed off 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   45H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   45 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



in practice, and exhibited a bravado that masked his 

deep insecurity as a southern country boy in a big 

northern city. But as the losses piled up on the fi eld 

and the boos rained down from the stands, he could 

no longer sustain his devil-may-care façade. One 

night he broke down crying in his apartment, prayed, 

and heard a gentle voice telling him to get real. “I 

went to practice the next day,” he said to me, “and I 

set out cultivating a new attitude.” He went on to be-

come one of only three quarterbacks to have won four 

Super Bowls.

Highly accomplished people have an inner voice 

and pay attention to it. They understand the defi n-

ing moments of their lives and thereby better under-

stand their own strengths, biases, and weaknesses as 

leaders. And that understanding provides them with 

a deep well of energy and passion that they draw on 

throughout their lives. We may not all have careers 

that match the 100 people I interviewed, but we can 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   46H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   46 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Successful Leaders Know What Made Them Who They Are


all share their ability to grasp—and harness—the 

turning points of our lives and careers.

BERNIE SWAIN  is the founder and chairman of Washington 
Speakers Bureau and the author of the book What Made Me 
Who I Am. Follow him on Twitter @swain_bernie. 

Reprinted from, originally published 
September 5, 2016 (product #H033OD).

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   47H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   47 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   48H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   48 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



Two Ways to 
Clarify Your 


By Robert Steven Kaplan

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   49H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   49 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   50H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   50 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM


Have you ever noticed that highly effective peo-ple almost always say they love what they do? If you ask them about their good career 
fortune, they’re likely to advise that you have to love 

what you do in order to perform at a high level of ef-

fectiveness. They will talk about the critical impor-

tance of having a long-term perspective and real pas-

sion in pursuing a career. Numerous studies of highly 

effective people point to a strong correlation between 

believing in the mission, enjoying the job, and per-

forming at a high level.

So why is it that people are often skeptical of the 

notion that passion and career should be integrally 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   51H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   51 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



linked? Why do people often struggle to discern their 

passions and then connect those passions to a viable 

career path? When people hear the testimony of a 

seemingly happy and fulfi lled person, they often say, 

“That’s easy for them to say now. They’ve made it. It’s 

not so easy to follow this advice when you’re sitting 

where I’m sitting!” What they don’t fully realize is 

that connecting their passions to their work was a big 

part of how these people eventually made it.

Passion is about excitement. It has more to do 

with your heart than your head. It’s critical because 

reaching your full potential requires a combination 

of your heart and your head. In my experience, your 

intellectual capability and skills will take you only 

so far.

Regardless of your talent, you will have rough days, 

months, and years. You may get stuck with a lousy 

boss. You may get discouraged and feel like giving 

up. What pulls you through these diffi cult periods? 

The answer is your passion: It is the essential rocket 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   52H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   52 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Two Ways to Clarify Your Professional Passions


fuel that helps you overcome diffi culties and work 

through dark times. Passion emanates from a belief in 

a cause or the enjoyment you feel from  performing 

certain tasks. It helps you hang in there so that you 

can improve your skills, overcome adversity, and fi nd 

meaning in your work and in your life.

In talking to more experienced people, I often 

have to get them to mentally set aside their fi nancial 

obligations, their role in the community, and the ex-

pectations of friends, family, and loved ones. It can 

be particularly diffi cult for midcareer professionals 

to understand their passions because, in many cases, 

the breakage cost of changing jobs or careers feels 

so huge to them that it’s not even worth consider-

ing. As a result, they try not to think too deeply about 

whether they like what they’re doing.

The problem for many midcareer people is that 

they’re experiencing a plateau that is beginning to 

alarm them and diminish their career prospects. This 

plateau is often a by-product of lack of passion for the 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   53H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   53 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



job. It may be that the nature of the job has changed 

or the world has changed, and the mission and tasks 

of their career no longer arouse their passions. In 

other cases, nothing has changed except the people 

themselves. They simply want more meaning from 

their lives and professional careers.

Of course, these questions are never fully resolved. 

Why? It’s because there are many variables in play, 

and we can’t control all of them. The challenge is to 

be self-aware.

That’s diffi cult, because most of our professional 

days are chaotic. In fact, life is chaotic, and, sadly, we 

can’t usually predict the future. It feels as if there’s no 

time to refl ect. So how are you supposed to get per-

spective on these questions?

I suggest that you try several exercises. These exer-

cises may help you increase your self-awareness and 

develop your abilities to better understand your pas-

sions. They also encourage you to pay closer attention 

to and be more aware of the tasks and subjects you 

truly fi nd interesting and enjoyable.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   54H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   54 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Two Ways to Clarify Your Professional Passions


Your best self

This exercise involves thinking back to a time when 

you were at your best. You were great! You did a su-

perb job, and you really enjoyed it. You loved what 

you were doing while you were doing it, and you re-

ceived substantial positive reinforcement.

Remember the situation. Write down the details. 

What were you doing? What tasks were you perform-

ing? What were the key elements of the environ-

ment, the mission, and the nature of the impact you 

were making? Did you have a boss, or were you self- 

directed? Sketch out the complete picture. What did 

you love about it? What were the factors that made it 

enjoyable and helped you shine?

If you’re like most people, it may take you some 

time to recall such a situation. It’s not that you haven’t 

had these experiences; rather, you have gotten out of 

the habit of thinking about a time when you were at 

your best and enjoying what you were doing.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   55H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   55 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



After sketching out the situation, think about what 

you can learn from this recollection. What are your 

insights regarding the nature of your enjoyment, the 

critical environmental factors, the types of tasks you 

took pleasure in performing, and so on? What does 

this recollection tell you about what you might enjoy 

now? Write down your thoughts. 

Mental models

Another approach to helping you think about your 

desires and passions is to use mental models. That is, 

assume xyz, and then tell me what you would do—

and why. Here are examples of these models: 

• If you had one year left to live, how would you 

spend it? What does that tell you about what 

you enjoy and what you have a passion for?

• If you had enough money to do whatever you 

wanted, what job or career would you pursue?

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   56H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   56 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Two Ways to Clarify Your Professional Passions


• If you knew you were going to be highly suc-

cessful in your career, what job would you 

pursue today?

• What would you like to tell your children and 

grandchildren about what you accomplished in 

your career? How will you explain to them what 

career you chose?

• If you were a third party giving advice to your-

self, what would you suggest regarding a career 


Although these mental models may seem a bit silly 

or whimsical, I urge you to take the time to try them, 

consider your answers, and write them down. You’re 

likely to be surprised by what you learn. Each of them 

attempts to help you let go of fears, insecurities, and 

worries about the opinions of others—and focus on 

what you truly believe and desire.

Passion is critical in reaching your potential. Get-

ting in touch with your passions may require you to 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   57H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   57 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



give your fears and insecurities a rest and focus more 

on your hopes and dreams. You don’t need to imme-

diately decide what action to take or assess whether 

your dream is realistic. There is an element of brain-

storming in this effort: You don’t want to kill ideas 

before you’ve considered them. Again, allow yourself 

to focus on the what before you worry about the how. 

These exercises are about self-awareness, fi rst and 

foremost. It is uncanny how much more likely you 

are to recognize opportunities if you’re aware of what 

you’re looking for. 

ROBERT STEVEN KAPLAN  is president and chief executive of 
the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Previously, he was the se-
nior associate dean for external relations and Martin Marshall 
Professor of Management Practice in Business Administration 
at Harvard Business School. He is the author of three books: 
What You Really Need to Lead, What You’re Really Meant to 
Do, and What to Ask the Person in the Mirror.

Adapted from What You’re Really Meant to Do: A Road Map for 
Reaching Your Unique Potential (product #11370), by Robert 

Steven Kaplan, Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   58H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   58 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



Emotional Agility

By Susan David and Christina Congleton

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   59H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   59 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   60H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   60 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM


Sixteen thousand—that’s how many words we speak, on average, each day. So imagine how many unspoken ones course through our 
minds. Most of them are not facts but evaluations and 

judgments entwined with emotions—some positive 

and helpful (I’ve worked hard and I can ace this pre-

sentation; This issue is worth speaking up about; The 

new VP seems approachable), others negative and less 

so (He’s purposely ignoring me; I’m going to make a 

fool of myself; I’m a fake).

The prevailing wisdom says that diffi cult thoughts 

and feelings have no place at the offi ce: Executives, 

and particularly leaders, should be either stoic or 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   61H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   61 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



cheerful; they must project confi dence and damp 

down any negativity bubbling up inside them. But 

that goes against basic biology. All healthy human 

beings have an inner stream of thoughts and feelings 

that include criticism, doubt, and fear. That’s just our 

minds doing the job they were designed to do: trying 

to anticipate and solve problems and avoid potential 


In our people-strategy consulting practice advis-

ing companies around the world, we see leaders 

stumble not because they have undesirable thoughts 

and  feelings—that’s inevitable—but because they get 

hooked by them, like fi sh caught on a line. This hap-

pens in one of two ways. They buy into the thoughts, 

treating them like facts (It was the same in my last 

job . . . I’ve been a failure my whole career), and avoid 

situations that evoke them (I’m not going to take 

on that new challenge). Or, usually at the behest of 

their supporters, they challenge the existence of the 

thoughts and try to rationalize them away (I shouldn’t 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   62H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   62 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Emotional Agility


have thoughts like this . . . I know I’m not a total fail-

ure), and perhaps force themselves into similar situ-

ations, even when those go against their core values 

and goals (Take on that new assignment—you’ve got 

to get over this). In either case, they are paying too 

much attention to their internal chatter and allowing 

it to sap important cognitive resources that could be 

put to better use.

This is a common problem, often perpetuated by 

popular self-management strategies. We regularly 

see executives with recurring emotional challenges 

at work—anxiety about priorities, jealousy of  others’ 

success, fear of rejection, distress over perceived 

slights—who have devised techniques to “fi x” them: 

positive affi rmations, prioritized to-do lists, immer-

sion in certain tasks. But when we ask how long 

the challenges have persisted, the answer might be 

10 years, 20 years, or since childhood.

Clearly, those techniques don’t work—in fact, am-

ple research shows that attempting to minimize or 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   63H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   63 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



ignore thoughts and emotions serves only to amplify 

them. In a famous study led by the late Daniel Weg-

ner, a Harvard professor, participants who were told 

to avoid thinking about white bears had trouble do-

ing so; later, when the ban was lifted, they thought 

about white bears much more than the control group 

did. Anyone who has dreamed of chocolate cake and 

french fries while following a strict diet understands 

this phenomenon.

Effective leaders don’t buy into or try to suppress 

their inner experiences. Instead they approach them 

in a mindful, values-driven, and productive way— 

developing what we call emotional agility. In our 

complex, fast-changing knowledge economy, this abil-

ity to manage one’s thoughts and feelings is  essential 

to business success. Numerous studies, from the Uni-

versity of London professor Frank Bond and others, 

show that emotional agility can help people alleviate 

stress, reduce errors, become more innovative, and 

improve job performance.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   64H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   64 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Emotional Agility


We’ve worked with leaders in various industries 

to build this critical skill, and here we offer four 

 practices—adapted from Acceptance and Commit-

ment Therapy (ACT), originally developed by the 

University of Nevada psychologist Steven C. Hayes—

that are designed to help you do the same: Recognize 

your patterns; label your thoughts and emotions; ac-

cept them; and act on your values.

Fish on a line

Let’s start with two case studies. Cynthia is a senior 

corporate lawyer with two young children. She used 

to feel intense guilt about missed opportunities—

both at the offi ce, where her peers worked 80 hours 

a week while she worked 50, and at home, where she 

was often too distracted or tired to fully engage with 

her husband and children. One nagging voice in her 

head told her she’d have to be a better employee or 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   65H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   65 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



risk career failure; another told her to be a better 

mother or risk neglecting her family. Cynthia wished 

that at least one of the voices would shut up. But 

neither would, and in response she failed to put up 

her hand for exciting new prospects at the offi ce and 

compulsively checked messages on her phone during 

family dinners.

Jeffrey, a rising-star executive at a leading con-

sumer goods company, had a different problem. Intel-

ligent, talented, and ambitious, he was often angry—

at bosses who disregarded his views, subordinates 

who didn’t follow orders, or colleagues who didn’t 

pull their weight. He had lost his temper several times 

at work and been warned to get it under control. But 

when he tried, he felt that he was shutting off a core 

part of his personality, and he became even angrier 

and more upset.

These smart, successful leaders were hooked by 

their negative thoughts and emotions. Cynthia was 

absorbed by guilt; Jeffrey was exploding with anger. 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   66H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   66 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Emotional Agility


Cynthia told the voices to go away; Jeffrey bottled his 

frustration. Both were trying to avoid the discomfort 

they felt. They were being controlled by their inner 

experience, attempting to control it, or switching 

 between the two.

Getting unhooked

Fortunately, both Cynthia and Jeffrey realized that 

they couldn’t go on—at least not successfully and 

happily—without more-effective inner strategies. We 

coached them to adopt the four practices:

Recognize your patterns

The fi rst step in developing emotional agility is to no-

tice when you’ve been hooked by your thoughts and 

feelings. That’s hard to do, but there are certain tell-

tale signs. One is that your thinking becomes rigid 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   67H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   67 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



and repetitive. For example, Cynthia began to see that 

her self-recriminations played like a broken record, 

repeating the same messages over and over again. 

Another is that the story your mind is telling seems 

old, like a rerun of some past experience. Jeffrey no-

ticed that his attitude toward certain colleagues (He’s 

incompetent; There’s no way I’m letting anyone speak 

to me like that) was quite familiar. In fact, he had ex-

perienced something similar in his previous job—and 

in the one before that. The source of trouble was not 

just Jeffrey’s environment but his own patterns of 

thought and feeling. You have to realize that you’re 

stuck before you can initiate change.

Label your thoughts and emotions

When you’re hooked, the attention you give your 

thoughts and feelings crowds your mind; there’s 

no room to examine them. One strategy that may 

help you consider your situation more objectively is 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   68H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   68 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Emotional Agility


the simple act of labeling. Just as you call a spade a 

spade, call a thought a thought and an emotion an 

emotion. I’m not doing enough at work or at home 

becomes I’m having the thought that I’m not doing 

enough at work or at home. Similarly, My coworker is 

wrong—he makes me so angry becomes I’m having 

the thought that my coworker is wrong, and I’m feel-

ing anger. Labeling allows you to see your thoughts 

and feelings for what they are: transient sources of 

data that may or may not prove helpful. Humans 

are psychologically able to take this helicopter view 

of private experiences, and mounting scientifi c evi-

dence shows that simple, straightforward mindful-

ness practice like this not only improves behavior 

and well-being but also promotes benefi cial biologi-

cal changes in the brain and at the cellular level. As 

Cynthia started to slow down and label her thoughts, 

the criticisms that had once pressed in on her like a 

dense fog became more like clouds passing through 

a blue sky.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   69H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   69 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



Accept them

The opposite of control is acceptance: not acting on 

every thought or resigning yourself to negativity but 

responding to your ideas and emotions with an open 

attitude, paying attention to them and letting your-

self experience them. Take 10 deep breaths, and no-

tice what’s happening in the moment. This can bring 

relief, but it won’t necessarily make you feel good. In 

fact, you may realize just how upset you really are. 

The important thing is to show yourself (and others) 

some compassion and examine the reality of the situ-

ation. What’s going on—both internally and exter-

nally? When Jeffrey acknowledged and made room 

for his feelings of frustration and anger rather than 

rejecting them, quashing them, or taking them out 

on others, he began to notice their energetic quality. 

They were a signal that something important was at 

stake and that he needed to take productive action. 

Instead of yelling at people, he could make a clear 

 request of a colleague or move swiftly on a press-

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   70H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   70 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Emotional Agility


ing issue. The more Jeffrey accepted his anger and 

brought his curiosity to it, the more it seemed to sup-

port rather than undermine his leadership.

Act on your values

When you unhook yourself from your diffi cult 

thoughts and emotions, you expand your choices. 

You can decide to act in a way that aligns with your 

values. We encourage leaders to focus on the concept 

of workability: Is your response going to serve you 

and your organization in the long term as well as the 

short term? Will it help you steer others in a direc-

tion that furthers your collective purpose? Are you 

taking a step toward being the leader you most want 

to be and living the life you most want to live? The 

mind’s thought stream fl ows endlessly, and emotions 

change like the weather, but values can be called on 

at any time, in any situation.

When Cynthia considered her values, she recog-

nized how deeply committed she was to both her 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   71H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   71 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM




This list is drawn from the Personal Values Card Sort 

(2001), developed by W. R. Miller, J. C’de Baca, D. B. 

Matthews, and P. L. Wilbourne, of the University of 

New Mexico. You can use it to quickly identify the val-

ues you hold that might inform a challenging  situation 

at work. W hen you next make a decision, ask yourself 

whether it is consistent with these values.





H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   72H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   72 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Emotional Agility


family and her work. She loved being with her chil-

dren, but she also cared passionately about the pur-

suit of justice. Unhooked from her distracting and 

discouraging feelings of guilt, she resolved to be 

guided by her principles. She recognized how impor-

tant it was to get home for dinner with her family ev-

ery evening and to resist work interruptions during 

that time. But she also undertook to make a number 

of important business trips, some of which coincided 

with school events that she would have preferred 

to attend. Confi dent that her values—not solely her 

emotions—were guiding her, Cynthia fi nally found 

peace and fulfi llment. 

It’s impossible to block out diffi cult thoughts and 

emotions. Effective leaders are mindful of their in-

ner experiences but not caught in them. They know 

how to free up their internal resources and commit 

to actions that align with their values. Developing 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   73H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   73 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



emotional agility is no quick fi x. Even those who, like 

Cynthia and Jeffrey, regularly practice the steps we’ve 

outlined here will often fi nd themselves hooked. But 

over time, leaders who become increasingly adept at 

it are the ones most likely to thrive.

SUSAN DAVID  is a founder of the Harvard/McLean Insti-
tute of Coaching, is on faculty at Harvard Medical School, 
and is recognized as one of the world’s leading management 
thinkers. She is author of the number-one Wall Street Jour-
nal bestseller Emotional Agility (Avery) based on the concept 
named by HBR as a Management Idea of the Year. A speaker 
and adviser in wide demand, David has worked with the se-
nior leadership of hundreds of major organizations, including 
the United Nations, Ernst & Young, and the World Economic 
Forum. You can take her free Emotional Agility assessment at CHRISTINA CONGLETON is a leader-
ship and change consultant at Axon Coaching, and researches 
stress and the brain at the University of Denver. She holds a 
master’s in human development and psychology from Har-
vard University. 

Reprinted from Harvard Business Review, 
November 2013 (product #R1311L).

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   74H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   74 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



Why You Should 
Make Time for 
Self-Refl ection 

(Even if You Hate 
Doing It) 

By Jennifer Porter

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   75H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   75 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   76H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   76 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM


When people fi nd out I’m an executive coach, they often ask who my toughest clients are. Inexperienced leaders? Se-
nior leaders who think they know everything? Lead-

ers who bully and belittle others? Leaders who shirk 


The answer is none of the above. The hardest lead-

ers to coach are those who won’t refl ect—particularly 

leaders who won’t refl ect on themselves.

At its simplest, refl ection is about careful thought. 

But the kind of refl ection that is really valuable to 

leaders is more nuanced than that. The most  useful 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   77H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   77 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



 refl ection involves the conscious consideration and 

analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of 

learning. Refl ection gives the brain an opportunity 

to pause amid the chaos, untangle and sort through 

observations and experiences, consider multiple 

pos sible in ter pre ta tions, and create meaning. This 

meaning becomes learning, which can then inform 

future mind-sets and actions. For leaders, this “mean-

ing making” is crucial to their ongoing growth and 


Research by Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, 

Gary Pisano, and Bradley Staats in call centers dem-

onstrated that employees who spent 15 minutes at 

the end of the day refl ecting about lessons learned 

performed 23% better after 10 days than those who 

did not refl ect.1 A study of U.K. commuters found a 

similar result when those who were prompted to use 

their commute to think about and plan for their day 

were happier, more productive, and less burned-out 

than people who didn’t.2

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   78H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   78 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Why You Should Make Time for Self-Refl ection


So, if refl ection is so helpful, why don’t many lead-

ers do it? Leaders often:

• Don’t understand the process. Many leaders 

don’t know how to refl ect. One executive I work 

with, Ken, shared recently that he had yet again 

not met his commitment to spend an hour on 

Sunday mornings refl ecting. To help him get 

over this barrier, I suggested he take the next 

30 minutes of our two-hour session and just 

quietly refl ect and then we’d debrief it. After 

fi ve minutes of silence, he said, “I guess I don’t 

really know what you want me to do. Maybe 

that’s why I haven’t been doing it.”

• Don’t like the process. Refl ection requires lead-

ers to do a number of things they typically don’t 

like to do: slow down, adopt a mind-set of not 

knowing and curiosity, tolerate messiness and 

ineffi ciency, and take personal responsibility. 

The process can lead to valuable insights and 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   79H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   79 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



even breakthroughs—and it can also lead to 

feelings of discomfort, vulnerability, defensive-

ness, and irritation.

• Don’t like the results. When a leader takes 

time to refl ect, she typically sees ways she was 

effective as well as things she could have done 

better. Most leaders quickly dismiss the noted 

strengths and dislike the noted weaknesses. 

Some become so defensive in the process that 

they don’t learn anything, so the results are not 


• Have a bias toward action. Like soccer goalies, 

many leaders have a bias toward action. A study 

of professional soccer goalies defending penalty 

kicks found that goalies who stay in the center 

of the goal, instead of lunging left or right, have 

a 33% chance of stopping the goal, and yet 

these goalies only stay in the center 6% of the 

time. The goalies just feel better when they “do 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   80H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   80 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Why You Should Make Time for Self-Refl ection


something.” The same is true of many leaders. 

Refl ection can feel like staying in the center of 

the goal and missing the action.

• Can’t see a good ROI. From early roles, lead-

ers are taught to invest where they can gener-

ate a positive ROI—results that indicate the 

contribution of time, talent, or money paid off. 

Sometimes it’s hard to see an immediate ROI 

on refl ection, particularly when compared with 

other uses of a leader’s time.

If you have found yourself making these same ex-

cuses, you can become more refl ective by practicing 

a few simple steps. 

• Identify some important questions. But don’t 

answer them yet. Here are some possibilities:

 – What are you avoiding?

 – How are you helping your colleagues achieve 

their goals?

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   81H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   81 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



 – How are you not helping or even hindering 

their progress?

 – How might you be contributing to your least 

enjoyable relationship at work?

 – How could you have been more effective in a 

recent meeting?

• Select a refl ection process that matches your 

preferences. Many people refl ect by writing in a 

journal. If that sounds terrible but talking with 

a colleague sounds better consider that. As long 

as you’re refl ecting and not just chatting about 

the latest sporting event or complaining about 

a colleague, your approach is up to you. You can 

sit, walk, bike, or stand, alone or with a partner, 

writing, talking, or thinking.

• Schedule time. Most leaders are driven by their 

calendars. So, schedule your refl ection time and 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   82H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   82 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Why You Should Make Time for Self-Refl ection


then commit to keep it. And if you fi nd yourself 

trying to skip it or avoid it, refl ect on that!

• Start small. If an hour of refl ection seems like 

too much, try 10 minutes. Teresa Amabile and 

her colleagues found that the most signifi cant 

driver of positive emotions and motivation at 

work was making progress on the tasks at hand. 

Set yourself up to make progress, even if it 

feels small.3

• Do it. Go back to your list of questions and 

explore them. Be still. Think. Consider multiple 

perspectives. Look at the opposite of what you 

initially believe. Brainstorm. You don’t have 

to like or agree with all of your thoughts—just 

think and examine your thinking.

• Ask for help. For most leaders, a lack of desire, 

time, experience, or skill can get in the way of 

refl ection. Consider working with a colleague, 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   83H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   83 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



therapist, or coach to help you make the time, 

listen carefully, be a thought partner, and hold 

you accountable.

Despite the challenges to refl ection, the impact is 

clear. As Peter Drucker said: “Follow effective action 

with quiet refl ection. From the quiet refl ection will 

come even more effective action.” 

JENNIFER PORTER  is the managing partner of The Boda 
Group, a leadership and team development fi rm. She is a 
graduate of Bates College and the Stanford Graduate School 
of Business, an experienced operations executive, and an ex-
ecutive and team coach.

1. Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary P. Pisano, and 

Bradley R. Staats, “Making Experience Count: The Role of 
Refl ection in Individual Learning,” working paper 14-093, 
Harvard Business School, 2014.

2. Jon M. Jachimowicz et al., “Commuting as Role Transi-
tions: How Trait Self-Control and Work-Related Prospec-

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   84H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   84 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

Why You Should Make Time for Self-Refl ection


tion Offset Negative Effects of Lengthy Commutes,” work-
ing paper 16-077, Harvard Business School, 2016.

3. Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer, “The Power of Small 
Wins,” Harvard Business Review, May 2011.

Reprinted from, originally published 
March 21, 2017 (product #H03JNJ).

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   85H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   85 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   86H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   86 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



You, By the 

By H. James Wilson

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   87H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   87 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   88H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   88 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM


A few years ago entrepreneur and scientist Stephen Wolfram wrote a blog post titled “The Personal Analytics of My Life.”1 In it, 
he mapped data about his email usage, time spent 

in meetings, even the number of keystrokes he’s 

logged—for 22 years. The resulting charts and graphs 

are mesmerizing, and somewhat instructive. Wolfram 

has documented that he’s a man of routine who likes 

to work alone late at night. He knows that although 

his scheduled telephone calls usually start on time, 

his in-person meetings are less predictable—and that 

he’s hitting the backspace key 7% of the time he’s on 

the keyboard.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   89H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   89 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



This “effort at self-awareness,” as Wolfram de-

scribed it, makes him a trailblazer in the growing 

discipline of auto-analytics—the practice of volun-

tarily collecting and analyzing data about oneself in 

order to improve. Athletes have long used visual and 

advanced statistical analysis to ratchet up their per-

formance. Now auto-analytics is fl ourishing in the 

workplace, too. With wearables, mobile devices and 

apps, sophisticated data visualization, and AI, it has 

become fairly easy to monitor our offi ce activity—and 

any factors that might affect it—and to use that infor-

mation to make better choices about where to focus 

our time and energy.

This heralds an important shift in how we think 

about tracking work performance and even career 

planning. Employees have long been measured, but 

managers have traditionally chosen the tools and the 

metrics—and, more important, decided how to in-

terpret the fi ndings. With auto-analytics, individuals 

take control. They can run autonomous experiments 

to pinpoint which tasks and techniques make them 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   90H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   90 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

You, By the Numbers


most productive and satisfi ed—and then implement 

changes accordingly.

Wolfram’s insight was that his “shockingly regular” 

routine liberated him to be “energetic—and spon-

taneous—about intellectual and other things.” But 

he did not use the data to discover ways to improve 

his performance, and in that way his blog post is as 

much cautionary as it is pioneering, for it highlights 

the pitfalls of embracing auto-analytics without fi rst 

adopting a plan. Lacking a clear goal at the outset, 

Wolfram took two decades to synthesize his vast col-

lection of data. Even then he stopped at observation 

rather than progressing to analysis and intervention. 

What improvements could he have made on the ba-

sis of his fi ndings? Would it have been more useful 

to map, say, project time lines against stress levels—

or, given that he runs his company remotely, moods 

against time spent with others?

If these kinds of questions are not tackled up front, 

auto-analytics runs the risk of becoming a promis-

ing concept that’s poorly applied and then dismissed 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   91H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   91 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



as just another tech fad. To do it right, you need to 

understand the tools and develop an approach. The 

aim is not merely to increase self-awareness but to 

 become better at your job and more satisfi ed with 

your life.

The tools

There are two broad types of auto-analytics tools. The 

fi rst are trackers, which reveal patterns and help you 

set goals. They allow you to document routines and 

physical responses such as sleep hours, heart rate, 

and food consumed or calories burned—information 

you can use to learn, for example, how your caffeine 

and sugar consumption affects your work output or 

which offi ce interactions spike your blood pressure. 

Trackers are best used longitudinally (over days, 

weeks, or longer) and iteratively, to test interventions 

and their results until the right balance is struck. You 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   92H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   92 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

You, By the Numbers


gather a baseline of personal data and then run cycles 

of data collection and analysis.

That analysis readies you for the second type of 

tools, nudgers, which guide you toward your goals by 

asking questions or prompting action on the basis of 

the data they’ve received. Nudgers are often apps or 

online tools that might tell you to work out, to stop 

drinking coffee, or to slow down during a presenta-

tion. They usually require some up-front investment 

to make the algorithms “know” how and when to 

ping you.

The analysis

What exactly can you measure? Using successful 

cases and research, I have developed a framework 

that includes three arenas where auto-analytics can 

be useful: the physical self, the thinking self, and the 

emotional self (body, mind, and spirit). 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   93H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   93 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



The physical self

Your physical condition affects your work. We’ve 

known this roughly since the Industrial Revolution, 

when Frederick Taylor’s famous time and motion 

studies showed that an iron-plant worker’s move-

ments, such as shoveling pig iron into a cart, could 

be measured and improved. Likewise, the sleep pat-

terns, stress levels, and exercise regimens of knowl-

edge workers have been shown to affect productivity, 

creativity, and overall job performance. Today these 

workers can choose from a variety of mobile apps, 

wearable sensors, or desktop tools that autonomously 

collect rich data about their bodies’ movements and 

physiological systems.

Business consultant Sacha Chua wanted to under-

stand the relationship between her sleep schedule and 

achieving her professional priorities, so she has tested 

several tools for this purpose. Using a sleep-tracking 

app, she monitored her bedtimes, wake-up times, 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   94H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   94 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

You, By the Numbers



Tools in the fi eld of auto-analytics often employ 

behavior- based algorithms to make recommenda-

tions to users. The analyzed data may be collected by 

wearable devices with sensors and visualized on mo-

bile devices or computers. Most tools focus on one of 

three personal domains.

The physical self

Tools that measure and monitor physical movements 

and body functions help you make better decisions 

about professional eff ectiveness and well-being. 

Sleep trackers may gather data on sleep quantity 

and quality, enabling you to understand why you feel 

alert (or lethargic) on certain workdays and how to 

optimize the relationship between rest and perfor-

mance. Movement or fi tness trackers may count the


H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   95H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   95 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



amount of sleep per night, and sleep quality over sev-

eral weeks. (See the sidebar “Self- Measurement at 

a Glance.”) With this baseline and a hypothesis that 

she was sleeping later than she should, she then tried 

waking up earlier—at 5:40 rather than 8:30 a.m. 

Chua discovered, to her surprise, that she was get-

ting more and better sleep with the new wake-up 


number of steps you’ve taken or nudge you to get up 

when you’ve been sitting still for too long.

The thinking self

Tools focused on the thinking self gather data related 

to the routines, habits, and productivity of knowl-

edge work. Browser-based attention trackers visual-

ize patterns that refl ect where and how much your 

attention fl ows across categories while on the web 

during a workday.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   96H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   96 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

You, By the Numbers


The emotional self

Tools that measure emotions increase users’ aware-

ness of how professional decisions, situations, and 

actions correlate with mood. A mood-tracking app 

may prompt you with occasional simple questions to 

track your state of mind over time. Then it can make 

recommendations, derived from clinical practice in-

sights and research data, about how you can improve 

job performance and satisfaction.

time, which improved her engagement and perfor-

mance at work. It seemed to be forcing her to eschew 

unimportant late-night activities, such as browsing 

the web, so that she could go to bed earlier. Instead 

of squandering much of her morning in low-quality 

sleep while hitting the snooze button over and over, 

she could spend the time writing and programming. 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   97H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   97 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



This exercise was nominally about sleep, but the data 

provided a more rigorous way for Chua to explore, 

prioritize, and act on what really mattered to her per-

sonally and professionally. 

The thinking self 

In the 1960s Peter Drucker legitimized quantifying 

the thinking self into units of knowledge work. Al-

though knowledge work has remained notoriously 

tough to measure rigorously or directly while it is 

being performed, its output is still tracked with ap-

proximations like billable hours, reports fi led, or lines 

of code written. Such measures can inform managers 

and fi nancial systems, but they do little to guide indi-

viduals who want to learn how to get better at their 

jobs. Auto-analytics can help by gathering data as 

you perform cognitive tasks, such as client research 

on your smartphone or statistical analysis in Excel.

Google engineer Bob Evans used both trackers and 

nudgers to investigate the relationship between his 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   98H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   98 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

You, By the Numbers


attention and his productivity. He explains, “As engi-

neers, we load up our heads with all these variables, 

the intellectual pieces of the systems we are building. 

If we get distracted, we lose that thread in our heads.”

With a tool that interacts with online calendars, 

Evans analyzed how frequently he was shifting be-

tween solitary thinking and collegial interaction 

across his days and weeks—and then mapped that 

against his work output. The data showed him that 

he needs about four straight hours to get anything 

ambitious done, so he’s now focusing on his most 

challenging tasks when he has that kind of time, not 

during days when lots of meetings disrupt his men-

tal fl ow.

Evans also uses a mobile app that randomly 

pings him three times a day, asking, “Have you been 

 working in the past two hours?” If he hasn’t, he’s 

prodded to refocus. If he clicks yes, the app asks more 

questions: “What was your primary work activity?” 

and “What was your secondary work activity?” This 

data- gathering approach, developed by psychologist 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   99H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   99 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is called the experience 

sampling method, or ESM. Just over a week into 

 Evans’s three-week experiment, the ESM data began 

to show that he was responding to work emails too 

frequently, which distracted him from more impor-

tant tasks. So he began to answer email just twice a 

day to see whether that increased his productivity. 

It did. In the third week, every time the app pinged 

him, he was in the midst of his core programming 

work. (Notably, one of Evans’s colleagues set the app 

to check in with him eight times a day. He grew so 

frustrated that he abandoned the experiment.) 

The emotional self 

Daniel Goleman famously asserted that nearly 90% 

of the difference between outstanding and average 

leaders is attributable to emotional factors, not in-

tellectual acumen. Indeed, many professionals are 

intrigued by the role emotions play in their careers, 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   100H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   100 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

You, By the Numbers


and they aspire to become more aware of their own 

emotional states and their ability to manage them. 

Yet assessment tools and coaches focusing on emo-

tional intelligence are expensive, intrusive, and often 

reserved for select members of the C-suite.

Auto-analytics tools don’t measure emotional in-

telligence per se, but they provide an easier way to 

gain insight into emotions and use data to enhance 

our predictions of what will make us happy in our 

daily work and careers. Many apps and tools track 

moods by prompting the user: “How do you feel 

right now?” If you use one on a GPS-enabled mobile 

phone, you can discover correlations between your 

emotions and your location. Are you happiest work-

ing at home, at Starbucks, or at the offi ce? Are you 

less happy at certain client sites or when you travel? 

Or, using a tool that crunches textual data—such as 

the types of words in your email communications or 

journal entries—you can quantify feelings about a 

particular assignment or job opportunity.

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   101H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   101 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



These tools are no substitute for personal refl ec-

tion, but they can facilitate the process. A case in 

point is that of Marie Dupuch, a branding strate-

gist who had long envied people who “could recog-

nize their mood and know exactly what put them in 

it.” Realizing she wasn’t that intuitive, she instead 

tried a quantitative approach to understanding her 


With college graduation looming, and the pres-

sure to “refl ect and fi gure things out” before entering 

the job market, she began tracking her moods. Dur-

ing her three-month fi nal semester, she used a beta 

version of a tracker app that asked her to rate her 

mood on a fi ve-point scale three times a day. At fi rst, 

the fi ndings were predictable: Talking to friends and 

family on Skype enhanced her mood; riding on pub-

lic transportation depressed it. But one data point 

stood out: Thursdays were her happiest days, which 

surprised her given that they were also her busiest.

On Thursdays Dupuch drove from her college cam-

pus to the city for a course on advertising that featured 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   102H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   102 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

You, By the Numbers


guest lecturers and required interaction with advertis-

ing executives and other creative types. She hypothe-

sized that it was the exposure to the advertising world 

in an urban location that made her hardest day her 

happiest. So she decided to test her theory: She sched-

uled six informational interviews over fi ve days with 

ad agencies in Manhattan and measured her mood 

the whole time. She refl ects, “Through this test I was 

able to see with real data that advertising was a good 

bet, that this was the kind of career that would make 

me happy.” Today she is working happily and produc-

tively in the advertising industry in New York.

Of course, effectively tracking your emotions pre-

supposes that you can take an analytical—even a 

clinical—view of your mood when data are being 

gathered. That’s quite different from tracking hours 

of sleep or number of emails sent. Dupuch is among 

many I’ve spoken to who say that the process is 

 unnatural at fi rst but that it gets easier with practice 

and eventually improves your ability to sense and re-

act to how you’re feeling. 

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   103H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   103 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM



The future

It’s still early days for auto-analytics. Nevertheless, 

important new streams of research, based in cogni-

tive and behavioral science, are currently being con-

ducted at universities and by private enterprises. A 

project called Quantifi ed Self is hosting opportuni-

ties for individuals to try out auto-analytics tools and 

experimental methods. In addition, new fi eld-based 

insights on data visualization and algorithm inno-

vation from the fi eld of business analytics have di-

rect application for auto-analytics practitioners and 


Two other trends are also emerging. First, the tools 

will become more sophisticated. Some will be smarter, 

with machine-learning algorithms that make the 

nudging function more nuanced so that, for example, 

the technology knows better when and how to ping 

you. They may also allow for more accuracy, gather-

H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   104H7470_EI-Self-Awareness.indd   104 9/7/18   11:01 AM9/7/18   11:01 AM

You, By the Numbers


ing more types of data related to diet and physical 

activity at a faster rate. Some tools will become less 

visible—woven into clothing to capture physical data, 

for instance, or embedded in professional tools such 

as spreadsheets and word processing apps. Second, a 

more holistic approach to auto-analytics will develop. 

Applications will consolidate many kinds of measure-

ments in a single dashboard and allow us to analyze 

ourselves across ever more complex dimensions.

Some tools already combine tracking and nudg-

ing—and can add a social dimension. They ask you to 

create a goal, such as increasing your number of sales 

calls or conversations with direct reports each week, 

and then use digital displays to help you analyze your 

daily progress toward achieving it. To  increase your 

motivation, they use nudges or even levy small fi nan-

cial penalties when you vee