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Want to Become a Better Leader? Grow Some Self-Awareness


Lacking self-awareness not only creates trouble in our personal lives, as leaders it directly impacts our capacity for leading well. Benjamin Shin, Associate Professor of Bible Exposition at Talbot School of Theology, highlights the need for self-awareness among church leaders:

    The different tasks of leadership pose many challenges for a leader. It requires that the leader have a good sense of knowing the people well enough to relate to them but also for him to have a good sense of direction in terms of where he wants to lead them. Fundamentally, however, one of the most neglected aspects of leadership entails knowing exactly where the leader is in terms of self-awareness. In other words, the leader must have a good read on his own strengths and weaknesses in order to know how to best lead the people he shepherds over. This requires a strong sense of self-awareness of the leader in his giftedness, his personality, and his leadership style.

Shin explains further …

    Too many times, I have seen leaders who thought that they were proficient and strong in a particular area of leadership only to find that they themselves may be the only ones who thought this way. This disconnection has not only shown a personal unawareness of the leader but also results in the ineffectiveness of his ministry. For any person who desires to serve in the ministry and to be able to build up the people, he must be aware of himself and how God has “wired” him for the ministry. The consequences of not knowing this important self-knowledge could be detrimental. The Pastoral Epistles gives us a number of exhortations and principles related to knowing one’s calling, giftedness, and effectiveness.

Pastor and author, John Ortberg, notes being emotionally self-aware is not only important for the church leader as a person, but impacts his leadership even to include the effectiveness of his preaching:

There’s a line in King Lear that I love, although it scares me sometimes: “He hath ever but slenderly known himself.” If I lack emotional self-awareness, it can cripple my preaching in ways I never see.

I grew up in the church, and my parents tell me that one of my first questions was: “Why is the preacher always mad at us?” I doubt that was his intent. Often we grow up in church traditions that (sometimes unconsciously) train us to exude certain emotions.

Emotions are as contagious as a cold. In one experiment, two subjects sat across from each other in a room and were silent for 10 minutes and then left. If one of the two was depressed, the other became significantly more depressed at the end of 10 minutes than they’d been going in. So if I’m feeling something deeply, there’s a good chance the people listening to this will pick it up in me. I need to be aware of that so my emotions don’t get in the way of my own message.


    • A lack of self-awareness can blind us to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and inhibit our cooperation with him. The more we’re lacking awareness of our own selves, we tend to be more ignorant to what the Holy Spirit is trying to do in us and with us.
    • The more we lack self-awareness, the more blind we are in personal application of the Word of God, which can result in our thinking too highly or irrationally of ourselves. That’s in contradiction to Paul’s instruction: “Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Romans 12:3).
    • A lack of self-awareness can disengage our God-given capacity to properly exercise self-discipline.

Contrast these effects of lacking self-awareness with …


    • Self-awareness heightens our awareness of God by more accurately and rationally sharpening the context we have of ourselves.
    • Self-awareness deepens our receptivity to the Word of God as we’re better able to see how truth applies to our lives.
    • Self-awareness motivates us to seek, and cooperate with, the Holy Spirit, enhancing our relationship with Him.
    • Self-awareness enables us to best understand our need for grace.
    • Self-awareness stirs compassion in us toward others.


Let’s look at a few ways you can broaden and deepen your self-awareness.

First, the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study are powerful means of expanding your self-awareness. The Bible is specifically powerful at exposing our real selves to ourselves …

“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires,” Hebrews 4:12.

Prayer is talking with God, and that exercise also helps us gain understanding about our true selves.

Bill George, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, recommends developing an understanding of your life story, creating a daily habit of self-reflection, and seeking honest feedback as ways to further develop your self-awareness.

A couple of intentional activities for building self-awareness are journaling and temperament testing. Journaling is a means of exploring your inner most thoughts, feelings, and desires, and helps to shed light on yourself to yourself. Visiting with a clinical therapist for temperament testing helps you better understand your innermost being by learning about how God has “wired” you. The personal insights gained from such testing can be profound, even life-changing.

if you’re really willing to do some important work to build your self-awareness, consider these additional three activities: (1) Developing/knowing your core values. Core values answer the question: what’s most important to me? When you become aware of your personal values, you can evaluate if you’re living in accord with them. (2) Personal vision. We have an ideal future self. This future self is our realized innate potential. Invest time to clarify your personal vision for the future, and (3) Personal narrative. Your life story is a fundamental component of your personality. Are you able to relate your personal narrative to yourself? If not, you have a critical need to develop your self-awareness.

Being adequately self-aware is not only vital as a person, but as a leader as well. Are you a self-aware leader? How do you maintain healthy self-awareness? What do you need to do to broaden and deepen your self-awareness?

This article originally appeared here.