The Self-Aware Leader

“To know yourself, you must sacrifice the illusion that you already do.” –Vironika Tugaleva 

In John Maxwell’s new book, The Self-Aware Leader, he states that fools want to conquer the world, while the wise want to conquer themselves. When we understand ourselves better, we understand our strengths and weaknesses better, and we are able to unleash our teams to accomplish great things! In this episode, we are celebrating John’s new book by releasing a lesson in which he talks about what it means to be a self-aware leader! 

During the application portion of the episode, Mark Cole and Chris Goede examine the importance of self-awareness in leadership. They also discuss what they are learning throughout their own journeys toward becoming more self-aware leaders. 

Our BONUS resource for this episode is the Self-Aware Leader Worksheet, which includes fill-in-the-blank notes from John’s teaching. You can download the worksheet by clicking “Download the Bonus Resource” below. 


Mark Cole:       Hey podcast listeners. Welcome back to another episode of the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast. I'm joined today with Chris Goede, I'm Mark Cole, and we're honored to get to attempt to add value to you today so that you will attempt to go multiply value to others. Now today, in this episode, we're talking about a new book that John has written called The Self-Aware Leader. If you've not picked it up, you want to go pick it up. If you're watching by YouTube today, you just visualized the book because this book we're very excited about. In fact, in the book, John says, "When we are foolish, we want to conquer the world. But when we are wise, we want to conquer ourselves." And that's what today is all about, conquering yourself and being a self-aware leader. In this episode, John is going to share his own thoughts on what it means to be self-aware and how he has applied that to be the leader that he is today.

After John's lesson, Chris Goede and I are going to come back and be a little self-aware about ourself, as well as talk a little bit about how you can become more self-aware and engage people around you to discover you. So listen in. Today we have a bonus resource for you. It is a fill in the blank worksheet, and you can go find that at Click on the Bonus Resource button, you'll be able to download the show notes. Also, if you would like to purchase John's book, The Self-Aware Leader, we're going to have a link in our show notes today. If you have not experienced our show notes, every single week, every single episode, we put together notes with links, ideas, and thoughts that will help you take today's podcast and make it that much more effective for you. Now, here is John C. Maxwell.

John Maxwell:  Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your moods, your emotions, your drives, as well as their effect on others. In other words, all those things that we have, how do they affect others? I have a degree in counseling. I've done a lot of it. I would say the first lesson I learned in counseling people is that people do not realistically see themselves. That's an absolute fact. Most of us do not have the ability to see ourselves, especially as others see us. Now, what's interesting is we can quickly see others. Isn't that true? We can quickly look at somebody and say, "My gosh, why did they do that?" But then all of our dysfunction and all the stuff that we have in our life, we are very blind to ourselves. That's just all of us.

Each of us is really five people, in your notes. You're who you are. Number two, you are who you think you are. Number three, you are who your family thinks you are. Number four, you're who your friends think you are. And number five, you are who your acquaintances think you are. Say it right with me in the notes, the less we know about ourselves, this is very true gang, the less we know about ourselves, the more we will role play.

When you think of authentic people, they're authentic because they're very self-aware of who they are. And if we're not self-aware, we will begin to role play our life. Let's go on. The better we know ourselves, the more will be the same with everyone in every situation. In other words, we'll be very comfortable in our skin. Now, what does self-awareness mean to a leader? How do we apply this to leaders? How do I know that I'm self-aware and what kind of behavior should I have in my self-awareness? Number one, consistency. And when I speak of consistency, I'm talking about consistency in moods, values and principles that allow leaders to be effective. It helps them to delegate decision making. So ask yourself as a leader, how am I? Am I consistent in my moods? Am I consistent in my values? Do people know my values? Am I consistent in my principles so that people are around me know how I'm going to respond?

Let me just illustrate it this way. 95% of all the decisions that are made by my group, my organization are not made by me. My people know me so well. They just know me very well. I don't have to make very many of the decisions. They know how I would respond to about every situation because I operate my life on certain values, I operate my life on definite principles of leadership. And they know that, and I'm very consistent in my moods. They're never going to wonder, "Is he up or is he down? Can I approach him? Do I need to wait for another day? Another place? Another time?" Consistency.

Second characteristic or behavior of self-awareness is openness and transparency. As a leader, one of the areas that I have found that is very challenging, openness and transparency, is when you do performance reviews with people. When you do performance reviews with people, it's difficult because people are again, lack of self-awareness. And so, a lot of times it's confrontational and it's not always fun.

The third behave is the willingness to address weaknesses. The willingness to address the weaknesses in my life or in your life without becoming defensive is huge in self-awareness. The more we know ourselves, the more we'll allow other people to talk about the areas that we fail in and that we are weak in. And self-aware leaders, I put this in your notes, bring people around them that compliment for the weaknesses. In other words, if I'm aware of my shortcomings, which I'm very aware of my shortcomings, the only people who are more aware of my shortcomings than me are my inner circle. They're really aware of my shortcomings.

One of my favorite stories is one time I was writing one of my books, it was in Leadership Gold, and I was talking about knowing your weaknesses. And I called my assistant Linda, and I said, "Linda, I'm writing all my weaknesses and why don't you, over the next couple weeks, just jot down some of my weaknesses down and then give them to me and I'll make sure I get them in my chapter here." And Linda said, "Well John," she said, "You don't need to wait that long. I can give them to you now, if you want me to." And I said, "What do you mean, you can give them to me now?" She said, "I've worked with you for 20 years." I said, "Get a piece of paper, take notes. I'll give them to you right now." I said, "Oh, that's a little quick, isn't it? Don't you really want to think about this? No, no, I don't need to think about it." She's very aware of my weaknesses.

What I love is leaders who somehow try to snow people. You know what I'm saying? Go back to your people and let them know that you know your weaknesses. It'll make them feel good that you know. You know what I'm saying? They'll just say, "Oh, thank God he knows. We don't have to tell him. He understands. He knows." We just had a very important meeting yesterday and I had my inner circle down and we had about a five hour meeting, very kind of a strategic meeting on a project. And what was phenomenal is in that five hour meeting, I bet you I didn't talk over 10 minutes in the five hour meeting. They ask the questions. They have my back. They know what I'm good at, they know what I'm not good at. They know the questions they need to ask because they know that I won't ask them perhaps because it's weaknesses in my life.

And I just thought how nice it is to be in a group of people who loves me unconditionally, who knows all of my weaknesses and are saying, "John, we got your back. We're going to make sure we get this covered for you. We want to make sure that we do the right thing on this project. This decision's got to be made. We're going to help you." And I thought, man, wow, I couldn't do it without them. Just one more quick behavioral that's important in this entire area of self-awareness and that is number four, understanding your values and what's important to you. That's the core of self-awareness. It's the character anchor that holds you and me steady. And in your notes, self-awareness is a result of maturity and feedback, and a willingness to change.

Mark Cole:       So Chris, John finishes the mic drop moment with this statement, "You need to have a willingness to change." So what he wants us to do is to be self-aware and then when we become self-aware, change ourselves. Isn't that a leader's two greatest challenges, changing themselves and being aware of themselves? And so Chris, I'm excited to dig in today. Welcome back. So glad to have you. Glad to be on video with you again today. I can't wait to be back in studio with you. We've been doing some episodes here today. For all you YouTube leaders, our listeners, viewers, we're excited to be back with you. It feels like the same day for you and I, Chris. But it is a series of being able to talk together. Glad to have you.

Chris Goede:     I am super excited to be here. I was joking with you and Jake, as we're getting ready to start, I said, "Hey listen, is this an intervention? Is this something that we're about to have a leadership team member conversation here?" Because yeah, it's not an easy conversation and I almost want to say, "Hey, I'm out. I don't want to get into this with you." But I think this is the first step for leaders. Not the first step, I think it's a continual step because I think we have to continually be looking and become aware.

I was reading a statistic the other day that surprised me, that said 10 to 15% of people, only 10 to 15% of people, are really self-aware.

Mark Cole:       Wow.

Chris Goede:     And it went and started talking about there's a difference between internal and external self-awareness and I was like, man, so then when you and Jake asked me to jump on here, I was like, absolutely, let's talk about it. And I think why this is so important for leaders and our listeners is that if we can figure out this internal self-awareness and be open to it, I think it'll drive our engagement level, I think it'll drive our personal professional satisfaction. So anyway, so super excited. It's not an easy conversation, but I'm super excited about it.

Mark Cole:       Chris, let me say this before you go to your first question, because I'm reminded, Jake put this in mine and your show notes today, it's a quote from Socrates that says, "To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom." So in what you just said, if you want to become a more mature leader, a wiser leader, if you will, the beginning of that, according to Socrates, pretty smart dude, he says you got to know yourself. And then John says, "The hardest person to lead is myself." So if you want to lead your self, you got to know yourself. To know yourself, you've got to be able to have that candid conversation with yourself and those around you. And so those two quotes coming out of what you just said was something I wanted to remind our listeners of.

Chris Goede:     Super good, right? And very, very deep. And we could stop the podcast right now and go back and unpack that. And I think that's gold. So Mark, my first question in the discussion with you is, John lays out in this episode where he gives us five people and he goes through and talks about each one of these. We often talk about, as leaders, that we should be the same person we are personally, as we are professionally. We shouldn't have these different personas that we show up with and who you really are. How do you go about as a leader, how do you go about making sure that you are continually, because it's not something we just do one time that we got to have continuous self-awareness, maybe what processes, what systems, what things do you have in check that allow you to become and or learn from a self-awareness about your leadership right now in your journey?

Mark Cole:       Well, I think the biggest thing, just to lay the groundwork of my answer, I think there's a couple of things. I go back to another quote, Vironika Tugaleva says, "To know yourself, you must sacrifice the illusion that you already do." Now think about that. We got to be self-aware, but to be self-aware, we got to give up the fact that we're self-aware.

Chris Goede:     Yes.

Mark Cole:       It reminds me of what John teaches about blind spots. You've heard a lot of people, it's not just John, but we got to know our blind spots. Reveal my blind spots, reveal my blind spots. And then somebody tells you something you don't see in yourself and you discredit it because you can't see it. Well, it's a blind spot, which means you can't see it, leader. It's blind, you're blind. You can't see it.

Well in this concept of what do I do to become self-aware let me tell you the biggest thing I'm going to give you and what I do to be self-aware. I ask others what it's like to be on the other side of me.

Chris Goede:     Love it.

Mark Cole:       That's the biggest thing. How can I be self-aware? I'm pretty comfortable with myself. I don't feel like I'm egocentric. My wife gives me some feedback that's otherwise to that at times. I don't feel egocentric. But I will tell you this, all of us have a little bit of self ego. We all have a little self-righteousness. We all have a little bit too inflated self-esteem at times. Even the most lowly introverted, woe is me individual at times feels like a god, if you will, a little small god, a god to themselves because we live with ourselves. We know ourselves, we know our heart. We know when our heart doesn't match our mind. We know when we're misunderstood. We know what we are and what we're not. So to become self-aware so that we can be more effective, the biggest thing I can tell you is to ask people around you.

One of the hardest things for me to do, Chris, and I don't subscribe to having many people like this. But I believe every one of us should have someone in our life whose opinion of us matters more than our opinion of ourselves. Check this out. Because I believe in self-esteem, I believe in not letting other people define us. I believe all of that psychology that I believe is legit. But when it comes to being a self-aware leader, I believe somebody around you that is more trusted than anyone else in your life should be able to speak into you and what they say and think should be given more credibility than what you think about yourself. Now, leaders, I know I'm disrupting so much of your thinking there. But for me, Mr. dogmatic, emphatic, ready to go self very certain of my self leader, I have found most oftentimes I'm not aware of myself because I don't live on the other side of me. I live inside of me.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. Hey listeners, the last three minutes of Mark's comments is pure gold in regards to self-awareness. I started thinking Mark, about your comments as you were talking. And I was like, if we don't go outside or we don't ask the proper questions of ourselves and we say, "Why am I feeling that way? Why do I do this?" Well, we're biased. So all we're doing is we're reaffirming why we feel the way we feel. We're telling a sad story versus asking the question of what. What about that situation makes me act this way?

So we need to be thinking about that question of what, in order to get to the root cause versus the why. And then, to Mark's point, having people speak into your life in regards to, what does it look like to be on the other side of my leadership? And Mark started off this lesson by quoting John with the mic drop that said then we have to be willing to change. So in order for you to be able to understand where you're being on the other side of people's leadership, then are you willing to change that? I think that's pure gold.

Mark Cole:       I do too. Chris, I was thinking, and I have not developed this. For those of you that are in the John Maxwell team and hear me teach every Tuesday, you'll hear this soon. But just as I was talking about self-awareness and self-confidence, there are very few things that are non-negotiable that people external of me can speak into with greater clarity than I can. And let me give you two that comes to mind at the top of the mind, my vision, or let me give you three. My vision, because it should be my vision and vision cannot be deterred by people that can't see more and more and more before. I don't let people challenge the vision that I see in my prayer time and my quiet time, in my envisioning time. That's got to be mine and I'm tasked to see more and before.

My purpose, what I was designed to do, I'll let people speak into it, but I get the final say. The third thing that I can think of, off the top of my head, and I wanted to start doing some work on this, just because this podcast is really firing me up, is my intent, what my heart and my intent was. Now, I'll let people speak to the way I come across, my conduct, my intensity, the fact that I'm wrong on the color scheme of something that we're supposed to do. I'll let a lot of people speak into most everything else. But on those three things, I feel like they have to come from internal. But the self-aware leader has very few things that he or she test from the inside. Most of our self-awareness should be tested with trusted sources on the outside.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, I totally agree with that. And I think when you have what we call the inner circle and you have even a tighter circle than that, that can speak into that. We all leaders, listen, we all work at a pace, we all play at a pace, we live at a pace that we become, we don't even recognize how we're leading. And so we have to have somebody, we got to set up a system and a process to be able to do that.

Now, John goes into his lesson and he gives us these four points. He says the consistency of your leadership. He talks about being open and transparent. Talks about your willingness to address your weaknesses and then understanding your values. What you just unpacked for us, in regards to the three things that you don't let other people speak into outside of that you are open to that, I think lays out really, really well and aligns with these four things. You got to be open to it, you got to be able to address it and change it, you know and understand your values. But one thing that we don't talk about, that I would just like for you to share your thoughts on, is the consistency part. With all of your work with high level leaders, other organizations, with John on the road, what is it about leaders and their consistency as a leader that shows that there's self-awareness there?

Mark Cole:       Chris, I think about conversations we have about your son Ryland, he's a D one athlete. When you're asking that question, I think about a conversation I had with Macy this morning as was driving her to school. Again, for those of you visually joining us today, I've been traveling a lot. So Chris and I are Zooming to get some podcasts in because we got some things in our heart that we want to share. And so I'm domesticated this week. I'm very domesticated. I won't go into that, but I'm very domesticated. And this morning I got to take my daughter to school, which is after I picked her up yesterday, which when I picked her up yesterday, my daughter is super exhausted, I mean just wore out.

And so I talked with Macy on the drive home and she had church that she wanted to go to, a small group last night. She had several things that she wanted to do. We're in the middle of some quarantine, another story for another day, here, from the true queen of the house. And so I was driving her home and she said, "Dad, I just don't know how I'm going to be able to do all this. And I'm just wore out." I was concerned that she was sick. So I got her a COVID test and some stuff. And she wasn't. And I said, "Macy, I think what you need to do is you need to just go to sleep." Now to tell Macy, my daughter, to take a nap in the middle of the day is like telling me to take a nap in the middle of the day. It is a foreign language.

Chris Goede:     Yeah.

Mark Cole:       But she did it. She came home at 4:30 yesterday and she slept until nine o'clock last night.

Chris Goede:     Wow.

Mark Cole:       We were recapping that. Now Chris, my daughter is not of the size and stature of your son, but they share something in common. They're extremely consistent. My daughter works hard to be at the top of her school. She works very hard at it, very hard. And she cares about it. And so this morning she began this self-talk of saying, "Dad, I just was lazy last night. I just didn't push through. And I did get my homework done. I didn't sleep much last night, but I just feel like that I just was not very good last night." Here's what I had to do with my daughter. It's the same thing I know you've had to do with Ryland recently. You pull them back from the blinders they have on about the frustration of the moment, and you remind them of the body of work they have exhibited all of their life.

Because it rests in this first point John makes on self-awareness, who are you as a leader consistently demonstrating yourself to be. Don't take a bad moment, don't take a bad business decision, don't take a failed financial and determine the scope of your leadership. Take the body of your leadership. And what I was telling Macy this morning, what you tell Ryland often, what I tell you, leaders, podcast listeners, is look at the body of work in your leadership and take that as the thing you need to be self-aware of. Not the fact my daughter slept four and a half hours in the middle of the evening, which is so uncharacteristic of her. That's not the body of her work. So don't become judgemental or self-aware on something that is for a moment, be self-aware of the things that are consistent about your leadership.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, that's so good. And I think when you speak into Macy, maybe one of your team members, and you're able to talk about the big picture of that, that allows them to see over time, how truly self-aware they are. Right? And I think that's incredibly awesome. Now, let me ask you this question. So as you work with leaders and organizations, and we talk about this, one of the things I think it's very important to be consistent and self-awareness John talks about the lens principle and isn't it true?

Now again, we're blending the internal and external self-awareness in this conversation. We're going back and forth, but both are so extremely important, that we see others as we see ourselves. And I think if we are jaded and we're not aware truly of ourselves, I think we have that same interpretation of other people. And you mentioned, in your description just a few minutes ago, you mentioned about your intent. We've mentioned this before on this podcast, there's, we call it the intent versus perception gap, and we get into this mode as leaders talk. About the lens principle and the power of that in regards to self-awareness.

Mark Cole:       Chris, I feel like, again, we might need to do a poll to see if I'm self-aware about this. I feel like a pretty positive and passionate person.

Chris Goede:     That would be true.

Mark Cole:       Thank you. That makes me feel like I am a little bit more aware. Does that mean I have negative moments or does that mean I don't have negative moments? No. I do have negative moments. But I have people around me that when I'm just a little more gnarly, a little more negative, a little more pessimistic than normal, they call me out on it and go, "Whoa, wait, you are beginning to entrench yourself into challenge and negativity and that's not who you are." But just like every leader listening to this podcast today, I am tempted being more judgmental of myself than I am of those around me.

Isn't it true that we, as leaders, not as parents, because we get a little hard on our kids sometimes because we want to live the life we wish we would've lived through our kids. So I'm not applying to parents necessarily here. There's some of this that does. But as leaders, many of us have a greater propensity to give grace to those around us more than we give grace to ourselves. What I had to tell Macy last night is, "Macy, you are not a lazy girl. You have one of the strongest work ethics." I've only woken her up in her life twice that I can remember. She is consistent about her responsibilities. Well, I'm not a negative person, but there are times that I feel negative and I have people around me that goes, "Hey, wake up. You are not being true to who you really are." Because self-awareness is not only knowing yourself, as I quoted Socrates just a moment ago, being self-aware is also staying true to what you already know.I know that I am best when I am positively and passionately sharing vision and hope for the future. So when I have meetings that are overbearing with the frustrations of the day and not laced with hopeful aspirations of tomorrow, I have people that text me, call me, and go, "Hey dude, you okay? Today felt a little more challenging than what you normally are." I'm thankful for those moments because self-awareness is not just knowledge of myself, it is consistency that I stay true to what I know about myself.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. And the reason I ask Mark this question, even just to unpack it for us a little bit with consistency is I believe that is a leadership trait, a leadership competency that is not talked about enough. And I think it fits into this self-awareness. So maybe a listener that is listening right now says, "Hey, I love the question of what's it look like to be on the other side of my leadership, but I don't lead anybody." And here's what I was thinking, and I'm going to throw it back to you and let you wrap it up. But a closing action or a thought that I had when you were telling that story about Macy is I know Macy, obviously not as well as you do and I would think nothing of the fact that she took a four hour nap yesterday. Doesn't change my perspective of her. It does internally change how she feels.

So maybe your challenge, as you're listening to us this week, is you don't have people that report directly to you and you can't ask the question that Mark posed. So then maybe you go around and John gave us the five people in the beginning of this lesson, who you are, who you think you are. Maybe you can write down some notes. But then what I want to encourage you to do is to go to your family, to go to your friends and to go to your acquaintances and say, "Who do you think I am? How do I come across?" It's not maybe a leadership question, but ultimately, it's a self-awareness question. And so I just want to challenge everybody, whether you're leading people or what we would call your influencing people, which we all have influence, that you have the ability to get that feedback that Mark is talking about that allows you to become more self-aware. So Mark, take that, wrap us up for the day around self-awareness

Mark Cole:       I love that Chris, because some of you are entrepreneurs. You're solo entrepreneurs. You're in the thick of starting something and you feel extraordinarily alone. Number one, you're not. Chris and I, our team, our staff are right here with you and we look forward to meeting you every Wednesday, hopefully just like you look forward to meeting us. We're in it with you. We're in it for you. So don't allow that voice to make you feel too alone. Are you trying something that's lonely, that's trying something without others right now? Yeah. But all of us need to every one of us, even you solo entrepreneurs listening right now by yourself, you still need to get into relationship. Find somebody, even you that are out there that are in the most lonely self-oriented place you've ever been in your life, you still need to find somebody to help you be self-aware.

The second thing that I would say, just in wrapping this up Chris, is take to heart what everyone says. I say this quote all the time, I'll say it again today. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. When it comes to your self-awareness, you should always be in the student position. If you are too busy telling people who you are rather than discovering who you are yourself, you are too self-absorbed. You need to show people who you are, not tell them who you are. And you need to discover who you are rather than think you've already arrived. And our challenge to you in this episode is to do that, to put yourself in a student position, a learning position, to discover who you are.

I was reminded Chris of Sonia. Sonia is a podcast listener. She's very consistent. She sent us a message the other day. And by the way, we want these messages. We want to hear from you on what you are absorbing. In fact, we have a place for you to share a video of your story, and I'm going to get Jake to put that in my comments right now, where I can give you that link. But we want your comments, we want your video and your stories of impact.

What Sonia said, Sonia said that, let me get her quote right here, "I love John Maxwell because he gave me a new insight each time listen to any of his work. It's motivating, it's inspiring and it's insightful." And what Sonia is saying right there is that, "Hey, I am a student. I have a posture of learning." That's what I want you to have in your experience of being self-aware. The link to where you can share your stories, the, my impact story. And then the final thing that I'll say to you, if you have not picked up The Self-Aware Leader book by John Maxwell, you want to do that. You can find that in the show notes. We'll link to our store where you can get that book today. By the way, don't just get the book for yourself, get it for someone else. And until next episode, let's listen, let's learn, let's love and then let's lead.

4 thoughts on “The Self-Aware Leader”

    1. Hi Werner! Sorry you are having trouble downloading the bonus resource. Everything appears to be working from our end. Please try accessing the form by using a different browser, or try refreshing your browser’s cache. Please let us know if you continue to experience issues.

  1. This is such a good read! I appreciate the insight into self-awareness. I believe most leaders begin self-aware of their faults, their flaws, and their limits, but that is quickly lost with success and becomes limiting when it comes to long-term successful leadership. I recommended your book in a recent article. Thank you!

  2. This really breaks down some leadership questions I have had. I am in position to move into leadership for my company and was looking for wisdom on being the best leader I can be. Knowing myself is such a powerful start that I will learn and be more self-aware and be willing to change to be the best me I can be for me and others in my world.

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