Skip main navigation

The importance of self-awareness

Self-awareness is a critical quality for leadership success. Paddy Upton explains in this short video.
PADDY UPTON: Why do you do the work you do? By investing all the time, energy, and effort in your work, what impact do you want to have on those around you? The reality is that everything you say or do, even the things you choose to not say or not do, will have an impact on others. Who you are being as a person, which is the expression of your personal values, beliefs motivations, strengths, and intentions, will have more impact on others than the things you say or do. If people don’t believe in you as a person, they won’t believe what you say. If they don’t trust you, they won’t trust your word.
Self-awareness has been described as the singular most important quality for a leader’s success. It is the process of going inward to discover what our deeper internal drivers are. It’s understanding what impact we want to have on others. For a leader or coach, it’s important to know ourselves deeply, so that we can constantly fine tune our motivations, values, philosophies, intentions– accurately aligning them with our leadership words and actions, so we can be maximally effective in our work. Without this awareness and fine tuning, we run the risk of our efforts being random, and thus confusing those we lead.
We run the risk of saying or doing things that could undermine our trust, credibility, and respect, or succumbing to the common human fallibility of acting out unconscious egoic behaviour, which sees our smaller self, or ego, serving its own selfish needs, wants, and desires at the expense of the people we’re supposed to be serving, and at the expense of our full potential as leader and coach. This is just another version, for example, of a politician serving their own needs rather than those of the people they’re supposed to represent– maybe not as deliberate or intentional, but the effect is the same. We lose our followers. And they lose trust in us.
This course offers various insights, ideas, and exercises to embark on this invaluable and critical inner journey to self-awareness, which is an integral part in the journey to coaching and leadership effectiveness. It’s the first and most important step towards mastering leadership and life.
Self-awareness is a critical quality for leadership success
Daniel Goleman, widely known for his work on emotional intelligence, claims that ‘self-awareness is indispensable in leadership, allowing leaders to harness their own competencies for the greatest positive impact on others’ (Goleman, 2018).
Being self-aware is more than tuning in to our emotions, even though that’s a good first step. Self-awareness is about our behaviour (including our interactions with others) in response to how we feel. Our words and actions impact those around us in ways we might not necessarily intend, or even be aware of.

Self-awareness and beliefs

Sitting underneath our words and actions are the beliefs that drive what we say and do. If we’re not aware of those beliefs then it’ll be more difficult to realise the full impact we have on others.
A high level of self-awareness means we’re aware of how others view us, as well as being honest and realistic with ourselves about our strengths and limitations, our values and beliefs and our needs, wants and desires. When you’re in the role of coach, leader or teacher, what you say and do matters a great deal to those you’re helping grow.
Through reflection and coming to understand the importance of self-awareness from a number of perspectives, we can be more conscious of our words and actions and the impact they have on those we’re helping grow. As mentioned in the video, self-awareness is the singular most important quality for a leader’s success.

Your task

In the video I explain the importance of self-awareness. As you watch, reflect on your own level of self-awareness.
Comment on the ways self-awareness may impact your effectiveness as a leader.
You might also like to contribute to the conversation by building on what someone else has written. Be explicit about the way you’re building on another’s thoughts.


Goleman, D 2018 How self-awareness pays off. Retrieved from, March 8, 2018
This article is from the free online

The Self-aware Coach

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education