Great leaders are often seen as outward facing — communicating and influencing others as they drive an organization to success.

While communication and influence are two of the “Fundamental 4” leadership meta-skills identified in our research, the other two — learning agility and self-awareness — are more inward-focused.

Self-awareness can be the most challenging of the 4 to develop, but it can also serve as a foundation for strengthening all your other leadership skills.

Leader effectiveness is constrained or amplified based on how leaders understand themselves, their awareness of how others view them, and how they navigate the resulting interactions.

For leaders, self-awareness has 4 facets that are most critical:

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  • Leadership Wisdom. These are insights from your experience that you can apply to the challenges you face.
  • Leadership Identity. This is who you are in your current professional and personal context.
  • Leadership Reputation. This is how others perceive you. By understanding how you’re seen by others, you’ll be able to better communicate with and influence them.
  • Leadership Brand. If your leadership reputation is based on others’ perceptions of your past, your leadership brand is what you aspire to and the actions you take to support that.

Leadership Wisdom

The best leaders have a bank of lessons and anecdotes they can bring to bear on new challenges. These insights don’t arise spontaneously, but are the result of ongoing practice.

The key to cultivating leadership wisdom is taking time to reflect on your experiences. This includes revisiting your experiences from multiple perspectives, engaging in “surface reflection” to identify past actions and behaviors, and practicing “deep reflection” to examine underlying beliefs and assumptions.

This reflection must be done time and again, and good leaders often return to the same experiences repeatedly to gain new insights as they grow.

Leadership Identity

Your leadership identity, whether you’re aware of it or not, influences how you lead. In our diverse, global marketplace, it’s critical to understand our own identity and how it shapes interactions with others.

Think of your leadership identity as 3 concentric rings (which may overlap). In the outer ring is your given identity — characteristics you have no choice about. These natural traits include age, nationality, race, some physical characteristics, and the like.

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Explore the book for more.

The second ring is your chosen identity. These traits describe your status, characteristics you control, and skills. Common attributes in the chosen identity are your occupation, political affiliation, and hobbies, among others.

The inner-most ring is your core identity. These are the qualities that make you unique; some may change over your life, while others remain constant. Included here are behaviors, values, and beliefs.

Knowing your own leadership identity may help you find common ground with others that lead to stronger relationships, or reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings during critical communications.

Leadership Reputation

Your leadership reputation is what others think of you as a leader. Understanding your leadership reputation helps you comprehend how you may be perceived and judged by others. Knowing how you’re perceived will strengthen your ability to communicate with and to influence others.

To understand your leadership reputation, ask questions about the reputation you’ve established, try to view your behavior as others may, and check to see if your reputation aligns with your values and your desired leadership brand.

Leadership Brand

How do people know the leadership your capable of, and how do you communicate that? That’s what your leadership brand is — an aspirational set of leadership traits and behaviors.

Understanding your leadership brand — how you’d like to be perceived — allows you to act to change those perceptions in a positive, authentic way. Your leadership brand should identify your unique strengths, communicate those to others, provide a consistent experience that meets others’ expectations of you, and make explicit that which is implicit.

The key here is to bring to the surface, enhance, and polish your greatest strengths and make sure you’re communicating them to people you encounter inside and outside of your organization. A strong leadership brand can only be developed if you are self-aware — you know what your leadership reputation is now, and you have a deliberate plan for strengthening it to fuel your leadership aspirations.

For those leaders who work at it, greater self-awareness in these 4 areas will pay significant dividends.

To learn more about how to acquire the essential traits shared by the world’s best leaders, read CCL’s new book, Lead 4 Success: Learn the Essentials of True Leadership, by George Hallenbeck.

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