Self Awareness and Lack Thereof in the C-Suite: Study Reveals

It may seem counter-intuitive to think that C-suite executives lack self-awareness, but that’s exactly what a recent Korn Ferry survey indicates is the most-coached leadership challenge in positions at the top. What’s important to understand is that self-awareness is a hair’s breadth away from Maslow’s self-actualization; it’s a top-tier skill that is light years more complicated than consciousness of self. The good news is that it’s within our grasp, and the most successful business leaders in the world are seeking to be more self-aware.

Self-Awareness in Human Development
Self-awareness is something we learn very early in life. It’s an intimate knowledge of who we are, what we stand for, and what we believe. Before the age of two, human beings develop self-awareness and become very independent of the world around them. We are taught social norms, and our self-awareness takes a back seat to cultural awareness. The two become intertwined, and we lose a bit of ourselves to the society that rears us.

This is where public self-awareness splits off from private self-awareness, which is less about our public persona and more about what we feel and our internal dialogue. Self-awareness that is highly developed usually leads to values-based decisions, and may create some issues with self-consciousness.

What This Means for Top Execs
When you’ve paid dues in the business world, self-consciousness is not a trait you can afford. C-suite executives have learned to identify with what they do, rather than who they are and what they believe. The good news about this survey is that more top-tier leaders are being expected to lead teams of people with a vision that encourages sustained team success.

C-suite executives are getting in touch with their self-awareness to become better leaders while becoming co-creators of corporate vision and mission, and they’re doing it based on their own values and beliefs.

Self-Awareness in Practice
The self-aware CEO knows his or her own emotional triggers and can control those emotions, not by suppression, but by a sort of internal negotiation that improves external communication. It takes dedication and practice to deal with raw emotion instantaneously, especially when working with other human beings on a team full of potential emotional minefields.

C-suite execs who are self-aware are disciplined, dedicated, and know when to say ‘no.’ They’re not afraid to speak up when their values-based vision starts going off the rails, and they can make personal connections without losing focus.

The new buzzwords in business focus almost exclusively on the executive as a person. Action words like “create,” “inspire,” “articulate,” and “communicate,” are appearing much more than “innovation” and “competition.” It’s not a complete takeover, but it’s enough of a sea change to require some serious focus on who executives really are, and encourage them to fully participate in the creative — and very human — process of business direction at the top.

Carl Robinson, Ph.D.,

Managing Principal, Advanced Leadership Consulting

carl @

We help maximize the effectiveness of individuals and organizations by helping them improve their ability to lead, work together, select and develop their people.

Carl is a business psychologist and leadership development expert who focuses on the development of high performance leaders.

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