Self Awareness: Leadership’s Missing Link

As one digs deeper into the world of Organizational Development (OD), you gain insight into leadership, team development, and potential interventions for systemic cultural change. In doctoral literature, a theme of self awareness (or personal mastery) continues to emerge. Below is an edited excerpt from one of my papers about the subject. I hope you find it interesting…

Almost every OD intervention or theory involves individual engagement and development predicated on the assumption that the individuals involved will (eventually) “lean in” to change and participate. Texts emphasize the importance of people recognizing their own shortcomings and respecting others, yet, this all hinges on awareness of self. A renowned OD author, Peter Senge, calls this personal mastery, which “involves learning to keep both a personal vision and a clear picture of current reality before us.”

Why is this so important? Self-awareness, or personal mastery, encourages individuals to recognize when they are taking the path of least resistance and to be aware of their own values and biases that influence day-to-day interactions. I would posit that we make a very dangerous assumption that most individuals within a community act with this type of awareness. How often are we in meetings in which walls are erected and turf battles begin before conversations get started? We lament resistance to change yet do little as leaders to education beyond technical know-how. Talking about the importance of buy-in from staff is very different from fostering it. Seldom (in my experience) do organizations promote self-awareness in the workplace.

What, then, can we do as leaders? We must find ways to expand our current professional development models, going beyond Excel tutorials and Photoshop courses. When exploring ways to build our employees’ arsenal of business acumen, we must look at professional coaching, self exploration, mentoring, and cross-disciplinary relationships to create greater confidence and knowledge of self.

More importantly, we must look inward. What are our own values and assumptions influencing our decisions? How can we be more mindful of potential internal bias? And are we modeling the right behavior for equity and respect? Only when we address these issues head on will we come together as equal partners in change, recognizing our own biases and insecurities. And it is only through employee engagement that we are able to sustain positive change at a systemic level.



Senge, P., et. al. (1994). The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. United States of America. Doubleday/Random House, Inc.

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