Think about the most inspirational leader you know.

What qualities does this person display that make him/her so effective? Perhaps you identified charisma, decisiveness, grace under pressure, or great communication. These traits all share a common root that is often hidden at first glance: self-awareness.

Like many other facets of Emotional Intelligence, self-awareness is most apparent when it is absent. A manager with a lack of self-awareness may not take responsibility for his mistakes, missing opportunities to learn. He models poor behavior but criticizes his direct reports when they follow his lead. He feels threatened when his co-workers do good work. He might think he’s competent and motivating, but others view him as a dim-witted micromanager. And he is clueless of the effect he has.

On the other hand, a manager with active self-awareness accepts that he does not have all the answers. He consciously builds a team with people who are skilled in areas where he is not. He encourages new ideas and feedback, inspiring his employees to take initiative instead of trying to control them. He owns his mistakes and views them as teachable moments.

Which manager would you rather work for? Which one do you want to be?

Leadership effectiveness is hindered or strengthened based on how well leaders understand themselves, their awareness of how others view them, and how they navigate between the two.

Without active self-awareness, leaders cannot

  1. Make informed decisions.
  2. Build healthy relationships with their employees.
  3. Understand what they need to improve upon.

Reading and studying techniques (or simply standing in front of the mirror) will never truly improve your self-awareness. You must model the behaviors you hope to develop in others, proactively set aside time to plan and reflect, and seek regular feedback to become a successful leader. Here are a few starting points:

Don’t ignore- explore!

We live in a world that encourages us to suppress our feelings in favor of our minds. Schools set strict curricula instead of embracing the emotions and desires of individual students. The corporate world favors logical “team players” over sensitive people guided by their intuition. As a result, many people assume emotions are illogical, irrational, and unhelpful in making decisions. Yet our emotions are, in fact, part of a much larger library of memories and knowledge stored in our unconscious. Therefore, our emotions probably offer a more accurate reflection of not only why we behave the way we do, but clues on how to stop or continue on the current path.

TIP: Instead of dismissing your feelings, take a moment a few times a day to think about them and identify them. Instead of pondering the root cause of the feeling, Harvard Business Review’s Anthony K. Tjan suggests spending some time pondering the following questions:

What am I trying to achieve?
What am I doing that’s working?
What am I doing that’s slowing me down?
What can I do to change?

It’s not all about you

Sadly, many leaders fail to realize that leadership is really about their employees, customers, shareholders, and communities. Leaders who are overly wrapped up in their work (or themselves) and fail to express appreciation or regard for their direct reports will quickly lose the respect of their team. Morale will devolve, and the best people will leave because they can. Conversely, leaders who earn and keep the respect of their people will have high-performing teams that produce more, stay longer, and devote more time to the task at hand.

TIP: No matter how busy you are, make time regularly to check in with your employees. Don’t assume they are focused on the same things that you are or want to be treated the same way you do. Self-awareness isn’t just about reflecting inward; it’s also recognizing and understanding what’s going on with the other person. Express your sincere care and concern for your direct reports, both verbally and nonverbally. In this way, your team will feel empowered to make contributions and receive recognition for their achievements.

Get feedback from your team

There are few better ways to become self-aware than asking what Dr. Tasha Eurich, author of Insight, calls “loving critics.” Yes, it’s hard to ask questions you may be hesitant to know the answers to. For example, “How am I doing in supporting you?” or “When was the last time I did something that upset or frustrated you?” Deferring to others will not only shed light onto your tendencies, but will show your team that you truly want to improve. In turn, that will strengthen your bond with your employees, improving outcomes integral to organizational success.

TIP: Find a colleague who both wants you to be successful and will tell you the truth, without any sugarcoating. Don’t try to ask all your colleagues for feedback—that can be overwhelming. Let your colleague know in advance what you’re looking for. To drive the conversation, Eurich suggests asking, “What’s the thing you see me doing that’s helping me best contribute to the team or organization? What’s the thing I do that’s detracting from our success?”

In a world impatient for results, demanding immediate outcomes, self-awareness in leadership is continuously tested. Leaders: be honest. How much attention do you pay to what you’re feeling and how it impacts others?