I bet every one of you looked at yourself in the mirror this morning to get a picture of how others see you. Why? Because you know how you look affects how people perceive you, and most of us care what others think.


What you see in the mirror, however, can be distorted by your own mental filters. The same is true of leadership. You behave hoping to positively affect your impact as a leader. However, your perception of your behavior can be distorted. Self-awareness is essential to successful leadership.

At Ashlin Associates, we have learned that self-awareness is the most fundamental attribute of a successful leader. That is why we gather 360-degree feedback on all our coaching clients, interviewing direct reports, bosses, peers, and other stakeholders to inquire about our client’s professional behavior. We then share the feedback anonymously, “holding up a mirror” to reflect a client’s workplace behavior.


Not surprisingly, reactions range from “That sounds familiar” to “I had no idea!” One president had been rewarded for being “tough and directive” throughout her career. Understandably, she felt that this style of leadership contributed to her success. When a new CEO demanded a more servant leadership style, she continued to behave in her customary manner –until she came face-to-face with our 360-degree “mirror.” She cringed at what she saw.


Another client, a director, was on the succession list for corporate president. His environment was an international one where navigating nuance was imperative, so his organization invested in coaching to ensure he had the proper tools and training. In this instance, 360-degree feedback revealed that the director was already a phenomenal leader with only a few areas to fine-tune. The best leaders are self-aware. They know how their behaviors affect others, where their voices echo, and how their words are interpreted. They control their moods. They know who they are. Just as important, they know how they are perceived.

Remember, He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.—Anonymous