Why self-awareness is key

BBQ columnist Lindiwe Mkhondo

As an executive coach I often begin the coaching journey with a simple enquiry into what leaders seek to achieve through coaching. Consistently, leaders express a deep quest and desire to unleash their potential and their leadership presence.

The coaching journey takes each leader on a unique path of self-discovery - wherein each finds the essence of the self by questioning:  Who am I? What are my strengths and areas of development? How can I leverage on what I know about myself to lead from the heart?

Self-awareness is the real asset for developing leadership presence and authenticity:

Align your true intentions with your behavior

Leaders seek coaching when they realise that developing authentic leadership does not come naturally. It takes skill.  According to Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones (authors of Why Should Anyone Be Led by YOU?) authentic leadership has become the most prized organisational and individual asset. The coaching relationship offers leaders an opportunity for deep reflection on how authentic leadership can be demonstrated by leaders through consistent, conscious behavior, attitudes and emotions in all roles they play. Coaches guide leaders to align their true intentions to be authentic with their behavior. Leader makes their authenticity visible to others, and most importantly, they make their authenticity ‘felt’.

Being visible and felt

Are you a visible and felt leader? To be visible, felt and authentic has nothing to do with role-playing - it is the ability to skillfully demonstrate who you are as a leader, what you stand for, what you deeply care about and why, and the ability to use that passion in relation to those you lead to stretch them to find their passion. You have to consistently demonstrate integrity, and your genuine and sincere caring attitude. You present a confident disposition that gives safety to those you lead, rather than fear. Authentic leaders present themselves to others in a trusting and open manner and this encourages others to do the same. Authenticity means an ability to observe, listen attentively and suspend judgment, allowing co-creation and emergence of clarity and future possibilities. These leaders welcome dialogue. Even if they are knowledgeable and experienced, they can listen deeply, and focus on reaching common ground, but are not afraid to differ when it is necessary. Engagement, rather than alienation is key.  When you are authentic, you are experienced as real - as a leader that is in touch, a leader with backbone and heart. Authentic leaders treat those they lead with respect and dignity, so it’s no wonder they tend to attract and excite people.

Have a profound impact on those you lead

As a leader, are you having any profound impact on those you lead? How do you inspire them and excite them to do their best?  Authentic leaders make work meaningful for those they lead. They do not just drive delivery of results at all cost. They ensure that work fulfills people’s meaning and purpose. They are not afraid to hold courageous conversations about what people are passionate about and what their dreams are.

Be skillful when dealing with paradox

Authentic leadership takes a mature and skillful art of dealing with ambiguity and paradox. When you are real, you are comfortable with both being ‘soft’ and ‘hard’. You can demonstrate empathy and care, but at the same time you never compromise results. You can show emotions and know when it is appropriate to withhold them. You know how to be close to those you lead and how to be distant. And you know how to be like them, yet how to be different at the same time.

So you might ask yourself why some people are attracted to work for some leaders or companies. The answer is simple: because of the leadership qualities these leaders possess - because of their authentic leadership.


Lindiwe Mkhondo is an Executive Coach and Psychologist.  She is Director at Change Partners, South Africa’s leading executive Coach Provider (


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Issue 83


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