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Closing the Gaps Between Intention and Impact – Why Self-Awareness is Critical

To be an effective leader, manager or individual contributor you need to be self-aware. To be self-aware, you need to reach beyond what you know about yourself and gather feedback from others who know you well. Truly, others sometimes know us better than we know ourselves.

Young African-American Businesswoman standing in front of a mirror looking at her reflection and imagine herself successful

Self-awareness is the ability to reflect on and understand our own behaviours and skills and the impact they have on others (Zenger, 2014; Church, 1997). When a person is self-aware they are able to eliminate the gaps between their intentions (what they hope to accomplish) and their impact (the results of their actions). Gaps between an individual’s intentions and impact are blind spots that can form significant obstacles to his/her effectiveness. Consider the leader whose intention is to provide employees with clear guidance and mentoring, but whose behaviours to fulfill this intention come across as micromanaging. Or the leader who seeks to provide autonomy and independence, but appears to others as uninvolved or uninterested. Both leaders have positive intentions, but if they are unaware of how their behaviours are interpreted by others, they will not have the desired impact.

Self-awareness is important because it has a significant impact on performance. The relationship between self-awareness and individual effectiveness has been explored at length, with multiple research studies showing that self-awareness is positively related to:

  • Individual work performance
  • Managerial excellence
  • Decision quality
  • Team coordination
  • Conflict management

Given its importance, a key goal of employee development programs should be to increase individuals’ self-awareness. To do this effectively, you need to incorporate feedback from others who know the individual well and have observed them at work. Vazier and Carlson (2011) show how others can see aspects of a person that the person themselves are blind to.

There are a variety of different methods that can be used to gather external feedback to help an individual analyze the gaps between their intentions and impact – these include performance reviews, observations from coaches, and candid conversations with bosses, colleagues and direct reports. They also include 360 assessment tools, which gather feedback from a variety of sources in a standardized way while also maintaining the confidentiality of those who speak to the individual’s impact. This combination of standardization and confidentiality allow for the efficient gathering of forthright feedback that helps an individual recognize blind spots, increase their self-awareness, and align their motivations with their workplace behaviours.

You may find a 360 assessment useful in your work if you are:

  • Working in the developmental arena
  • Focused on helping individuals increase their self-awareness
  • Trying to help people close the gaps between their intentions and motivations, and the impact they have on people and their environment

For more information about the Psychometrics 360, interpretation resources and tips for multi-source feedback instruments, please visit our Knowledge Centre here.

Ashford, S. & Tsui, A. (1991). Self-regulation for managerial effectiveness: The role of active feedback seeking. Academy of Management Journal, 35, 251-280.

Atwater, L. & Yammarino, F. (1992). Does self-other agreement on leadership perceptions moderate the validity of leadership and performance predictions? Personnel Psychology, 45(1), 141-164.

Church, A. (1997). Managerial self-awareness in high-performing individuals in organisations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82(2) 281-292.

McCarthy, A. & Garavan, T. (1999). Developing self-awareness in the managerial career development process: the value of 360 degree feedback and the MBTI. Journal of European Industrial Training, 23(9), 437-445.

Moses, J., Hollenbeck, G., & Sorcher, M. (1993). Other people’s expectations. Human Resource Management, 32(2), 283-297.

Van Velsor, E., Taylor, S., & Leslie, J. (1993). An examination of the relationships among self-perception accuracy, self-awareness, gender and leadership effectiveness. Human Resource Management, 32(2), 249-263.

Vazire, S., Carlson, E. (2011). Others sometimes know us better than we know ourselves. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(2), 104-108.

Zenger, J. (2014). The Singular Secret for a Leader’s Success: Self-Awareness. Forbes Magazine.