As leaders, we often take note of the critical “elements” of the work we do: 

  • Communication
  • Listening skills
  • 360-degree feedback
  • Diplomacy 
  • Strategic planning with the ability to manage change
  • Employee development 
  • Confidence

Yet something is missing from this list: Self-Knowledge

It’s my considered opinion – as well as that of others – that the best leaders understand themselves exceptionally well.

Their strengths as well as their challenges.

Some questions to ask to discover if we truly know ourselves as it pertains to leadership:

What are our greatest strengths and weaknesses? 

Here’s a tip: they are often related. For example, if we believe one of our strengths is empathy, our “greatest weakness” might be that we’re “too nice.” 

Are we strong and decisive? We also might be unbendable and prone to making rash decisions. 

Where have we had success as a leader? 

Did we inspire others or make them scurry to their offices? 

Were we able to give people solid critiques as needed, or did we avoid having to give “bad news”?

Did we give people instructions and parameters and then let them do as they saw fit, or did we give tasks and then ask for constant updates? 

What could we improve? What are we most proud of?

What makes us crumple into a ball of self-doubt?

We all experience self-doubt (if not, that’s somewhat concerning in itself). If we make a bold move, do we feel in the next few hours or days that we’re really in over our heads? When do we feel overwhelmed? When do we question our approach to a critical business challenge?

Knowing what triggers our self-doubt means we can work with someone (a mentor, a counselor, even a good friend or spouse) to help us overcome it.

More importantly, knowing what circumstances create anxiety allows us to work out a plan to become more confident, helping to reduce our self-doubt in this area.

Lastly, perhaps the most important question we should ask ourselves – which leads to the most essential element of leadership is this:

Why do we want to lead?

Frankly, if we’re looking to lead mostly for the perks, higher salary, and prestige, we have some self-work to do.

The best leaders want to motivate and inspire their team members to become the best they can be. (The Harvard Business Review in May reported that of 1.6 million people surveyed, inspiring others was “rated the most important” skill a leader could have.)

Knowing ourselves exceptionally well is the most essential element because everything about our leadership effectiveness follows from it.