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Self-awareness for self-leadership

The central feature in the current work life is the decline of all regulative structures. Formal education is substituted by life-long learning at work and traditional career paths resemble more like colourful quilts. Responsibility is turned over to people themselves and self-leadership becomes everyone's task. Self-leadership requires self-awareness which can be explored through four questions on one's main role at work, habitual action patterns, planning and problem solving and ways of viewing the world.

Main Role at Work

The first (1) question of self-awareness concerns the most suitable work role for the individual. One's interest in the behavior processes involved in independent action, leadership and collaboration leads to closer viewing of the question. Would the role of an "Independent performer", "Leader" or "Collaborator" meet with one's core interests, identity at work. Independent performers feel and perform best in different expert or professional jobs. Leaders thrive in different managerial and influencing jobs while Collaborators are best at home in jobs that have social interaction as their core ingredient. About half of all people see one of the three main work roles as the most suitable for them while the other half see their behavior reflecting some combination of two roles.

Action patterns

The second (2) question of self-awareness concerns action patterns, an examination of which greatly specifies the picture. Namely, competent independent action includes both focusing on the task and quality seeking as well as competing and seeking for maximum results. The former action pattern is highly valued in for example technical experts' jobs and in supporting roles. The latter pattern is highly valued for example in sales jobs.

In similar fashion, competent leadership includes leading others' behavior as well as leading others' thoughts and feelings. The former pattern is important in managerial jobs as well as in jobs that involve setting direction for others' behavior. The latter action pattern is called for in managerial jobs but is also useful in many other roles such as marketing. Collaboration is obviously a requirement in nearly all jobs. Competent collaboration incorporates three distinct processes: communication, guidance and listening. The competence value of each varies along specific jobs. Individuals differ by their motivation to communicate, guide and listen to other people.

Planning & problem solving

In addition to work roles and action patterns, the individual's “footwork”, competence at work includes equally important “brainwork”. The third (3) question of self-awareness concerns planning and problem solving. The main objectives in planning and problem solving are to strengthen existing processes but also to create new processes. Both processes are needed but their relative competence value depends on the specific target job. Individuals also vary in their corresponding tendencies and the question is to which direction the person tilts to in his or her planning and problem solving. Half of people see themselves as either maintainers of current processes or creators of new processes. The other half believe to promote both kind of processes in their planning and problem solving.

Important specification is brought by examining planning and problem solving along its four consecutive steps. Plans and problems are approached, perceived, produced solutions which are finally implemented. Each step tends to promote either existing or new processes and people often promote both processes in their planning and problem solving.


The fourth (4) and last question of self-awareness concerns the individual's viewing of the world and oneself. The most important viewing relates to the individual's affinity to stable vs. mobile or changing work environments. In stable work environments processes are repetitive and competence is marked by the individual's ability to perceive irregularities as in administrative work or control room. In mobile work environments processes are variable and competence springs from the individual's curiosity towards everything new and foreign, as in expatriate and creative work. Realism vs. optimism and amount of self-reflection are about viewing one's options in the world. See below, the map of Basic competencies for navigating self-awareness.

Basic competencies

Portrait creation

In summary, self-awareness builds on being aware of one’s behavioral interests, ways of planning and problem solving and awareness of preferred work environments. The above map of Basic competencies is used in creating the first, crude self-portrait by asking which of the three main work roles (or combination of them) appears suitable to oneself? The next question is whether the person tends to tilt more to strengthening of existing processes or to creation of new processes in his or her planning and problem solving? The final question is whether the person believes to be happier in stability vs. variety providing work environments? A random example of a rough, first portrait might be: “Independent performer, creates new processes and feels best at home in stable work environments”.

Specification of the portrait involves shifting the attention first to the different action patterns. In the case of an "Independent performer" the specifying question would be whether it is more characteristic of him or her to focus and seek quality vs. compete and reach for maximum results? Specification of planning and problem solving is done by shifting attention to the four consecutive steps: approaching, perceiving, producing solutions and implementing them. It is often most fruitful to emphasize a step that the person feels to master particularly well. A random example of a more specified portrait might be: “Independent, quality-seeking performer, creates new processes, particularly creative, apt solutions and feels best at home in stable work environments”.

Self leadership

The need and purpose for active self leadership can arise in many situations. Entering the work career, making progress in the career, finding a new kind of career or, simply developing one’s work competencies are situations that call for self-awareness and self-leadership. Mapping out the Basic competencies is useful because of their platform-like quality. Although the Basic competencies are not unchanging, they are more stable than the currently disrupting occupational and job specific competencies. They serve as a guiding platform to all occupational and job specific competencies, see the Lesson: "Basic competencies".

Although self-awareness is most important to oneself, it carries significant value for organizations. The consultant company Korn & Ferry (2015) mapped out “blind spots” among almost 7000 specialists working in 486 listed companies and compared them to their stocks' return value. Blind spots were defined as gaps between specialists' self-reports on their competencies and those given by their co-workers. Companies with highest rate of return showed significantly less blind spots among their specialists.


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