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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 & problem solving and ways of viewing the world.

Main Role at Work

The first question of self-awareness concerns the individual's congenial work role. Does the role of an "Independent performer", "Leader" or "Collaborator" meet with one's motivation ie., core interests and inner inspiration. The differences in strength of the three main motivations displayed on the WOPI Basic Profile lead to defining the corresponding work role for the individual (see more in Lesson: What is motivation?). But anyone can reach an appraisal of his or her main work role just by studying one's interest to the three main behavior processes at work: independent action, leadership and collaboration.

Independent performers' main interest lies in substantive matters performed through independent means, targeted either at quality or results. They feel and perform best in different expert and supporting jobs. Leaders' main interest is in influencing others through different ways, targeted either at others' action or their thoughts. They are at their best in supervisory and different influencing jobs. Collaborators' main interest is in doing things with others through communication, guidance and/or listening. They thrive in expert and supporting jobs which emphasize direct social interaction. Data on WOPI shows that about half of people appear as holders of one distinct role while behavior of the other half reflects various combinations of two main roles.

Action patterns

The behavioral picture becomes much more specified along the second question on one's habitual action patterns. Competent independent action includes both a focused and quality-seeking as well as a competitive and results-seeking behavior pattern. The former is needed in jobs with more circumscribed, focused responsibilities, requiring highly finished and flawless outcomes pursued through even-paced and unidirectional steps. Examples of such are technical and content emphasizing expert as well as supporting jobs. The latter action pattern is needed in jobs with more multifaceted responsibilities which demand quantitative results pursued through longer, risk-taking and multi-directional steps. Examples of such are sales and all entrepreneurial jobs.

Competent leadership includes both action leading as well as thought leading behavior patterns. The former is needed in supervisory jobs as well as in different jobs involving strong or direct influencing of others' behavior. The latter pattern is needed similarly in supervisory jobs but also in many jobs involving inspiration and leadership of others' thoughts, such as marketing and promotional jobs.

Competent collaboration includes three action patterns, sub-processes in collaboration: communication, guidance and listening to others. Their relative emphasis varies among individuals as their competence value varies with target jobs. Communication and all coordination activities call for active communication with others, caring and educational jobs require guidance of others and customer service involves listening to, and serving other people.

Planning & problem solving

Work roles and action patterns concern competent “footwork” at work. Competent “brainwork” is of equal importance. Therefore, the third question of self-awareness concerns planning and problem solving which is both about strengthening of existing processes as well as creation of new processes. The sum score of Thinking displayed on the WOPI Basic Profile indicates toward which processes the individual tilts to in his or her planning and problem solving. Both processes are obviously needed but their relative competence value depends on the target job. For example, administrative and security jobs have their main emphasis on execution of time-proven existing processes, whereas marketing and product development crave for entirely new kind of processes. As matter of fact, most peoples planning and problem solving contains elements that both strengthen existing processes and create new processes.

The picture of planning and problem solving becomes much more specified when it is examined along its four consecutive steps. In other words, plans and problems are (a) approached, (b) perceived, (c) produced solutions to, which are finally (d) implemented. Each step tends to promote either existing or new processes. Planning and problem solving skills can significantly be strengthened by rehearsing behavior in one or more of the four steps.


The fourth and last question of self-awareness concerns the individual's viewing of the world and oneself. Perhaps the most important point relates to the individual's affinity to so-called stable vs. mobile work environments. The former incorporates recurring processes and competence is marked by one's ability to perceive irregularities as in administrative work or control room. In mobile work environments processes vary and competence springs from curiosity towards everything new and different as evidenced in expatriate and creative work. Realism vs. optimism in expectancies and amount of self-reflection represent competence depending on each target job. Viewings are driven by general attitudes which can be influenced at one's own will. Below, a map of Basic competencies for navigating self-awareness.

Basic competencies

Creating the portrait

In summary, self-awareness is being aware of one’s behavioral interests, ways of planning and problem solving, of preferred work environments and other viewings. 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 appetizing to oneself? The following question is whether one tends to tilt more to promoting existing processes or to creation of new processes in planning and problem solving? The last question is whether one feels happier in recurrence vs. variety providing work environments? A random example of a first portrait might be: “Independent performer, creates new processes, feels at home in stable work environments”.

The behavioral portrait is specified further by shifting attention to the different action patterns. In the case of an "Independent performer" the specifying question is whether it is more characteristic of oneself to focus and seek quality vs. compete and reach for maximum results? The planning and problem solving portrait is specified by shifting attention to the four ensuing steps: approaching, perceiving, producing solutions and implementing them. A random example of such a more specified portrait might be: “Quality-oriented independent performer, creates new processes, particularly creative, situationally apt solutions, feels at home in stable work environments”. The WOPI extra profiles on Themes, Team roles and Work well-being serve to further complement self-awareness at work.

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 an entirely new kind of career or, simply developing one’s work competencies are situations that call for self-awareness and self-leadership. Mapping out Basic competencies is useful because of their platform-like quality. Although not unchanging, Basic competencies 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 more in Lesson: Basic competencies).

Although self-awareness is obviously 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 core 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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