Know Thyself: Self-awareness of leadership style

Posted in : HR Updates on 5 July 2017
Anne Daley
Clarendon Executive
Issues covered:

At executive level, it’s interpersonal skills that often make the difference between success and failure. Clarendon’s Anne Daley examines the value of personality profiling in determining leadership style and role suitability but also as a tool for career enhancement and satisfaction.

For fans of Only Connect, the BBC Two game show that asks contestants to find the connection between seemingly unrelated clues, here is one for you: 

What is the connection between the temple of Apollo at Delphi, the philosopher Plato and Rapper Drake?  

Answer:  the Delphic maxim ‘Know Thyself’, an exhortation inscribed on pillars at the temple, used extensively in Plato’s dialogues and now in the songs of Drake. So why did the Ancient Greeks and modern day rap artists consider it so important to know yourself? And if you don’t feel you know yourself already or need to get reacquainted – how do you go about it?

Self-awareness of leadership style

Last month, my colleague Mark Latuske wrote about the value of coaching for leaders going through transitions – perhaps taking on a new role in an organization, stepping up for the first time into a senior leadership role, leading a business through a major change or just feeling stuck and needing to find clarity on how to move forward to the next phase.  

It’s not unusual during these periods of transition to feel unsure of yourself and to even feel like you don’t know yourself as well as you thought you did.  This can be an appropriate time to pause, reflect and begin to develop greater self-insight and awareness.  What can you do to kick-start the kind of constructive thinking and reflection needed to build self-knowledge?

Personality profiling

One useful way to begin might be to complete a personality questionnaire. There are many different personality profile exercises out there (Wave, OPQ, Hogan, MBTI to name a few) and all will measure, in some way, the established and so-called ‘Big Five’ categories of personality: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. 

People sometimes feel a little apprehensive that the personality measure will reveal some hidden personality flaw so it is important to understand that these measures are not clinical or diagnostic tools and instead look at preferences, styles and traits, often specifically in the context of work. 

Practitioners will be formally trained in the use of psychometrics and personality measures and will be registered with the British Psychological Society, so individuals and organisations can be confident that the personality measures are being used correctly and by appropriately trained and competent users. 

Such personality questionnaires are known as ‘self-report’ -  which simply means that when you respond to the items in the questionnaire you are describing yourself and your personality characteristics.  For example, some ask you to choose from a list which characteristic is most or least like you and others ask you to rank certain characteristics.  A detailed report will be generated based on your responses.

Value of personality profiling at senior level

In our recruitment practice at Clarendon we believe in the value of using personality measures to provide additional insight into the workstyles and preferences of a candidate. 

Personality questionnaires do not measure knowledge, experience, skills, strengths or gaps – these things can be measured in other ways, for example, during an interview, through work sample exercises and through using standardised psychometric tests. 

However, when recruiting senior managers and executives, often very critical hires for an organization, the information from a valid personality measure can be used to inform interview questions so that an interview panel can probe into very specific areas that are key to success in the position. 

For example, a role might require the successful candidate to have strong influencing skills and powers of persuasion.  In their responses, the candidate may describe their dislike of negotiating, influencing and persuading others.   This does not mean that they can’t or won’t be able to influence people but having this information allows a panel to investigate how the candidate will manage this preference or adapt their personal style to the demands of the role. 

It can also be useful for an organisation to use this intelligence, gathered during the recruitment and selection process, to inform a focused induction plan for their new hire in a cost-effective and relevant way.  For example, post-feedback sharing and discussion of a personality report with a new line manager is often a way of ‘breaking the ice’, building trust and rapport quickly and getting an early understanding of a new hire.

360-degree feedback

Another useful tool in getting to know yourself, and one which complements a personality measure, is a 360-degree feedback review.  The aim here is to select a small group of colleagues, for example, line manager, peers and direct reports as well as external partners or stakeholders who work with you regularly and ask them to provide their honest and constructive feedback on your workstyle and performance.  Having described your own style, traits and characteristics in a personality inventory, the 360 Degree feedback then enables you to ‘see yourself as others see you’.   Both enhance your self-awareness through providing a holistic view of who you are

A wider context

While personality profiling is undoubtedly of benefit in a recruitment exercise, it’s also very helpful in other contexts, for example, personal/ career development and leadership development.  

If you have completed a personality questionnaire, receiving feedback from a trained user can be a very useful way to stimulate self-reflection.  Mostly people find that the reports are a fair reflection of their preferences.  Occasionally reports can throw up surprising or unexpected results, helping you to think about how your traits and preferences impact on how you manage your work and career and how this might impact, positively or otherwise, on your relationships with colleagues.   

If you already have a coach or are thinking about getting one, this type of exercise can be used to examine who you are, what you really love doing and what you find more of a chore, and how you might navigate successfully through a transition point in your career.

Having started with one Ancient Greek, it seems appropriate to finish with another, Aristotle, who said ’Knowing yourself is the beginning of wisdom’ – the tools described above can certainly help you get started.

This article is correct at 05/07/2017

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Anne Daley
Clarendon Executive

The main content of this article was provided by Anne Daley. Contact telephone number is 028 9072 5750 or email

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