How self-awareness impacts leadership success


A study was published in 2010 by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations2. The study examined 72 executives at public and private companies with revenues from $50 million to $5 billion. The research studied a number of executive interpersonal traits. It was found that the element of self-awareness was a highly significant trait associated with leadership success. In fact, the higher level of self-awareness, the higher level of leadership success.

A study was published in 2010 by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations2. The study examined 72 executives at public and private companies with revenues from $50 million to $5 billion. The research studied a number of executive interpersonal traits. It was found that the element of self-awareness was a highly significant trait associated with leadership success. In fact, the higher level of self-awareness, the higher level of leadership success.

What is self-awareness? Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection, the ability to know oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals. While consciousness is a term given to being aware of one’s environment and body and lifestyle, self-awareness is the recognition of that awareness. Introspection is the examination and reflection of one's own mental and emotional constructs.3

The self-awareness theory was developed by Duval and Wicklund in their 1972 landmark book, A Theory of Objective Self Awareness.4 The authors establish “when we focus our attention on ourselves, we evaluate and compare our current behavior to our internal standards and values. This elicits a state of self-awareness. We become conscious of ourselves as objective evaluators of ourselves.” 

Related reading: Are you a leader or a manager in your dental practice?

Our company, the Mastery Company, delivers an online survey which assesses the strength and weaknesses of dentist-entrepreneurs to be successful at generating substantial managed group practices. Areas assessed in the Mastery survey are risk tolerance, power of vision, strength of core values, capacity to be responsible for the ‘whole,’ and self-awareness. Given our work is consulting and coaching dentist-entrepreneur’s to build and expand managed group practices, we wanted to know ‘going in’ whether potential clients have the needed elements for success. What we found from our survey fully validates the results by the Green Peak Partnership study. The more self-aware a leader is, the better leadership provided.

Individually, my background of experience and learning in the domain of self-awareness includes the est training, the Landmark Forum, Pathwork’s workshops, Wings Seminars programs, Neurolinguistic Programing (NLP), Edwin Friedman and Daniel Goleman’s work on self-actualization and self-differentiation, therapy with a Jungian psychiatrist on Individuation, Buddhist Mediations, and meditative Programs at Nuropa University, as well as numerous books, articles and online videos. This has given me both a keen sense of my own self-awareness but also allowed me to develop consulting models and methods to apply to my dentist-clients to raise their self-awareness. The confirmed outcomes of these consultative models and methods enables our dentist-clients to better understand themselves at a very deep level, empowering them to be far abler as leaders.

Related reading: The biggest mistakes dentists make: Neglecting leadership training

However, most frequently, when I initially interact with the dentists, and this includes solo practices, small partnered practices, small group practices as well as very large group practices, what I find is a lack of interest in becoming self-aware. There is little if any commitment to understanding themselves. Little or no intention for self-discovery. No consistent practice or discipline of self-examination. No desire for introspection. Self-awareness simply doesn’t show up on their ‘radar’ as something that is fundamental and critical for their business success or personal lives.

Yet the most highly regarded business authorities, Jim Collins, Jerry Porras, Peter Drucker, Ken Blanchard, Patrick Lencioni for example, all say that self-awareness is fundamental and critical for leadership success. They all conclude, the higher levels of self-awareness a leader attains, the greater levels of success and satisfaction they achieve. So I wondered, why was there such indifference by dentists to seek self-awareness? Why isn’t self-awareness in dentistry one of those marquee leadership qualities like vision, charisma or strategic intent, given its critical importance?

Continue to page two to learn about dentists and self-awareness...



Dentists and self-awareness

For years as a consultant and coach, I have been wondering why dentists have little interest in becoming more self-aware given its fundamental importance in leadership?  What stops dentists from committing to focused introspection, realizing the more self-aware they are, the more effective they will be in business as well as life? Why are dentists so afraid to self-view themselves?

The evidence is certainly clear, to improve your leadership is to be self-aware, enabling you to understand what motivates you and your decision-making. “Without self-awareness, you cannot understand your strengths and weakness, your “super powers” versus your “kryptonite.” It is self-awareness that allows the best business-leaders to walk the tightrope of leadership: projecting conviction while simultaneously being humble enough to be open to new ideas and opposing opinions.”4

Related reading: Why it's critical to lead with vision and goals in the dental practice

My findings of dentists are consistent with J.P. Flaum’s findings published in 1972 on self-awareness.5 The commitment and strong intention that dentists need to make their group practice vision real also makes them poorly ‘wired’ for embracing vulnerabilities or leading with humility. Yet the qualities of embracing your vulnerabilities and being humble, and its powerful impact on leadership, makes self-awareness all that much more critical.

My other findings are; working with dentists on their self-awareness makes dentists very uncomfortable. Dentists are usually geared to view themselves positively. Dentists often avoid or distort negative feedback that applies to them and explains why dentists resist negative feedback. Yet, negative feedback is essential for self-awareness.  Although the truth often hurts, it's the key to self-improvement. A commitment to seek negative feedback is clearly what dentists avoid. Never asking, "What could I do better as a leader?" "What am I missing compared to the people you consider the best leaders?" and "What are the worst things about my leadership?" and then taking the answers seriously is something dentists don’t do.

Dentists don’t like to reveal themselves. They don’t like to disclose their inner most feelings and thoughts. They feel too exposed. They feel too vulnerable. They hesitate divulging their true emotional state, which psychologists term emotional avoidance5.  They avoid questions directed at self-reflection, self-examination and self-discovery. Their motive is to ‘have it all together’ which is threatened by revealing how they truly think and feel. But you can’t be aware of the ‘self’ without revealing your emotions or inner-thoughts.

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Also, it is uncomfortable for others to give negative feedback.6 This especially includes staff and colleagues. People just don’t feel comfortable delivering honest and critical feedback. This is particular apparent in the existing practice cultures as opposed to the corporate cultures which I have worked. Dental practice etiquette rewards ‘white lies’ and unsubstantiated acknowledgements. Dentists condemn people who are brutally honest. Nonetheless, it is exactly those straight-talking individual who provide the most value in overcoming self-deception7 and would give dentists a clear picture of who they are and who they are not.

There are other contributing factors to why dentists resist the path of self-awareness. The culture of dental practice where a dentist must “always do it right,” is a prominent theme from their dental school training. In addition, the typical personality profiles of dentists, as evidenced by Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, or Hogan Assessment, regularly demonstrates a high level of self-protection, poor interpersonal skills, along with being ‘accommodators,’ all linked to fairly strong egos. These traits naturally lend themselves to resistance to deep self-examination and self-discovery required to become self-aware.

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We know how fundamental and critical self-awareness is to leadership and leadership success. We understand the more self-aware you are the greater leader you will be. We also know that when we approach dentists, there is profound resistance to looking deeply at themselves and seeing themselves for who they really are. But until they can do that, until they can be self-aware, then their leadership, their future, their relationships with staff and executives, will be far more sterile and shallow.

Trending article: How to fight stress in the dental practice with systems and training

When you engage in self-awareness, you have to be open to seeing yourself, in all your parts, the good, the bad and the ugly, in order to really know yourself. More importantly, when you are conscious about who you are, you can be far more responsible in how you act and make far better decisions.

The evidence and testimony for self-awareness in powerful leadership is overwhelming. Self-awareness is an ability to honestly see yourself without any attachment to being right or wrong, good or bad. But once you know yourself, you will have far more power and effectiveness as a leader.

Trending article: 3 things dentists can learn from big (non-dental) corporations


  • All Successful Leaders Need This Quality: Self-Awareness – V. Lipman Forbes / Leadership, 2013

  • Theory of Objective Self-awareness; Social Psychology by R. Wicklund and S. Duval,

  • Merriam Webster Dictionary

  • When It Comes to Business Leadership, Nice Guys Finish First – J.P. Flaum, 1972

  • Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Group, Second Edition, 2010
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