Organisations increasingly encourage lifelong learning, but low self-awareness may obstruct the effectiveness of these initiatives.
People lacking self-awareness are less likely to accept feedback and, having an inflated opinion of their performance, take credit for success while blaming others for failures. In the workplace, they may forgo learning opportunities, thereby impeding organisational success.
About 95% of people think that they are self-aware, but only 10% to 15% of them actually are, according to research by organisational psychologist Tasha Eurich.
Metacognitive strategies, which focus on the ability to monitor, understand, and control powerful cognitive abilities, can be an effective leadership technique to increase self-awareness such that employees may become better learners and, consequently, better performers.
Predictors of success
Combined with strong people skills, self-awareness is a strong predictor of executive success, according to research by Green Peak Partners and Cornell University that involved 72 business executives. Green Peak Partners assesses leadership potential and coaches executives.
The Green Peak study suggests that executives who have poor people skills and lack self-awareness tend to underperform. Most significantly, self-aware leaders know their weaknesses and work with colleagues whose traits fill the gaps. They also are more likely to acknowledge that others on the team may have a better idea.
In a different study, Susan Ravenscroft from Iowa State University and her co-authors found evidence that strategies to increase self-awareness benefit accounting students. Strategies such as realistic and effective study planning and self-assessment techniques help students reflect on their cognitive processes and study progress.
A popular strategy helps students become aware of their mindset and shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Mindsets influence how students think about their learning.
Students with a fixed mindset believe their abilities are innate, whereas students with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their abilities. When challenged, students with a fixed mindset will not provide much effort and will blame failures on others and other external factors. Students with a growth mindset will embrace the challenge as a learning opportunity.
Strategies to improve learning in the workplace
Strategies to increase self-awareness could also prove invaluable in the workplace. Organisations could implement these practices and strategies:
Nurture metacognition and self-awareness. Employees should feel safe to reflect on potential weaknesses and growth opportunities. For this reason, it is crucial to build a culture where employees are allowed to make mistakes and ask for guidance. When this is not the case, employees are likely to adopt a defensive attitude, forgoing learning opportunities.
Inform employees about the role of mindsets and help them adopt a growth mindset. Since employees tend to shift mindsets regularly, it is essential to support employees in adopting a growth mindset on a continuous, long-term basis, starting from the moment they are hired.
Practise what you preach. It is crucial that supervisors embrace and welcome a safe culture and openly strive towards adopting a growth mindset themselves. Only then will employees at lower levels of the organisation be willing to follow in their footsteps.
Familiarise employees with metacognitive strategies such as self-assessment and monitoring their understanding as part of learning opportunities. As an example, the “muddiest point” exercise requires learners to identify and reflect on the most unclear element within the information absorbed, allowing learners to deepen their understanding. Research has shown implementing metacognitive strategies also helps learners transfer acquired knowledge to different domains, which may be beneficial in corporate environments.
Invite employees to reflect on their effort and the processes that have led to the outcome openly and honestly during performance evaluations and rewards. Employees may want to identify strategies that have proved effective in reaching successful outcomes and strategies that did not work well under the circumstances. Further, they may be invited to set up a realistic plan for the future and to create “smart” goals.
Promote learning and growth by implementing practices that help employees reflect on their functioning. Less self-aware employees may not be open to feedback and criticism.
— Karen J. De Meyst, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in accountancy at Miami (Ohio) University in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Sabine Vollmer, an FM magazine senior editor, at Sabine.Vollmer@aicpa-cima.com.