First Principles Based Leadership – Cultivating Self Awareness


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In my last post, I shared the importance for leaders to work on five different kinds of awareness (self, social, cultural, contextual and systemic).

Today and in the next four posts, I will delve into how can we go about cultivating and improving each one of these awareness.

Today, let’s explore how we can go about cultivating and improving our self awareness. Any and all deep dive into self awareness can only start by delving deeper into our consciousness.

We can do this in a few different ways.


We could use meditation to access our sub-conscious. As many seers and monks and teachers have said many times before, meditation is not about attempting to create a blank mind, but it is about watching your thoughts.

I recently went on a Vipassana retreat which required me to meditate for the entire day for 10 days and not to have any conversation with anyone. I was not allowed to access any device or have any contact with the outside world.

This served as a forcing function, which allowed me to learn how to live with my thoughts for the duration that I was at the retreat. This helped me realise the kinds of self-talk I was having with myself. This helped me understand myself, my beliefs and the underlying reasons for those beliefs better.

I understand that not all can go on a 10 day long meditation retreat. But we can all spend 30 minutes a day to meditate. And we dont even need to do it in one stretch.

Two Minute Meditations

All of us would benefit a lot by using 2 minutes of meditation before every new meeting that we go into.

When we sit down with our mind, here are a few things to reflect on:

1. Observe our physical and emotional state.

2. Are we stressed or relaxed?

3. If we are stressed, where in our body do we feel the tension?

4. Why is that so?

5. What can we do now to become or stay relaxed?

Meditating on Extreme Emotions

All of us could also benefit from reflecting for a couple of minutes before we go to bed and think about any extreme emotions that we felt in the day. Extreme emotions (positive or negative) are a great portal into your consciousness.

It is like our sub-conscious is screaming at us to stop and take notice because something important is going on. So, it would be wise to stop and reflect on what led to us feeling these extreme emotions.

The questions that we need to reflect on when meditating on extreme emotions could be:

1. What does this tell us about ourselves and our belief systems?

2. What does this tell us about assumptions and judgements we make?

3. Why did this lead to these extreme emotions?

4. Is this desirable?

5. If not, what needs to change so that we don’t feel the same next time around.

Reflections via Journalling

If for whatever reasons, you feel that meditation is not for you or is hard, you could attempt the same process via journalling, which is taking the time and writing, non-stop for a few minutes.

You need to reflect on the same questions as I have mentioned above, just that instead of doing all of this in our head, we just use a pen and a paper or your favour device (if you must).


Just like reflection is about what happened in the past, intentionality is about us being ready for what we are about to experience.

This is about being clear on what our goals (both as an individual and as a leader) are in every situation that we get into.

This is about being clear and intentional about how do we want to show up; the state in which we want to show up in; the values that we want to adopt and exhibit in our behaviour and being clear about what we want to achieve in any given situation.

This intentionality helps us become aware and act in ways that helps us either get what we want or at least move the needle towards what we want.

This intentionality brings a laser like focus on our goal and everyone who comes in contact with us can feel this focus and the energy that we exude, which rubs off on them as well.

Seeking Feedback

However good we get in reflecting or meditating, it is going to be extremely difficult to spot our blindspots. This is why, it is also important to continue to seek feedback from others on how they perceive us and what our behaviour tells them.

It is important to be intentional and cautious in choosing the people from whom we seek this feedback. And it can’t be just one person. We need to pick a set of diverse people from whom we seek feedback.

They need to be someone who can be honest with us about what they think, but kindly. They need to be someone whose judgement we value highly. They need to be someone who observes us in action in context, so that they can form valid opinions and provide the right feedback.

Ultimately, it is upto us to decide if we want to take this feedback at the face value and act on it or ignore it. If multiple people give us the same or similar feedback, it is a signal for us to pay attention to.


In conclusion, I would just say, that, when we stop and take the 2 minutes to reflect about our state (physical and emotional) before a meeting AND have a clear intention about the state we want to be in the meeting, we are being aware.

When we take the time to seek feedback about our state and behaviour from trusted advisors, it opens a window into our self, illuminating an area previously hidden from us.

This is just like any other muscle. The more we do it, the better we get at it. The better we get at it, the easier it gets to do it. This creates a positive flywheel which consistently improves our self awareness.

PS: Here are a few videos that I also found interesting and useful when it comes to ideas that can help us in improving our self awareness.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mukesh Gupta
I currently work for SAP as Customer advocate. In this capacity, I am responsible to ensure that the voice of the customer is being heard and play the bridge between customers and SAP. Prior to joining SAP, I have worked with different organizations serving in different functions like customer service, logistics, production planning & sales, marketing and business development functions. I was also the founder-CEO of a start-up called "Innovative Enterprises". The venture was in the retail & distribution business. I blog at


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