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Level up: Improving leadership through self-reflection

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A good manager is priceless for a company. Leadership competence shows itself in many facets. Good managers can lead people, inspire them, and work with them to achieve corporate goals. They have foresight in complex issues and the courage to risk something new. But above all, excellent managers have social skills and the ability to reflect on themselves and their leadership behavior. Read this article to find out why self-reflection helps to improve leadership skills.

The structure of companies

A few decades ago, corporate structures were still very different. According to the SOEP report of the German Institute for Economic Research, the number of managers in 2013 was lower than in 2002. There is a raw feeling that more and more employees have to take on management tasks. Every employee should learn to lead himself/herself and take on areas of responsibility that were previously under the leadership of his/her superior manager. Accordingly, more people now want leadership skills because they find themselves in positions that require different fields of activity and personality traits.

That is one reason why the market for literature on leadership development and finding one's leadership style is currently booming. The basic literature is varied, but mostly I miss the aspect of self-reflection in all the guidebooks.

What does self-reflection mean?

Self-reflection is the cognitive ability to think about oneself. The corporate context is about asking oneself questions about one's own leadership behavior, the vision within the company, and personal values. Working on oneself" thus means adjusting to one's fellow human beings (regardless of their position in the corporate context) and cultivating a relationship with them. Also, in self-reflection, one becomes aware of how one affects other people and how one can learn to be more self-confident and emphatic. One becomes aware of one's role and relationship patterns and is more likely to break them so that bad habits do not become entrenched.

The courage to face the truth

Self-reflection is painful but useful. Recognizing our own (wrong) decisions, strengths, and weaknesses make us more self-confident in what we do. We realize what effect we have on our counterpart, in which situations we should have reacted differently and which interpersonal skills make us better leaders.

But self-reflection is also a painful experience because we as individuals always try to protect ourselves. The self (me) is formed from about the age of two. At this age, children can be observed recognizing themselves in a mirror. Initially, it includes purely physical sensations such as appearance, age, and gender. Later, worldview, social roles, and values are added and shape self-evaluation. Thus, the self-concept encompasses all the qualities and characteristics that define me as an individual and develops from interpersonal interactions, therefore going beyond the self's purely biological view (I).

As an individual, you form a concept of who you are, from your fellow human beings' reactions and attributions towards yourself, your memories, and your actions. When this is shaken at its core, one takes up a defensive position to maintain one's own self. That is why it is difficult for us to reflect on ourselves and let this protective cover fall. Through this defensive attitude, we try to maintain our self-esteem, which is often the result of an external judgment based on outward appearances and abilities in today's individualistic and narcissistic Western culture.

How can I reflect on myself as a manager?

First of all, it is essential to ask yourself fundamental questions.

  • What makes a good manager?
  • And how do I want to be as a manager? (Perhaps you already know outstanding leaders from your immediate environment and can derive characteristics that make this person such an exemplary leader).
  • What are my irrevocable core attitudes?
  • How do I perceive myself in interactions as a leader? (self-assessment)
  • And how do my employees and colleagues perceive me? (external evaluation) (in this context, you can ask yourself again whether you are satisfied with the result, whether self- and external evaluation fit well together or whether you perhaps have a different image of yourself than others have of you)

Once you have answered these fundamental questions, you can better assess your impact on others and relate it to your ideal self. You can work on the fact that you soon radiate your positively associated qualities as a good leader. Also, surveys within a company are an excellent opportunity to use the feedback for your self-reflection.

Conclusion on improving leadership through self-reflection

In the company, your reflection will be well received by your fellow men. You are not indifferent to how your employees perceive your management style, but you put a lot of weight on your employees' external evaluations. If you relate external and self-assessments to each other, your management style will be strengthened and appear more consistent with the outside world. You are, so to speak, "at peace with yourself", which is also reflected in your decision-making in complex situations. Once you have critically examined your goals, values, and patterns of action, these thoughts will no longer hinder your working memory in the corporate context. You have "air" for essential verbal and nonverbal information from your environment.


If you miss the first buttonhole, you will not succeed in buttoning up your coat.

by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



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Portrait Katharina Raichle


Katharina Raichle
Marketing / Consulting

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