Self-Awareness: The Underappreciated Superpower of Effective Healthcare Leaders

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Many successful clinicians struggle in leadership roles. The same is true of promising administrators who take on management responsibilities. Why do clinical skill and technical knowledge fail to translate into effective leadership? The problem is often a lack of self-awareness.

Without self-awareness, you will never realize your full potential as a leader. Essentially, you will not see the weaknesses that are holding you back, and you will not understand the strengths that could drive your success. Here are three ways to cultivate self-awareness. 

1. Step Away From the Mirror and Open a Window

For some people, self-awareness connotes gazing in a mirror. But the mirror view is incomplete. To be truly self-aware, you need to see yourself through the eyes of others. Getting an outside perspective is the only way to identify the habits that undermine your leadership efforts.

The most effective tool for gaining an outside perspective is a 360-degree feedback assessment. Structured feedback from colleagues, direct reports, supervisors and others will illuminate both your weaknesses and your strengths. The process is challenging, but the self-awareness you gain from it will help you work with others more effectively. 

2. Realize Who You Are Feeding 

A question to ask yourself in becoming self-aware is what is your motivation in leading? Is it to accomplish a goal in collaboration with others? Or is it to feel good about yourself by receiving respect? For most people, the honest answer is a combination of both. The main point is that to the extent you focus on feeding your ego, you will not be serving the needs of others. 

The issue of motivation becomes very important when it comes to building consensus. Executives whose main drive is to be liked will tend to tell everyone what they want to hear. While openness is important, mere agreeableness leads nowhere. 

The key is self-awareness. Effective leaders understand their own convictions and act from their true values. This enables them to find common ground with others and build a durable foundation for organizational change. 

3. Understand the “Life Script” That Is Driving You


Life scripts are basic patterns of thought and action. Many people are familiar with introversion versus extroversion, but there are many similar patterns. There is no “right” script; however, unconscious life scripts can limit your ability to work with others.  

For example, say that the executive team at a community hospital is considering a proposal to launch a new program based on an innovative therapy. Leaders with a risk-tolerant life script want to dive in immediately, saying “This is cutting-edge” or “This will save lives.” Leaders with a risk-averse script want to hold back, saying “This costs too much” or “The science is uncertain.” 

The proposal in question may or may not be a good idea; the key is to debate the real issues, not wrangle over opposing life scripts. Self-awareness helps you understand your personal patterns so you can work with others to make effective leadership decisions.


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Lucy Zielinski

By Lucy Zielinski

Lucy specializes in helping health systems and medical groups achieve top financial and operational performance through physician-hospital alignment, including clinically integrated networks, practice transformation, coding and revenue cycle improvement, and physician leadership programs.