Enhancing leadership through self-awareness

Written by Tash Willocks, Head of Learning Design, TPXimpact

What I’ve learnt through working with leaders in the digital, creative and design sectors is that a leader can learn skills, tools, tricks and read many books. But, if they are not self-aware, they’ll usually find they’re ‘doing’ leadership rather than ‘being’ a leader.

To be a successful leader, mindset is key, and the first step in developing that mindset is understanding your strengths, weaknesses and the tensions between them. 


Understanding the Johari Window

The Johari Window, created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, is a powerful model designed to enhance self-awareness. It delineates the visible and invisible aspects of ourselves to us and others.

Despite being over 50 years old, its relevance remains important in today’s digital landscape, where soft skills, empathy, cooperation, and interpersonal development are highly valued. For leaders, understanding and applying the Johari Window can significantly enhance their effectiveness.

The Johari window is made up of four areas, the Open Arena, Hidden, Blind and Unknown. 


The open arena

The Open Arena represents what is known about yourself and what is known by others. It includes behaviours, emotions, skills, behaviours and worldviews. Here, we are looking through the lens of what we openly share in the workplace, and strengthening this area fosters transparency and mutual understanding within teams. 

For leaders, this can mean communicating vision, values, and strategic direction. But it’s also important to show you care about the organisation’s purpose, the team and the individuals in it. This transparency in decision-making and being open about your experiences and challenges can build trust, empathy and credibility among your team members.

Continuous learning and leading by example are vital in the Open Arena. If you are not willing to openly evidence the need to keep learning, why should the team?


The hidden

The Hidden Area contains what is known about yourself but kept secret from others. Sharing stories and anecdotes with your team and peers can strengthen connections, while actively listening to stories shared back can help your team feel heard and build trust.

This is also where fears, sensitivities, and secret agendas hide, which can be addressed by voicing concerns to trusted peers.

The blind spot

The Blind Spot consists of what others know about you that you are unaware of. Expanding the understanding of this area requires soliciting feedback from others. Timely, specific feedback helps growth and fosters a culture of continuous improvement and reciprocal evaluation within teams. 

As Ed Batista says: “We can’t just sit back and wait for feedback to be offered, particularly when we’re in a leadership role. If we want feedback to take root in the culture, we need to explicitly ask for it.”


The unknown

This is what you don’t know about yourself and others don’t know about you. It involves exploring new experiences, being brave and following your curiosity, this can reveal hidden talents or unconscious biases.

This isn’t an easy area to explore. As a leader, you need to create a psychologically safe space for you and your team to stretch. This encourages the team to venture into this zone, supported by feedback and storytelling/personal disclosure.

As you stretch into the three spaces, widening the open arena into the hidden, blind and unknown areas, you’ll learn about yourself and raise your self-awareness. 


Applying the Johari Window to digital leadership

Now we have an understanding of the Johari Window, how can leaders in the digital space apply it to their work? Storytelling is a powerful tool here. Stories can bring complex ideas to life, help people share experiences, and support leaders to inspire their teams. They can be used to articulate the organisation or team’s vision, highlight successes, and communicate lessons learned from failures.

As a leader, it can be easy to become guarded and not open up, but this can sometimes appear aloof or cold. Sharing personal and professional anecdotes, vulnerabilities, challenges, disclosing relevant information, and the fun stuff, can help build trust and deepen connections with your team. You learn about yourself by reflecting on the stories you tell while creating connections with others and becoming more approachable, which in turn helps build trust and psychological safety. It’s crucial, however, to strike a balance and only share what is comfortable for the sharer and the listener, avoiding overly private details. 

Feedback is also essential for personal and professional growth, and this is especially true for leaders working on digital projects. Constructive feedback helps identify blind spots and areas for improvement, fostering a culture of continuous learning and development.

Leaders should create regular feedback loops, such as one-on-one meetings, reviews, and anonymous surveys, to gather insights from their team members. By actively seeking and valuing feedback, they can demonstrate their commitment to improvement and create an environment where feedback is normalised and appreciated. 

Lastly, psychological safety is crucial. The Johari Window raises self-awareness by helping you become aware of how others see you in contrast to how you see yourself. With this knowledge, leaders can start creating a psychologically safe zone for themselves to evidence curiosity and vulnerability and take risks and responsibility.

Psychological safety can also allow teams to explore new ideas and innovate without fear of negative consequences. This space needs to be inclusive where everyone feels valued and heard, echoing back to the thoughtful sharing in the ‘hidden arena’. Leaders should encourage open dialogue, recognise contributions, and respond to mistakes with support and curiosity rather than blame. They should model vulnerability by sharing their uncertainties and learning experiences, demonstrating it’s okay to not have all the answers.

Effective leadership is about more than skills—it’s about self-awareness. By using the Johari Window, leaders in the digital space can boost transparency, trust, and continuous learning. By being open, they’ll inspire and enable teams and move from ‘doing’ leadership to truly being a leader.

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