Why Self-Awareness Should Be Taught in B-school

Last Updated Dec 20, 2009 5:30 PM EST

Although studying oneself may seem more like a requirement for a psychology student than an MBA, acquiring thorough self-knowledge is key for business leaders wishing to capitalize on their assets and minimize their weaknesses.

So argues Pino Audia, an associate professor and faculty director of the Center for Leadership at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, in a piece he wrote this month for Forbes.com.

Tuck's Center for Leadership has developed a whole curriculum devoted to self-study. Audia writes, "We recognize that leaders aren't jacks-of-all-trades who share an ideal set of traits; everyone excels at some tasks more than at others. Effective leadership lies in using this realization to build on your strengths and reduce any potential harm from your deficiencies. That's what we call self-awareness."

Audia also emphasizes the need to learn situational awareness, recognizing "what a particular situation demands and then aligning your leadership style or behavior to react accordingly, by matching your skills to that situation."
Barriers to self-awareness
Both inflated self-views and the tendency to filter out negative information hinder self-awareness and our ability to change our style depending on the situation. Audia mentions John McCain as one leader who suffered a lapse in self-awareness during last year's economic crisis, acting true to his maverick image and acting impulsively when a bit of prudence may have served him better. Audia argues this may have even been a factor costing him the election.

How to learn self-awareness
Learning to incorporate others' views about ourselves is key to self-awareness. Students at the Center for Leadership achieve this through a blend of peer feedback, peer coaching and simulations. Peer coaching is especially effective "because when people are coaching one another they are far more likely to be open to feedback," Audia writes.

So what's the payoff of teaching self-awareness at b-school? According to Audia, "That awareness helps our students develop the qualities of flexibility and adaptability that are crucial for anyone who wants to be a more effective leader."

The Thinker, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.