Dr. Tasha Eurich has a PhD in Organizational Psychology; has contributed to The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, and CNBC.com; and is a New York Times bestselling author. She has also spent the last 15 years helping thousands improve their self-awareness and therefore also their success. And since Dr. Eurich realized that insight (aka self-awareness) was highly developable, she decided to write a book to help thousands more.
In Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life, she shares how we can all become more self-aware and how we can help others do so as well. And since most of us will have a self-delusion or two we’re better off without, this is an important read for us all.
1. Why did you first become interested in the topic of self-awareness? And what made you decide to write this book? Why now?
I’ve always been a passionate student of self-awareness, but I can trace the decision to write Insight (and to start the research program it’s based on) to two things. The first was an executive I coached—let’s call him Steve—for whom gaining self-awareness was literally the difference between near-failure and spectacular success. Steve went from being completely unaware of who he was as a leader and how his team saw him (prior to our coaching) to a lifelong student of self-awareness who harnessed that knowledge to become more successful, effective, and in control of his destiny. I remember thinking, If Steve came this far, I bet almost anyone else can do the same thing.
But when I started to look at the scientific research on how to increase self-awareness, I was stunned by how little we actually knew! Many management thinkers were spouting platitudes like “self-awareness is the secret to professional success”—but few if any were examining exactly how to get more of it. So, three years ago, my research team and I set out on a journey to hack the code of self-awareness. Our discoveries surprised me at nearly every turn. In fact, much of what people think improves our self-awareness can often have the opposite effect.
2. How did you come up with the seven pillars? Why seven and why these? Were there others that were top contenders but did not make it into the list?
Part of our research involved studying people who had made dramatic improvements in their level of self-awareness. We transcribed and analyzed hundreds of pages of interviews and began to organize our data into themes. Consistently, self-aware people tended to understand their values, passions, aspirations, ideal environment (which I call fit), patterns of behavior, strengths and weaknesses, and their impact on others. We then applied these findings to create what we believe is the most comprehensive self-awareness assessment out there. This took about a year longer than I anticipated it would, but really—how do we begin to help people improve their self-awareness if we didn’t know exactly what it was?
3. How is self-awareness related to high EQ? Is it a direct relationship and does it work both ways? How about self-awareness and self-acceptance? Of these three, which one do you think is most important and why?
Let’s start with the relationship between self-awareness and EQ—I get this question a lot. The simple answer is that whereas EQ is primarily about awareness and regulation of emotions in ourselves and others, self-awareness is a broader term: it covers our internal characteristics that go beyond emotions—specifically, the Seven Pillars of Insight—as well as how we’re seen by other people.
The skills of self-awareness and self-acceptance are inextricably linked. Our research has shown that highly self-aware people don’t just see themselves clearly, but also with kindness and compassion. That’s the ideal—to be high in both self-awareness and self-acceptance. Conversely, being high in one without the other is limiting: imagine someone who loves themselves but has no self-awareness—they’re limiting their relationships or their career without even knowing it. Or someone who is self-aware but doesn’t accept who they are. They might beat themselves up for their shortcomings or be so self-critical that their self-awareness becomes a liability. But when we can see ourselves clearly, completely, and compassionately—that’s where the magic happens.
4. I enjoyed reading about how an authentic leader can help his team become and remain self-aware. You also discussed the various options one has when dealing with someone who is deluded, but these are of course more difficult when the deluded person is your boss. Are there warning signs to look for when interviewing?
One of the most inconvenient self-awareness truths is that other people’s journeys are not ours to take. For that reason, if you can help it, it’s best to avoid working for such a person altogether. The biggest thing to look for during the interview process is whether he or she takes responsibility for his or her limitations and imperfections. You might ask, “What would your team say are the best and worst things about working for you?” or “What’s the biggest stumbling block you’ve personally experienced working at this company and what did it teach you?”
If your potential boss is willing to admit that he or she isn’t perfect, you’re in the game. But if they can’t acknowledge their weaknesses, put themselves in their employees’ shoes, or be honest about their struggles, it’s a pretty big red flag.
5. In your years of coaching others to become more self-aware, has there ever been a client who failed to become self-aware? Can you explain why you think this happened?
I can think of one—a mid-level manager who couldn’t get out of his own way. The situation had all the ingredients of a coaching success story. The manager knew his current approach wasn’t working, he trusted me, and saw the coaching assignment as a positive opportunity for his growth and development. At the beginning of our work together, he showed encouraging improvements in reading how he was showing up and engaging with his team.
But as the weeks went on, he seemed to lose the energy to keep up his new level of self-awareness. He stopped getting feedback from his team, reflecting on the outcomes of his choices, and questioning his view of reality. Soon, he was slipping back into his old behaviors.
In this tale lies an important a lesson—it’s not enough to just hire an executive coach, or to take a 360, or to ask a coworker for feedback one time. The process of getting and staying self-aware is a pursuit that lasts a lifetime. Case in point: my research team and I found that the people who work the hardest on their self-awareness are the people who are self-aware already!
6. Thank you for the 7-Day Insight Challenge and the useful exercises in the appendix. If someone didn’t have seven days, what is the one most important thing they can do to improve their self-awareness? And what is the one thing that will help him or her maintain this self-awareness?`
You’re welcome! What a great question. Let me begin with an important caveat. We live in a world where we want quick fixes for our problems. But the path to self-awareness simply isn’t a one and done activity. It’s literally a lifelong commitment (which, personally, is what I find so exciting about it: no matter how much you know, there’s always more to learn!).
For that reason, I’ll suggest what I think is the first step we can all take, and that’s to commit to becoming “braver but wiser.” This means being willing to question our own assumptions about who we really are; mustering the energy to learn to see ourselves clearly, completely, and compassionately; discovering that the way others see us doesn’t always line up with how we see ourselves (for better or for worse!). This is first and foremost a mindset—one that, frankly, many people don’t adopt. But even though it’s easier to see ourselves with rose colored glasses, or avoid seeking the truth because it feels better in the short term, self-awareness is truly the secret weapon to success and happiness in the 21st century.