Self-awareness for sustainable business leadership

Self-awareness for sustainable business leadership

Understanding how your reactions to change affect others is critical

The world as we know it has shifted, that is very clear. Because of this, our lives, careers and businesses have also shifted. We can even say that we have changed, but have we adjusted to the changes for the better?

When we face major change and uncertainty, it is only natural for us to react immediately to the situation. We don’t necessarily think about how we’re reacting and how we’re affecting those we’re reacting to. But have we ever stopped to think whether our actions create positive impact?

For businesses, this is where a better understanding of being “conscious” and being “self-aware” becomes crucial. They are two very different things, and the difference between them could drive a business toward downfall or sustainable success. 

Being conscious is about simply being aware of the environment and the situation around you. This could be the context that our business is in or the situation our world has fallen into. Our consciousness is about knowing but it doesn’t necessarily mean we are contemplating or taking immediate or appropriate action.

On the other hand, being self-aware is the next step from being conscious. Once we become aware of our circumstances, we don’t necessarily think that how we react matters, especially if we feel it doesn’t affect us and our business. But being self-aware is the ability to observe and understand ourselves – our thoughts, habits, behaviours, actions and so on.

Simply put, consciousness is the understanding of our environment, but self-awareness is the recognition of these conscious thoughts and channelling them toward positive change. With consciousness, we may not make changes in our daily actions and thus may remain the same, but with self-awareness, we know we must make those changes because they matter.

Here is why understanding these differences is crucial. Business leaders can understand that the recent major changes in our world have affected businesses in drastic ways. Because of this growing pressure we face, we are also forced to pressure our people to drive greater results. In our minds, the intention is to ensure the business is still running so that we can still support our people’s livelihoods as best as we can.

However, while you as a business leader may see the situation this way, it may not be seen in the same way by your people. Our intentions as leaders are good, but the impact might not be as positive as we hope or think it will be. The reason is that we have only reacted to the situation without understanding how it would affect others.

In other words, we haven’t been truly self-aware enough to create the positive impact toward a desired result. This causes our people to react purely based on the way we are treating them, and this causes a chain reaction. It puts them “in the box” where people are no longer receptive to their leaders because of how they’ve been treated. This in turn puts leaders “in the box”, where they feel their people aren’t working toward expectations. This is a natural reaction.

Now that we understand the difference and why it matters, what can business leaders do to unlock greater leadership to create better business results? They can first invite themselves to step out of the usual way of thinking, not only to understand changes but also to embrace them in order to drive something different in the organisation. 

To begin, here are some things to think about when becoming more self-aware. First, reflect on how you have been leading your business. The reaction you have, even in its simplest forms, does matter in terms of the effect it has on your people. 

Second, don’t be afraid of feedback. Self-reflection can help you see your own reactions but that’s not enough. You may need to open yourself to feedback to truly understand your impact on others.

Finally, plan and execute ways to not only adjust yourself appropriately to the situation for your own sake and that of your people. This brings together the concepts of consciousness and self-awareness. 

Being self-aware is about understanding what we can do differently based on our consciousness of the situation. We cannot empower change if we do not first look at ourselves and our impact to those around us. As business leaders, it is quite important to consider this reality as it affects the overall performance of the business, both in terms of growth and revenue.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC – Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at or Explore and experience our lifelong learning ecosystem today at

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