Can You Be Too Self Aware?
Unpacking this confounding behavior
Self-awareness is a superpower. I live by this edict. Recently more and more folks have told me they’re too self-aware. According to this unscientific poll, nearly a third of us see ourselves this way. As with so many things, it’s about balance. As I’ve written about here and here, more is not always more. Sometimes more is too much. A healthy habit loses its effectiveness, transforming into something far less helpful.
When people say they’re too self-aware it’s a proxy for something else. I have some theories about what people mean when they say this.
A sense of responsibility
Some develop high self-awareness because they feel a sense of responsibility to meet some goal — imagined or real. They're the person in the group project who organized the work and propped others up who weren’t carrying their weight. They carry a deep sense of responsibility to goals and others. This mindset heightens their self-awareness. In this state of mind, it’s easy to misjudge where their responsibility ends and others' starts. They take all the responsibility for disagreements rather than seeing it as an interaction. Or they take on all the work rather than holding others responsible for their part. It’s like their brain is stuck in the on position. Eventually, they exhaust themselves.
This type tends to have a high degree of self-monitoring. This can lead to not trusting themselves and a lack of confidence. Their vigilance about how others perceive them is exhausting. They often fall into people-pleasing making them hyper-aware of their behavior. They wonder if they said the right thing, if they did the right thing. Not wanting to disappoint others they try to be everything to everyone. In the process, they transform into chameleons. This pleases no one. When done to an extreme, this behavior makes them look fake or lacking confidence. Their reputation suffers.
Some who say they’re too self-aware mean they’re too self-conscious. They lack inner confidence and trust in themselves to make good choices. They focus on doing the right thing, making the perfect decision. They live in black and white binaries of the theoretical world rather than the in shades of gray of reality. Binary thinking traps them inside their mind forever searching for the one answer. The dangerous rocks on the shore perfectionism lure them in again and again. Second-guessing themselves leads them to overthink every decision. Unless the cycle is short-circuited, they become paralyzed by overthinking.
The connection to leadership
All share a propensity for high self-monitoring and hyper-vigilance. We may think we want our leaders to be hyper self-aware but this can be defeating. Those who are hyper-aware constantly scan the environment for clues on how to act. This behavior is useful, to a point. It breaks down when it becomes the dominant behavior. A once helpful habit turns paralyzing.
Leaders who are too self-aware try to please everyone. They worry about making the wrong choice. Indecision sets in. They search for weeks and months on end for the unquestionable answer. In leadership these rarely exist, making the search fruitless. The team becomes frustrated as they sit in limbo. The team loses faith, trust erodes. Distrust sets in, apathy ensues, friction builds. Over time, they become less trusted and ultimately, less effective.
That’s not to say leaders should stop being introspective. Leaders need self-awareness to observe the external environment and course-correct when needed. The key is knowing when the balance has tipped over into something unhealthy.
As a leader, I found it easy to slip into obsessively monitoring my behavior. I worried about how the decisions I made might affect others. I tried to get it right all the time. Given this, I don’t feel equipped to advise except to say that finding the right balance is a part of the leadership journey. If you work at it consciously you’re more likely to find it.
Until next time, be well.
If this piece resonated with you, please let me know and give the heart button below a tap.