Creating A Culture Of Self-Awareness

Creating A Culture Of Self-Awareness
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The Talent Optimization Authority

Business leaders need to better understand what drives people problems like disengagement and burnout, as they navigate hybrid work environments. And in doing so, employees look to leaders who can balance experience with humility, and self-awareness with strategic acumen.

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How Do We Propose Getting There?

My article will reinforce the importance of self-awareness as a leader. As companies build out hybrid workplaces, transparency and vulnerability become vital to establishing trust. Behavioral data affords awareness at the individual, team, and organization levels.

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But leaders create this culture from the top, and only if leadership is willing to take the journey. In this piece, I’ll discuss approaching self-awareness in three key phases:

  1. Acknowledgement
  2. Ownership
  3. Commitment


One case study I will explore is the “Front of T-Shirt/Back of T-Shirt” concept. This concept was popularized by James Allen at Bain & Co.

If you’ve reached a position of leadership, it’s thanks to the things on the front of your T-shirt. These are the traits that your parents, teachers, and colleagues have raved about all your life.

But can you articulate the things that are holding you back? Do you know what people say about you when you walk away from the table? If you’re a people manager, the things on the back of your T-shirt may prevent you from establishing meaningful feedback loops, or getting discretionary effort from engaged employees. 

And if you struggled with that sort of awareness in an in-person setting, it won’t be any easier once you’ve got four in the room and four on Zoom.

To identify these Back-of-T-Shirt traits, you need to go on a journey toward self-awareness. Adopt the mindset that you can always add to your tool chest.


Don’t minimize your Back-of-T-Shirt traits. If someone asked you to articulate the areas you need to improve, and how they show up, would you blame external factors? Would you reference the circumstances or situation in which they manifested?

The only path to true improvement is through ownership. If you model that sort of behavior as a leader, people will take notice. It will promote followership and the sort of trickle-down cultural awareness that’s at the core of talent optimization.

You’ll start to see leaders at all levels---people who are invested in the betterment of the organization because they are investing in and owning their self-improvement process.


To be the best leader you can be, you must commit to the lifelong journey. On your best days, you feel those Back-of-T-Shirt triggers, and you can remove yourself from the situation.

Committed leaders display vulnerability. Commitment also means creating space for open conversation. Separate bonus compensation from career development and professional growth. Set the tone by being open and transparent as a leader.

If the whole company goes on this journey together, people will trust each other. And they’ll be more inclined to offer each other the benefit of the doubt.

The Culture Of Self-Awareness: A By-product Of Talent Optimization

In an effort to model this transparency, we dissect my own behavioral pattern:


Leaders that achieve self awareness can do much more than just think twice before speaking over others. They can inform the design of an entire organization. They balance leadership teams and build hard-to-quantify traits like trust and grit.

We’ve discussed the benefits of these principles with leaders in every corner of the business world, and executives like Richard Levin, a legendary executive coach, now working with the Center for Applied Research, have provided proof of payoff. Levin has championed the idea that self aware leaders are better coaches, adept at playing to a person’s strengths and bringing out their most engaged selves.

In this piece, we’ll walk through the science that informs this discipline, offering insights for any leadership team that could benefit from better understanding its people.

With burnout and disengagement on the rise, and more employees realizing they’d rather quit than suffer ill-fitting jobs, that applies to just about every leadership team.

About the Author

Mike Zani is the CEO of The Predictive Index, a former U.S. Olympic Sailing coach, a serial business acquirer, a Harvard Business School grad, and the author of The Science of Dream Teams; How Talent Optimization Can Drive Engagement, Productivity, and Happiness. He is a leading voice and practitioner of talent optimization, the discipline that makes hiring, motivating, and managing people more effective than ever before.

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