Why self-awareness is a double-edged sword

4 min readJul 8, 2021

And why Medium encourages us to perform insight but not actually find it

Photo by Rohan Makhecha on Unsplash

Managers, leaders and coaches all ask us to show how well we understand ourselves. Why aren’t we improving our results? How can we change our mindset and fix a relationship with a colleague? What more can we do to serve? Growth is our collective goal. Managers and leaders understand that to excel, to get the best out of people, they need to create a growth mindset, develop staff, enable innovation.

Don’t get me wrong. These are all good things. Our teams and organisations should create the right environment for people to develop a growth mindset because it helps boost resilience, letting individuals and groups bounce back after failures. Staff should be able to develop their skills and careers, whatever their current role, and HBR recently put learning and development as a top-3 priority for attracting and keeping the best future talent. Innovation is the best way to keep adding value for customers and employees alike, and it almost always comes through disruptive thinking that generates new insights. So we do have to think deeply about how we do things and why.

But the persistent demands for self-awareness are exhausting. From self-assessment and personal reflection in appraisals to mindfulness practices urged on us as self-care, particularly during the pandemic. Can our brains really generate the endless stream of insight and understanding to meet these demands?

In her Time to Think, Nancy Kline suggests that you “can tell when a person has just moved from let-me-please-you thinking back to their own mind — they go from soporific to scintillating just like that”. And as much as I’d like to think this is true, I’m not sure that it always is. I think, actually, we are all getting increasingly skilled at performing let-me-please-you thinking that looks deep (or deep enough). Perhaps it even feels deep, feels genuine. You’re building a relationship by sharing your thoughts, and that always feels good. But is it any different from building a relationship and feeling good by, for example, being a Yes Man to your boss, which no good manager or leader would now demand, and no good career coach would recommend?!


HE operations manager; Coach; Writer of many things; Runner. In no particular order.