Career Experience & Success Can Cloud Our Self-Awareness

There is no denying that experience can lead to greater knowledge. However, the cautionary tale is to resist becoming overconfident after several years with a company or in a job or after achieving some success. To maintain self-awareness, we need to remain open to learning from past mistakes, new ideas from others, and different opinions.

Career success seems to create overconfidence, which lowers our self-awareness, arguably when we need it most. Several research studies back this cautionary tale.

One study found that more experienced managers inaccurately assessed their leadership effectiveness compared to less experienced managers.1

Another study compared the self-awareness of leaders at different levels or authority within an organization. Higher-level managers vastly overestimate their skills and abilities compared to lower-level managers. The higher-level managers overvalued their skills in 19 out of the 20 competencies measured, including self-awareness.2

Complete self-awareness includes both clearly understanding or knowing ourselves, which is internal self-awareness. And understanding how others view our actions or external self-awareness.



A key element to successful external self-awareness is feedback. Our actions or behaviors are not always interpreted as we intend, so we need others to tell us how we “show-up.”

Feedback, specifically the lack of fit, is the primary reason someone might become overconfident in their abilities as they gain experience and more responsibilities in the workplace.

Senior leaders naturally have fewer people who can provide candid feedback. And fewer people are willing to provide constructive feedback to individuals who can impact, especially negatively, their careers.

As we advance in our careers, especially to leadership positions, we need to seek feedback actively. Anonymous feedback is helpful and can be achieved by 360-degree reviews. But the most successful leaders identify people, or trusted advisors, who are willing to provide an honest critic of their behaviors, actions, and attitudes. Because trusted advisors have the leader’s best interest at heart, they offer guidance and suggestions that will raise the leader’s self-awareness, ensuring they perform at their best.

Even in senior leadership positions, trusted advisors can be found all around, peers, board members, direct reports, lower-level employees, managers if you have one, etc.

The most critical aspect of this process is a willingness to listen. Sometimes as individuals gain power, they become less willing to listen to others. Remaining open-minded and listening to feedback, and the diversity of ideas always leads to something greater than we can achieve on our own.

A willingness to seek out, listen to, and adjust based on feedback raises self-awareness and makes leaders more effective.


1.Cheri Ostroff, Leanne E. Atwater, and Barbara J. Fein- berg, “Understanding Self-Other Agreement: A Look at Rater and Ratee Characteristics, Context, and Out- comes,” Personnel Psychology 57, no. 2 (June 2004):

2. Fabio Sala, “Executive Blind Spots: Discrepancies Be- tween Self- and Other-Ratings,” Consulting Psychology Journal: Practices and Research 55, no. 4 (September 2003): 222–229.