Self Awareness is Your Secret Weapon

When I was a fifth year associate at a large law firm, a big opportunity fell into my lap. A former colleague at a firm I previously worked at had moved on to an assistant general counsel position at a large Tier 1 auto supplier. He was in charge of the company’s “troubled supplier” issues, and contacted me about the possibility of taking on the work. It was a significant, career-trajectory altering, high six figures in annual billings opportunity.

As I began the process of evaluating the hoops to jump through – conflicts, in particular – to bring in the business, a number of other lawyers at the firm surfaced who claimed pre-existing relationships with individuals in the legal department at the potential client. If the work came in, they argued, they should receive origination credit. I remember clearly the ten-plus lawyer conference call that was scheduled to discuss conflicts and credit. Ostensibly the call was organized to discuss the opportunity that I was presented with, but I barely got a word in.

Eventually, I just gave up. It seemed like there were too many hands in the honey pot. The opportunity went elsewhere.

I spent a lot of time afterward complaining about what I perceived to be an unfair process. Clearly it was in the best interest of the firm to bring the work in, rather than having it go to a competitor. But instead of supporting me in going after the work, there was just a bunch of infighting. It was like a circular firing squad. Or at least that’s how I saw it at the time.

Looking back, the truth is that I was just feeling sorry for myself and never went after the work as aggressively as I should have. Faced with resistance, I shrunk from the conflict and spent more time recriminating to my fellow non-business producing colleagues about the unfairness of it all, then I did trying to work through the issues. I used the ambition of my business producing colleagues as a scapegoat for my own lack of ambition.

In short, I lacked not only ambition, but also self awareness.

Self awareness is a critical trait among most successful lawyers. It’s what allows us to recognize and leverage our strengths. And it’s what helps us avoid the self-delusion of thinking we’re incapable of making mistakes. Know any lawyers who constantly blame others – particularly those junior to them – when things go awry? Of course you do. This is a glaring symptom of self unawareness.

According to Anthony Kjan in a piece written for the Harvard Business Review, self awareness “lies at the root of strong character, giving us the ability to lead with a sense of purpose, authenticity, openness, and trust. It explains our successes and our failures. And by giving us a better understanding of who we are, self-awareness lets us better understand what we need most from other people, to complement our own deficiencies in leadership.”

At the core of a lawyer who has strong self awareness is the ability to understand strengths and weaknesses. And it’s not just the ability to understand them, but also to accept them.

Self aware lawyers, therefore, are typically those who have the strongest personal brands. They don’t spend their time playing the comparison game with others in an effort to see where they stack up. They go all in on their strengths and develop contentment about their weaknesses. They first audit themselves, before they present themselves for audit to the marketplace.

We can lie to ourselves about who we are, but it’s almost impossible to lie to the market. To be strong, be self aware.

Need help auditing your own strengths and weaknesses? I recently created a Personal Brand Self-Assessment Workbook that will help you to build a strong personal brand foundation for yourself. It’s free, and available here to download. Are you already a subscriber to Simply Stated? Shoot me an email at and I’ll send you a PDF directly (the download on my site is only available to new email subscribers).