Conscious Leadership And The Overview Effect: How To Build Internal And External Self-Awareness

What is conscious leadership? Let’s first look at the definition of consciousness: the quality or state of being aware, especially of something within oneself, and the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact. Simply stated: it’s about being awake and aware of your surroundings while also being aware of your own inner landscape.

Put yourself under a microscope and venture into all areas of yourself, everything you do, from the choices and decisions you make to the inner self-talk that promotes your beliefs and your perspectives on the world around you and even yourself. In my work as an executive coach, this is the heart and soul behind the tools and skills I have crafted. I am a shrewd observer of human behavior and am aware most lack a deep understanding of themselves and others. To be a conscious leader then requires a deep dive into oneself, while being aware of the outer landscape and how your behavior affects others.

Now, let’s look at the overview effect, a term and concept coined by Frank White in his book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution. The overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness, and when this happens, it can create a powerful shift in how we think about our surroundings, our connection to life and others and, finally, how we think about Earth. Becoming conscious leaders does require a shift in awareness and our connections to ourselves and our environment. Raising your consciousness is about gaining greater self-awareness, which is challenging because we often do not want to look at some things about ourselves.


What do you think is the most challenging area in self-awareness? It is uncovering your blind spots. There is a sequence of events regarding blind spots — what I refer to as the one-two punch of blind spots. First, you are triggered, and then you react, unaware of how others are perceiving your response. Your blind spot and reaction to being triggered reside within and how your response affects others is your impact on your environment. Blind spots are also the biggest challenge because you can become triggered in many different ways.

I use this analogy with my clients: The disco ball has hundreds of tiny mirrors on it and your blind spot can become triggered from many different approaches, just like all the tiny mirrors. And like the size of those mirrors, it is hard to see it coming.

A client came to me because it was brought to his attention how, during stressful times, he becomes curt, verging on being rude to his direct reports. In our work together, he was unaware of his behavior and the impact on his team. A dangerous aspect of his trigger was he held things in rather than asserting himself in the moment. I pointed out to him that when we bottle up our emotions, eventually, we will explode and be aggressive. Instead, it’s better to assert ourselves in the moment. Learning his blind spot and being conscious of what triggered it started his journey toward conscious leadership.

Emotional Response

Here is where self-awareness of your emotions and the feelings you are experiencing from an event become crucial. Allow yourself to feel the emotions and then ask yourself, “What can I do differently than my usual response to a trigger?” Do you become defensive? Harsh? Go silent? It doesn’t matter. Instead, step into the situation, first by reflecting on what you heard the person say. Doing this keeps you from allowing the emotional response from getting a foothold. Reflecting back also gives you time to consider how you want to respond, if at all. This step helps you manage your emotions while making you aware of the emotions of others. In this way, you are taking the first major step toward conscious leadership.

Conscious Leadership And The Overview Effect

Now, let’s combine everything we just discussed with the overview effect. Once you manage your emotions, you can take a step back and read the room. Observe body language, tone, and how people appear to be feeling. If you are in a meeting, try to determine the emotional tone of the room in general. When you do this, you are connecting on a different level and getting outside of yourself. It’s a small world in this environment and it’s all about connection. It’s not just about who you know and the role you play; it’s more about relationships. Conscious leadership is about connecting to yourself and to others and your surroundings.

Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone

The final component to conscious leadership is keeping an open and flexible mindset. A conscious leader who is open-minded invites innovation. We all prefer to stay where we are comfortable, but the more we stretch ourselves, the more aware we become — and that is the epitome of conscious leadership.

In essence, becoming more self-aware is not enough. You need inner self-awareness and external self-awareness. Both will stretch you in ways you never imagined.

Just the other day, one of my clients said, “This is dangerous territory.” Dangerous? No, necessary. Take a 30-day challenge and work on one area for increased self-awareness. Finally, open yourself up to the feedback you receive to spur you on.

This article originally appeared on Forbes and is published here with author permission.


Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph. D., International Executive Coach, Psychotherapist is a select Columnist & Featured Contributor for BIZCATALYST 360° and a Member of the Forbes Coaches Council (comprised of Top coaches offering insights on leadership development & careers), and founder of Success Starts with You. She was recently chosen to receive the Empowered Woman of the Year Award for 2021 given by the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP). She also received the honor as the top international coach of the year in 2020 by the IAOTP. She provides visionary leadership in her field and her many credentials prove she has the ability to empower women worldwide. Her exemplary role as a female professional in a male-dominated industry displays her influence, capability, and proficiency. Inclusion with the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP) is an honor in itself, only a few women are chosen for this distinction based on their years of experience, professional accomplishments, academic achievements, leadership abilities, and contributions to their communities. With innovation and compassion, these women empower others to reach their goals, while creating change for future generations. With over 2 decades of professional experience as a business coach and psychotherapist, Dr. Fouts has proven herself as an accomplished professional and expert in the field. As a dynamic, results-driven leader, Dr. Fouts has demonstrated success not only as an Executive Business Coach, but in every role she has held. Prior to executive coaching and leadership development, Melinda has been in private practice as a psychotherapist for over 20 years. She leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness. Owner and founder of Success Starts with You, is based upon the premise that you are already successful. Increasing self-awareness to increase emotional intelligence and unlocking blind spots are paramount to continued success. Dr. Fouts leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness and discovering their blind spots. It can be lonely at the top and as a thought partner, she makes sure you are not alone. Dr. Fouts’ unique approach from other business coaches is that she helps get rid of thinking and behavioral patterns that tend to keep executives stuck. Her key areas of expertise include but are not limited to: small business consulting, enhancing emotional intelligence, self-awareness, unlocking fullest potential, brainstorming, identifying limitations, challenges, obstacles and optimizing performance. In addition, her successful career as a Psychotherapist and International Executive Business Coach, Dr. Fouts is a sought-after speaker whose key-note address to Women’s Leadership Conferences is Channeling Feminine Power in the Face of Adversity. Her newly released book, Cognitive Enlightenment, was to be presented at the London Book Fair, March 2020, the NY Book Fair, May 2020, and the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2020 until COVID hit. Melinda received her Ph.D. in Jungian Psychology from Saybrook University and her Masters in Psychology from Pacifica University. Melinda has worked as a consultant with executives and businesses for over 20 years. As a result of her experience and studies, she has developed a unique craft to fine-tune leadership development for peak performance. She lives in Colorado with her big, beautiful dog, Stryder. For more information on Dr. Fouts please visit:

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE