Original Research

The influence of self-awareness on effective leadership outcomes in South Africa

Sharon Da Fonseca, Hugh Myres, Karl Hofmeyr
South African Journal of Business Management | Vol 53, No 1 | a2720 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajbm.v53i1.2720 | © 2022 Sharon Da Fonseca, Hugh Myres, Karl Hofmeyr | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 May 2021 | Published: 17 October 2022

About the author(s)

Sharon Da Fonseca, Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, Sandton, South Africa
Hugh Myres, Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, Sandton, South Africa
Karl Hofmeyr, Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, Sandton, South Africa

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Purpose: Leadership research demands an understanding of what constitutes effective leadership. Self-awareness is described as critical for effective leadership, yet there is little research dealing with the link between a lack of self-awareness in leaders and destructive leadership. The prevalence of destructive leadership is surprisingly common and bears a high cost to organisations in terms of employee turnover, absenteeism and decreased productivity. The emotional toll it takes on employees is severe and affects their well-being and identification with the organisation.

Design/methodology/approach: A qualitative, exploratory approach was used to gain insights into the role that self-awareness plays in effective leadership and how a lack thereof affects employee engagement and behaviour. Data were collected through semi structured interviews with executives who had experience of working for a manager with low self-awareness. Thematic analysis was then conducted to identify the main themes found in the data.

Findings/results: This study found that leaders with low self-awareness exhibit behaviours consistent with toxic and destructive leadership. Negative effects on subordinates were felt in terms of employee engagement and increased resistance to the leader occurred. Subordinates then engaged in retaliatory and deviant work behaviour as a result.

Practical implications: A model for conceptualising how self-awareness results in destructive leadership and its influence on followers’ behaviours and attitudes emerged, enabling an improved understanding of this organisational behavioural phenomenon.

Originality/value: Literature is limited on self-awareness even though more research is being carried out on destructive leadership. The research has implications for how talent management is conducted within organisations.


self-awareness; destructive leadership; leadership processes; followers; toxic reactions


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