The biggest killer for success is not knowing you. Whether you are a leader, a teacher, a student or an entrepreneur, self -awareness is critical for success. Angeline Godwin, former (now retired) President of Patrick Henry Community College in Virginia said, “you won’t last very long as a leader unless you are authentic.”


Be authentic. Make sure you know you. Find yourself, be yourself, and practice the power of knowing you if you want to grow your entrepreneurial mindset.  

“Know yourself to improve yourself.”
                               Auguste Comte

An entrepreneurial mindset is a framework for thinking and acting that can empower anyone to succeed (Taulbert & Schoeniger, 2010). The key is to know how you work. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Do you enjoy solving problems?  What do you believe? What motivates you? Are you persistent, focused, and a risk taker?  Research studies and recognized leaders across the country suggest people who know themselves have a greater level of success than those who do not know themselves.  This was validated in a study by the Cornell School of Industrial & Labor Relations in 2010, which found that self-awareness is the strongest predictor of success for leaders.

One of the biggest mistakes a person can make in leadership, teaching, or entrepreneurship is neglecting the critical need of understanding you. While most people feel that they know themselves, research tells us that they don’t. First, to help you better understand you, begin your journey by following the 5 steps in the “Getting to Know You” playbook. Once you have completed these five steps, read the events of how three nationally known community college leaders used their insight, experience and change strategies to help them navigate major challenges at their college.

Simon Sinek | How Great Leaders Inspire Action
TEDxPuget Sound September 2009


  • Take an assessment to better understand you and how you operate. While the tests are not perfect, they will help you to better understand yourself and provide insight into developing your entrepreneurship mindset action plan for success.  Some examples are the Entrepreneurial Mindset Profile that was developed by Eckerd College, the Myers Briggs Personality Test, Innovator Mindset, and the StrengthsFinder

  • Invite feedback from others, and ask them to share their perception of how you work. Seek input from a variety of stakeholders.

  • Evaluate your decisions. Record why you made a critical decision and then nine months later, evaluate the result and what you have learned.

  • Read, research, and find mentors. Know the characteristics of successful people and compare their most promising characteristics with your own. Build a network of support to help you cultivate success. 

  • Practice. Utilize exercises in a controlled environment to help you develop an entrepreneurial mindset and to better understand yourself and the way you respond to a variety of scenarios. 

These 5 steps can help you to begin to better understand yourself and be a better leader.

Conversations with three nationally known community college leaders revealed the value and importance of knowing yourself. As you read their stories, think about your leadership journey. Did you really know yourself before you were confronted with a crisis or major challenge? And how did you address the challenge?

When Lee Lambert was appointed Chancellor of Pima Community College in 2013, he was faced with a multitude of serious and “highly complex” problems that included accreditation challenges, a hostile work environment, an unhealthy college culture, and much more.
Lambert, an Army veteran and lawyer by trade, transitioned into higher education early in his career and came to Pima  with a record of success at community colleges in Washington state. Lambert attributes his early childhood experience as key to his success. Growing up, he lived on three different continents, understood the value of hard work, and embraced the challenge of solving problems. Lambert sees all of these things as helpful to his professional career in higher education.

At Pima Community College, Lambert adapted the Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion (IRAC) method, a legal reasoning process, to help identify issues/problems, to understand how the rules apply to the problem, to analyze the arguments on both sides related to the problem, and finally to formulate a conclusion. The IRAC method is considered by some legal experts to be the “blue ribbon standard” of practice, noting that IRAC can be very useful identifying issues and where there may be a disconnect. This can be particularly helpful when a leader is formulating an action plan to present to the Board of Trustees.


Lambert is an insightful and effective leader and is always mindful of the college culture. He developed focused, innovative, and empathetic teams, understanding that creating the right mindset is a prerequisite to creating lasting change. Today, Pima continues on its journey to success. For aspiring leaders, implementing a simple framework may help you better understand the issues at your college. Pair the framework with authentic engagement, strong listening skills, and Board transparency, and things are sure to fall into place. 


Be self-aware and have a framework to solve problems. 

Understand your challenges, and where there may be a disconnect.


Use the Effectuation Method if you want solutions. 

Identify the next, best step by assessing the
resources available in order to achieve your goals while continuously balancing these goals with your resources and actions..


Don't just believe you can do it, KNOW it. 

Once you know you can do it, determine what "it" is, and how to get it done. 

Jay Milbrandt | How to IRAC a Law Case
August 31, 2015

Entrepreneurship has always been part of Angeline Godwin’s DNA. She grew up on a farm in southeast Alabama and believes that the ultimate entrepreneur is a farmer. Like farmers, Godwin is focused, a risk taker, an innovator, and a problem solver. She has launched and sold numerous start-ups and has an academic pedigree that includes a PhD and a law degree. Godwin is an experienced community college president and recognized as a successful change agent in higher education. She is well known for leveraging the Effectuation Method process in everything that she does, but is quick to remind leaders that unless you know your own mindset – including your strengths and weaknesses – you will not be successful.

When Godwin was given enrollment data that indicated that her college was on track to experience a significant enrollment decrease she quickly assembled her entrepreneurial leadership team with the goal to activate The Effectuation Method process.


The Effectuation Method, championed by University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business professor Dr. Saras Sarasvathy, is a thinking framework to help make decisions and take action with the application of five principles: 


  1. The Bird-in-the-Hand Principle: Create solutions with resources in the here and now.   

  2. Affordable Loss Principle: Invest what you are willing to lose. 

  3. The Crazy Quilt Principle: Collaborate and forge partnerships to introduce new resources. 

  4. Lemonade Principle: Inevitable surprises and pivots create opportunity. 

  5. Pilot-in-the Plane Principle: The future can be influenced by your actions. 

By following Sarasvathy's method, Godwin and her team were able to change the negative enrollment projection to a positive one. The lesson for leaders? Applying the leadership principles of the Effectuation Method allows you to approach decision-making with significantly increased intentionality and purpose.

When Dr. Betty Young was appointed the interim president of Hocking College in October 2014 she inherited a college budget with a $4.4 million deficit, low morale, enrollment challenges, and much more. Young, who grew up on a farm in southeast Ohio began her college journey as a non-traditional 28-year-old who was a first-generation college student. After graduating with an associates degree, she earned a PhD and a law degree. With her background and success in business and college teaching, Young went from department chair to dean to community college president. In April of 2015, the Board of Trustees at Hocking College made her the permanent president and most recently extended her contract to 2026.

When I asked Young how she was able to balance the budget, launch new programs, and create a can-do culture of innovation at the college. She said, “First, you need to know and believe that you can do it. Then, you need to determine what it is you need to do and how to do it.  

Tasha Eurich | Increase Your Self-Awareness With One Simple Fix
TEDxMileHigh December 19, 2017

Next, you need to have trusting, collaborative, diverse, innovative and passionate teams. If your college is in a crisis the first critical step is to set the stage with your Board. Next, you need to provide the campus community with the new reality and continue to communicate the same message every day, but also to bring hope and what the future holds.” For future leaders to be successful they must have a business acumen. They need to know how to grow revenue and create innovative programs.   

Recommended Resources: 

The Self-Aware Leader | Inside Higher Ed

Effective leadership is rooted in understanding the leader you currently are as well as the leader you need to become for your unit to thrive, write Elizabeth A. Luckman, Nicholas C. Burbules, C. K. Gunsalus and Robert A. Easter.

Knowing You, Knowing Me! Why Self-Awareness is Critical to Any Success | Published by Fiona Murden via LinkedIn

10 Things You Don't Know About Yourself | Scientific American

Lars Sudmann | Great Leaders Transform Organizations by Thinking INSIDE the Box
TEDxLuxembourgCity September 3, 2019


Looking for more? Take a listen to this curated collection from NACCE's own podcast, Making Our Way Forward. Like what you hear? Subscribe on your favorite platform!  

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Making Community: Stories with Freedom Dreamer & Educator Linda Le
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Ignite The Entrepreneur: Author & Veteran Mentor Clint E. Day On a National Be a Millionaire Day
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Entrepreneurship for Veterans with Professor Andy Gold
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