July 8

Leading with Emotional Intelligence: The Power of Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to understand your own emotions and patterns (habits) and how those impact you. It is also an awareness of how you are “showing up” for other people. Both of these are critical to leadership success. Leadership is about influence, not authority. EI skills like self-awareness make it possible to increase influence and engagement with team members.


Recently I have been working with someone who has very low self-awareness. This individual is a senior leader in an organization. I share this story because it is a vivid example of how a lack of critical emotional intelligence competencies, like self-awareness, can negatively impact everyone.

As I worked with this person, it became clear that their lack of self-awareness was manifesting in many different ways:

  • They attempted to lead people by constantly expressing their position (authority), which tends to make people defensive.
  • Their communication was unclear and sent mixed signals to the team.
  • This individual struggled to navigate their own emotions which created distractions and disruption in the workplace.
  • This leader had a massive gap in their willingness to genuinely listen to others which led to them talking over people consistently.
  • They created confusion for others due to a lack of good decision making.
  • What this person says and does often crosses the line for what is acceptable in the workplace.
  • Their focus is very short term with little thought to long term consequences.

You might think, “Wow, how strange. Surely this is not normal.” The truth is, it is a lot more common than you might think. With 53% of leader/managers in burnout (Microsoft Workplace Study), and emotional intelligence competencies in decline for the last several years (Six Seconds SOH report), we are seeing the self-awareness gap increase.

Fortunately, I am working with this individual to enhance their self-awareness and grow their EI skills and competencies.

For those people still thinking EI skill development is just “soft skills” that have minimal value or a fad that will pass, you do that at your own risk. The recent Gallup State of the Global Workplace study shows that 70% of employee engagement is determined by how well their manager connects and builds trust with them. People don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Turnover costs can be minimized but only when leader managers have the skills to engage, maintain, and retain good employees.

Among the various facets of EI, self-awareness stands out as a foundational element, crucial for personal and professional growth. We will explore the concept of self-awareness, its importance in emotional intelligence, and its role in leadership skill development and success. Additionally, it provides practical strategies for leaders to enhance their self-awareness.

Defining Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand one's emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. It involves a conscious knowledge of one's character, feelings, motives, and desires. Self-aware individuals can objectively assess their strengths and weaknesses, leading to a more balanced and authentic approach to life and work.

Self-Awareness as a Critical Element of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence, as popularized by Daniel Goleman, comprises five key components: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Among these, self-awareness is the cornerstone. Without an accurate self-perception, it is challenging to regulate emotions, empathize with others, or build meaningful relationships.

Self-awareness involves two primary aspects:

  1. Internal Self-Awareness: Understanding one's inner states, preferences, resources, and intuitions.
  2. External Self-Awareness: Understanding how others perceive you.
These aspects of self-awareness are interdependent. Enhancing internal self-awareness fosters better external self-awareness and vice versa.

Self-Awareness in Leadership

For leaders, self-awareness is indispensable. It serves as a mirror, reflecting their emotional landscape, strengths, and areas for improvement. Here’s how self-awareness contributes to leadership skill development and success:

  1. Informed Decision-Making: Leaders who understand their biases and emotional triggers make more rational and balanced decisions.
  2. Enhanced Communication: Self-aware leaders communicate more effectively, as they can articulate their thoughts and emotions clearly.
  3. Improved Relationships: By recognizing and managing their emotional responses, leaders build stronger, trust-based relationships.
  4. Resilience: Self-aware leaders are better equipped to handle stress and setbacks, maintaining a positive outlook and inspiring their teams.
  5. Authenticity: Authentic leadership, grounded in self-awareness, fosters trust and loyalty among team members.

Benefits of Developing Self-Awareness as a Leader

The development of self-awareness offers numerous benefits for leaders:

  • Greater Emotional Regulation: Understanding one's emotions leads to better control over reactions and behaviors.
  • Increased Empathy: Self-awareness enhances the ability to understand and empathize with others, crucial for effective leadership.
  • Strategic Vision: Self-aware leaders can align their personal values with organizational goals, driving strategic vision and mission.
  • Continuous Improvement: Recognizing areas for growth allows leaders to seek feedback and invest in personal development.

Specific EI Skills to Increase Self-Awareness

Enhance Emotional Literacy

Definition: Enhance Emotional Literacy involves developing the ability to identify and understand one's own emotions and the emotions of others. It requires recognizing the nuances of emotional expressions and understanding how these emotions impact thoughts and behaviors.

Importance for Better Leadership:

  1. Improved Communication: Leaders with high emotional literacy can better express their feelings and understand the emotional messages of others, leading to clearer and more effective communication.
  2. Stronger Relationships: Understanding emotions helps leaders build trust and rapport with team members, fostering a supportive and collaborative environment.
  3. Better Decision-Making: By recognizing their own emotional states and those of others, leaders can make more informed and balanced decisions, avoiding impulsive reactions and considering the emotional impact on the team.
  4. Conflict Resolution: Leaders who are emotionally literate can navigate conflicts with empathy and understanding, leading to more amicable resolutions and maintaining team cohesion.

Practical Application:

  1. Active Listening: Make a habit of actively listening to team members, paying attention not only to their words but also to their tone, body language, and emotional cues.
  2. Regular Check-Ins: Hold regular one-on-one meetings with team members to discuss their feelings and concerns. This practice shows empathy and fosters a culture of openness.
  3. Use of Emotional Language: Encourage the use of emotional language in team communications. Phrases like "I feel," "I'm concerned about," or "I'm excited for" help in expressing emotions clearly.
  4. Emotional Journaling: Keep an emotional journal to track and reflect on your emotions throughout the day. This practice can help you become more aware of your emotional triggers and responses.

Recognize Patterns

Definition: Recognize Patterns involves identifying recurring emotional responses and behaviors in oneself and others. This skill helps in understanding the underlying causes of these patterns and predicting future emotional responses.

Importance for Better Leadership:

  1. Proactive Management: By recognizing patterns, leaders can anticipate issues before they escalate, allowing for proactive management and intervention.
  2. Tailored Leadership: Understanding the emotional patterns of team members enables leaders to tailor their approach to each individual, enhancing motivation and engagement.
  3. Enhanced Problem-Solving: Recognizing patterns helps leaders identify root causes of problems, leading to more effective and sustainable solutions.
  4. Stress Reduction: Predicting emotional responses reduces uncertainty and stress, both for the leader and the team, fostering a more stable and productive work environment.

Practical Application:

  1. Behavioral Analysis: Regularly review team interactions and outcomes to identify patterns in behavior and emotional responses. Use this analysis to adjust leadership strategies accordingly.
  2. Feedback Loops: Establish feedback loops where team members can share their observations about recurring issues or emotions. This practice promotes continuous improvement and mutual understanding.
  3. Stress Management Techniques: Implement stress management techniques, such as mindfulness or stress-relief activities, to help manage recurring negative emotional patterns within the team.
  4. Training and Development: Offer training sessions focused on emotional intelligence and recognizing patterns. Encourage team members to develop these skills to enhance overall team performance.

Building a High-Performing Team

By integrating the skills of Enhancing Emotional Literacy and Recognizing Patterns into daily leadership practices, leaders can build high-performing teams characterized by strong communication, trust, and resilience. These skills help create a work environment where team members feel understood, valued, and motivated, leading to higher productivity and job satisfaction.

  1. Create a Culture of Emotional Awareness: Encourage team members to develop their own emotional literacy and pattern recognition skills. This shared focus on emotional intelligence can create a more cohesive and high-functioning team.
  2. Lead by Example: Demonstrate emotional literacy and pattern recognition in your daily interactions. Model the behavior you want to see in your team, showing that understanding and managing emotions is a priority.
  3. Promote Open Communication: Foster an environment where team members feel safe to express their emotions and discuss patterns they notice. This openness can lead to more innovative solutions and a stronger team dynamic.
  4. Celebrate Emotional Growth: Recognize and celebrate when team members make progress in their emotional intelligence. This positive reinforcement can motivate others to develop their skills as well.

By focusing on enhancing emotional literacy and recognizing patterns, leaders can unlock the full potential of their teams, driving performance and achieving organizational goals.

Self-awareness is the bedrock of emotional intelligence and a critical driver of effective leadership. By understanding and managing their emotions, leaders can make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and inspire their teams toward success. Embracing practices that enhance self-awareness not only fosters personal growth but also paves the way for a more authentic, empathetic, and resilient leadership style. As leaders, the journey toward self-awareness is continuous, but the rewards are profound and far-reaching.


You may also like

Cultivating Growth

Cultivating Growth
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Get in touch

0 of 350