Why is Self Awareness Important as a Leader?
Emotions, when channeled properly can help you achieve your goals. Dr. David DeSteno, a leading Professor of Psychology at Northeastern, says “emotions don’t only happen to us; we (can) use them to achieve our goals – if we develop the (awareness) and wisdom to call upon the right emotions to meet the challenges at hand. “ 1
To call on your emotions you must first be aware of your emotions. How many feelings or emotions can you recall experiencing in the past 24 hours? Take a few moments to write them down. Review each one – was it positive or negative? How did each of those emotions impact you or influence those around you? How did they impact your decision making?
Emotional intelligence is a critical skill needed by leaders as it is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. 2 According to GENOS International there are 6 core emotional intelligence competencies you need to have to become a successful leader. Of these competencies self-awareness is very crucial to develop as it serves as the foundation for the remaining five. In fact, according to a study by the Korn Ferry Hay Group, leaders who have high emotional self-awareness, tend to have teams with higher energy and higher performance. 3
What is Emotional Self-Awareness?
Emotional self-awareness is about being aware of the way you feel, and the impact your feelings can have on decisions, behavior, and performance. 3 It means you have the ability to take stock of and analyze your feelings and emotions. This enables you to understand your potential reactions in discrete situations, and the consequences for those around you. The beauty of self–awareness is that once it becomes part of your leadership style, you are more present with others which allows you to strengthen your trust and connections with them.
The opposite of being present is a state of disconnection which comes from being unaware. I was recently on a call where one of the participants who was presenting clearly came to the meeting in a high emotional state. Their negative feelings were visible through their facial expressions and tone of voice. We all felt the unproductive energy, but they were completely oblivious to how their feelings were impacting the meeting. Consequently, when they moved to the dialogue part of the call they expected conversation, but the tone had been set and it completely shut down dialogue. This is a great example of an individual whose lack of emotional awareness impacted those around them.
Think about a time when you experienced someone who lacked self-awareness. Did they bring their bully or controlling self? Did they use passive aggressive language or were they overly grandiose? If you want to avoid being that person, you may want to employ the 9 self-awareness strategies below to help move you in the right direction.
- Take a simple personal assessment so you can understand your dominant behaviors. One of my favorite inexpensive tools is Clifton Strengthsfinder 2.0. Once you are aware of your dominant behaviors you can start to gain insight on how you might need to adjust certain actions when you are in the presence of others.
- When you are in a highly emotional state take the time to pause, look around and reflect on the way you feel in that moment, define these feelings to yourself. Determine if those feelings are productive or if you should adjust your interactions until your emotional state calms down.
- Pay attention to the impact your feelings have on your thinking and view of events around you. Don’t just blurt things out, be thoughtful in your approach.
- Consider the impact of cognitive heuristics when interacting with others as they can bring bias to situations. Take the time to understand context and be a curious learner.
- When your emotions are high it comes across in your body language – facial expression, tone of voice. Others will see your emotions even before you speak because 55% of personal communication comes through body language. Flip that lens and be more aware by using your eyes to gauge others response to your emotions.
- Listen for what is and isn’t being said. We are often so busy getting ready to respond we don’t really hear what the person is saying. You can practice self – awareness by not interrupting when others are speaking. If you are fully aware when you listen it will naturally lead you to what you should say next.
- When you are in a neutral emotional state – seek feedback from others that you trust regarding your approach and style. Let them know a habit you are working on and ask them to point it out if they see it.
- Think about when you feel negative at work and how that comes across to others. Come up with a personal mantra to repeat if you feel negativity creeping in. It may not change how you feel but it may be enough to remind you to focus on how you are conveying yourself.
- Define your core values and beliefs and assess if your behaviors align with your values. If not, then set goals on how to get there.
You can become more self- aware if you use the nine steps above and make it a daily priority. If you do, soon you will begin to see better relationships, improved moods, better decision making, improved communication and increased productivity. And, while it takes time and practice to improve self-awareness, the personal and professional benefits far outweigh the work and will ultimately make you a better leader.
Jill Bornstein is the Founder of Upnext Leadership Coaching and an ICF ACC Executive Coach and a Certified GENOS Emotional Intelligence Practicioner. She focuses on developing rising professionals, new managers, new leaders and budding entrepreneurs so they can get unstuck and soar to success.
- Emotional Success, Dr. David DeSteno, page 7
- Definition from Oxford Languages