In our decades of experience working with leaders, we have observed that a core characteristic of great leaders is their highly-tuned sense of self-awareness. A leader who is self-aware plays to his or her strengths and is not blindsided by his or her limitations. In the emotional realm, self-awareness is one of the building blocks of emotional intelligence (EQ). Travis Bradberry, author of the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, explains, “Self-Awareness is your ability to accurately perceive your emotions and stay aware of them as they happen.”
At first blush, identifying and noticing your emotional state may not seem nearly as important as other leadership competencies, such as communication, strategic thinking, or vision-casting. But Bradberry reports that an astounding 83 percent of people with high self-awareness are top performers, while only 2 percent of bottom performers display this trait.
To better understand why self-awareness is so critical for a leader, consider that leaders who lack self-awareness about their emotional state:
- Will not recognize when personal dislike of a team member is affecting their assessment of that person’s input, causing them to reject ideas that would be terrific for the business.
- Will not admit to an anger problem that is disrupting meetings, distressing employees, and destroying productivity.
- Will not be able to swallow their pride and accept constructive and redirecting feedback about unacceptable behaviors.
These three examples show that a lack of self-awareness hurts everybody: individuals, teams, the business, and the leader.
Conversely, a good sense of self-awareness brings benefits to all. Self-aware leaders recognize their own emotions and, in doing so, do not allow themselves to be governed by those emotions. They act from a place of thoughtful reason, not unthinking feeling … which is always the best way to make decisions and lead a business.
A self-aware leader creates an environment that is stable and safe: a place where trust can flourish because people do not have to walk on eggshells. Employees know that the leader is well-grounded and will not speak or act in ways that are harmful to others. Even in times of stress, difficulties, or conflict, the leader has a firm hand on his or her emotional state.
If you lack self-awareness, two guardrails can keep you on the right road. The first is to PAUSE:
- Before you reply to a person, PAUSE. What are you feeling? Is that feeling appropriate to the situation? Are you responding out of past grievances or insulted pride?
- Before you make a decision, PAUSE. What are you feeling? Why are you feeling that way? What impact are your feelings having on your judgment in this moment?
What gets leaders into trouble is going right to a response – whether that is a verbal response, an action, or a decision – without understanding what emotions they are feeling and assessing why they are feeling that way.
Building self-awareness takes time and practice, of course. That is the reason for the second guardrail – to REFLECT:
- After a conversation or meeting, REFLECT. What did you feel during the interaction? How did what you feel affect what you said and how you said it? How did the other person(s) respond to what you said?
- After you make a decision, REFLECT. What did you feel before and during the decision-making process? How did your emotions play into your final decision? What were or what do you think will be the outcomes of your decision?
Pausing in the moment and reflecting afterward will help you build a strong sense of self-awareness of your emotional state. This self-awareness will then help you to manage how you respond and react – but that will be the subject of a future blog!