Gain Self-Awareness as a Leader

May 27, 2010
7 Min Read

self awareness leaderSelf-awareness, which may be defined as being conscious of what you’re good at while acknowledging what you still need to learn, is one of the most underrated leadership skills.  Apparently, it’s also one of the most rare.  According to the Change Style Indicator, a research study on management styles that has been conducted for two decades, leaders are more likely to be unaware of how their behavior impacts others.  Also, in appearing as if they know everything all of the time and disguising their mistakes and weaknesses, they diminish their credibility with colleagues and reports.


In organizational psychology research, self-awareness is often incorporated under the broader umbrella of emotional intelligence, or EQ.  Here are brief descriptions of the main components of EQ.

Components of Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

  • Emotional Awareness: You understand the emotions you’re feeling and how those emotions affect your behavior and performance.
  • Accurate Self-Assessment: You are aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, you’re open to feedback, and you learn from experience.
  • Self-Confidence: You present yourself with poise and are not afraid to voice unpopular viewpoints.
  • Self-Control: You don’t act on impulse but instead remain composed and focused under pressure.
  • Innovation and Adaptability: You uncover fresh ideas to problems.  You are flexible and handle change well.
  • Achievement Drive: You constantly seek ways to improve results and hold yourself accountable for strong performance. You persist in your goal despite setbacks.
  • Commitment and Initiative: You understand the organization’s core purpose and will make sacrifices in service of that. You are able to mobilize others and go above and beyond what’s expected of you.
  • Understanding and Developing Others: You listen well and show sensitivity to others’ points of view. You reward people’s strengths and encourage their improvement through specific feedback and strong mentoring.
  • Team Building: You create like-minded groups, model team qualities like respect and helpfulness, and share credit.
  • Political Awareness: You are aware of important formal and informal relationships, who’s friends with who, and how things actually get done in the organization.
  • Influence: You are skilled at gaining consensus and drumming up support for your projects. You challenge the status quo and enlist others to help implement relevant changes.
  • Communication: You are able to read between the lines when conversing with others, you speak in a straight-forward manner, and you seek mutual understanding.
  • Collaboration and Cooperation: You share information and resources and balance your focus on a task with attention to relationships.
  • Conflict Management: You address problematic situations proactively, bringing them to light with tact and diplomacy. You encourage open discussion and help to orchestrate mutually beneficial solutions.

It may sound like there is a lot involved in being emotionally intelligent, but truthfully a lot of these components go together, meaning that if you’re strong in one, you’ll naturally be strong in the others.

For instance, people who are strong in leadership are often equally adept in inducing change, gaining cooperation, building teams, and resolving conflicts.

Therefore, in addition to honing each component, you can employ several strategies that will help you improve your overall EQ.

Identify the situations that cause you to lose your cool

Think about the things that routinely stress you out or make you upset and flustered – like being criticized by a client for something that isn’t your fault – and rehearse reacting in a civil manner the next time these situations come up.

Pay attention to the physical signs of negative emotion

The old adage is that men yell and women cry.  Regardless of whether or not this is true for you, be on guard for the warning signals that you’re losing control (heart beating faster, tears pricking at your eyelids, etc.).  As soon as you observe them, politely excuse yourself so that you can calm down before proceeding with the conversation.  If you’re worried about being rude or disruptive, don’t be.  You’ll look much worse if you end of making a “scene.”

Monitor nonverbal cues

Emotionally intelligent people are cognizant not just of what they say, but also how they’re saying it.  In the midst of a conversation, make sure that you’re using appropriate eye contact and facial expressions.  Position yourself next to the person you’re speaking to, but don’t get so close that you invade her space. Your tone should accurately convey your message, and smile unless you’re in the process of telling the person something she doesn’t want to hear.  You should also ensure that you accurately read others’ nonverbal cues so that if you’re not getting a good response to your message, you can quickly change your approach.

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