This is Part Two of Six in our series on Emotional Intelligence.
In our first article in this series, we discussed how emotional intelligence is the primary differentiator between superior and average leaders. This is because emotions contain valuable information that directly impacts our thoughts and actions. If leaders want to leverage this information, they must first tune into what their emotions are telling them.
Self-awareness is the degree to which a leader is aware of and understands his or her thoughts, feelings, strengths, and weaknesses. It is as critical for long-term planning as it is in high-pressure negotiations and presentations. In fact, the very ability to make a decision requires not only raw data and intellect, but also emotional information. The more quickly you can identify your emotions and those of others, the more proactively you can respond and take control of a situation.
How important is self-awareness? A study done at Cornell found that self-awareness was the strongest predictor of a leader’s success. It isn’t hard to understand why when you consider just 3 of the areas emotionally intelligent leaders exhibit heighted awareness.
The first two areas require focusing specifically on emotions.
1. Tuning into Emotions:
Being aware of our emotions may seem simple, yet in a study by Bradberry and Greeves, only 36 percent of people tested were able to accurately identify their emotions as they experienced them.
While some people are not in tune with their emotions, others ignore them because they don’t understand the relevant information they contain. We all experience “gut feelings” at times. Self-aware leaders don’t ignore them; they identify the emotion and the information it provides. Our emotions come from a part of our brain that gets a constant feed of information directly from our senses. It happens far faster than we can consciously think, so the information is relayed to us in the form of emotions. It is now up to us to decipher those emotions and use the information we get from them to make better decisions and solve problems faster and more effectively. People who aren’t aware of their emotions are at a tremendous disadvantage because they are missing out on an important source of information.
2. Become aware of your emotional reaction to people and situations:
Do you feel anxious each time a certain phone number appears on your caller ID? Are you more likely to feel a sense of dread or excitement when asked to give a presentation?
It is important for us to understand the emotions certain events and people trigger in us as well as the why behind them so we can take control of our response. Keep in mind that our emotions drive our behavior. A lack of emotional awareness leads to mindless behavioral reactions. Once you are aware of the emotion, you can control the behavioral response.
A good example of this is the emotional reaction to different people we work with. Consider Mary who is a manager with 5 direct reports. There is one person, Tina, she really clicks with and one, Chris, she would just as soon have off her team. It’s not because his performance is poor, but because their personalities clash. Given that our emotions drive our behavior, Mary is likely to treat Tina and Chris very differently if she is unaware of her emotions. When talking with Tina, she would be likely to make more eye contact, smile more, talk with her more, be more positive, give her the preferred tasks, etc. Again, once we become aware of our emotions and our behavior, we can make a conscious effort to mange it.
Three ways to increase your emotional awareness:
- Tune into the physical cues. Our emotions are reflected in our bodies. Do you tap your feet when you’re impatient? Do you clench your fists when angry? Do you fidget when you’re nervous? People often find that they don’t realize how they’re feeling until they see these physical signs. Pay attention to your body and you will increase your emotional awareness.
- Ask yourself regularly how you feel. This doesn’t have to be a time-consuming activity. Simply check in regularly throughout the day and ask yourself how you feel. Record the feeling and the reason you feel that way. You may find some surprises along the way.
- Journal. Journaling is a very effective way to increase awareness. Simply reflecting on various experiences at the end of the day and describing how you felt and why will increase your awareness. Take the time to uncover the reasons you felt a particular way. This will make you more cognizant of your emotions going forward which will in turn help you use that information for greater effectiveness.
Remember, emotions give us information. Leaders with greater awareness of their emotions are able to make better decisions, solve problems more successfully, and manage business and personal relationships effectively.
3. Know your Strengths and Weaknesses:
Interviewing 125 authentic leaders, we learned that the essence of Leadership comes not from having pre-defined characteristics. Rather, it comes from knowing yourself — your strengths and weaknesses.” (Bill George, Former CEO of Medtronic).
A leader’s success depends in large part on his or her ability to leverage strengths. If you were asked right now to write down your top three strengths, how long would it take? A self-aware leader would be able to do this very rapidly. I have worked with many leaders who have not been able to answer that question without a lot of thought. Simply reciting your strengths isn’t enough. A leader is most successful when he or she regularly finds new ways to apply strengths.
While self-awareness includes knowing what you are good at, it also includes knowing what you are not good at and admitting when you don’t have the answer. Those who operate under the assumption that they have to know everything and be good at everything are doing themselves and their teams a disservice. They miss opportunities to elicit ideas from others and leverage team members who have strengths they lack. The leader who is unwilling to admit weaknesses and mistakes also sets the tone for the organization that it is unacceptable to have weaknesses and make mistakes. That is not only unrealistic, it prevents people from asking for help and causes them to take risks they shouldn’t take.
Two effective ways for a leader uncover strengths and weaknesses are:
- Take a validated leadership assessment. A comprehensive assessment that reveals how one’s natural tendencies impact leadership competencies can give a great deal of insight into strengths and weaknesses. With those results, leaders can find new ways to use natural strengths and decide whether to develop weaknesses or compensate for them.
- Complete a 360 multi-rater assessment. Have you ever wondered how others perceive you? You can’t know for sure unless you ask. A 360 is a survey taken by the leader as well as his or her boss, peers, and team. This is a great way to help uncover any potential blind spots and help the leader get a clearer understanding of how others perceive him or her. It is common in a 360 report to see that one group of people has a different perception of a leader than another group. That can be valuable information to have.
Emotionally intelligent leaders have a clear understanding of their strengths and how to leverage them to maximize their effectiveness. They also have the courage to explore their weaknesses and understand how those weaknesses impact performance. This awareness not only leads to faster promotions, as one study in a large telecommunications company found, it also helps build trust and credibility among team members.
The first step to developing your emotional intelligence is increasing your self-awareness in these three areas: emotions, reactions to be people and situations, strengths, and weaknesses. Once aware of emotions, the challenge is to express them effectively so they don’t inhibit your ability to negotiate, present, manage conflict, etc. That is often where leaders run into problems. I will offer specific strategies to manage emotions in the third article in this series coming next month.
During our course, Increasing Your Emotional Intelligence, participants take a validated assessment to measure their emotional intelligence. They also learn specific ways to improve their effectiveness by increasing their self-awareness in these three areas as well as two more critical areas.
If you’d like more information on assessments or books to help increase your awareness, or if you’d like to join us for the course, contact Dr. Heather Johnson at 651-322-7821 or email us here.