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Emotional Intelligence for Leaders: Developing Self-Awareness

Being a leader of your business or start-up is no easy task. It entails a lot of challenges, a lot of responsibility, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of patience. We all want our own businesses to scale, to grow, and for us to provide value to others, but such outcomes require a special kind of mental fortitude. Because at the end of the day, everyone has emotions. It’s part of being human. These emotions affect us every day, whether we realize it or not, and it dictates how we operate and how we end up influencing the people around us. And the reason why this is so important as a business leader is because of the simple fact that business involves people, and again, it requires a special kind of mental fortitude. More specifically, it requires emotional intelligence.

Genos International defines Emotional Intelligence as a set of skills that help us better perceive, understand and manage emotions in ourselves and in others, and thus make better responses to them. These skills are as important as our intellect in determining success in work and in life. In the workplace, emotional intelligence underlies our self-awareness, empathy, leadership and resilience. In our world of ‘do more with less’, where continuous change is the norm and effective collaboration is essential, these skills are fundamental to our success. And this doesn’t apply any more than to the context of creating and managing a business.

Now, Genos International outlines six competencies of Emotional Intelligence: self-awareness, awareness of others, authenticity, emotional reasoning, self-management and the ability to evoke positive influence.  In this blog, we will be talking about self-awareness.

What is Self-Awareness?

Self-awareness is the skill of perceiving and understanding one’s own emotions and its impact and on decisions, behavior and performance.

People who are emotionally self-aware are conscious of the role their feelings can play in these areas, and are better equipped to manage this influence effectively. When we are emotionally self-aware, we are present with the role feelings are playing in our decisions, behavior and performance. When we are not, we are often disconnected from this influence.

Self-awareness can also be attributed specifically to the following:

  • Knowing how you feel, and how it drives your behavior, thinking, or memory.
  • Recognizing the fluctuations in your emotions, its strength, and when they change from one emotion to another
  • Being aware of the emotions behind what you are saying and how you are relating to and communicating with people.
  • Being aware of the emotions that lead you to avoid a task or a situation
  • Being able to recognize the patterns and habits in your emotional responses and reactions.

Why Is This Important?

Imagine the scenario:

A significant error occurred on a very substantial project. Let’s say you are the manager, and you are understandably furious and you berate the employee responsible in front of the whole team. What you don’t realize is that your behavior and actions do not just impact the employee, but it affects the entire team that witnessed the confrontation. Had you just maintained a level of self-awareness, this entire scenario would have been averted, and the employee could be more inclined to improve on his mistake. But because of this scene, it greatly cripples the entire team’s morale, cohesion, and ultimately productivity.

What it does is that it destroys the team’s psychological safety. Now, everyone’s afraid to be themselves, to express ideas, to provide their own input, because now they fear you might get at them for committing a similar mistake.

There is a reason why self-awareness is the first competency of emotional intelligence; it is the foundation for everything else to follow. Again, if one is not aware of his emotions, he becomes disconnected from how his emotions affect him every day, and when he becomes disconnected from how his emotions affect him every day, he becomes ungrounded, which makes him prone to these negative lash-outs, which in turn has a ripple effect to the team, and ultimately the outcome. Being present with self-awareness allows you to recognize these emotions, and prevent you from doing things you would most likely regret.

But self-awareness doesn’t stop with preventing you from causing negative actions, and therefore wreck the psychological safety of the team, it also allows you to generally make better decisions. It allows you to make intellectual choices based on objective facts, taking the emotions out of the equation. And as a leader, you need this because you cannot be swayed by feelings when it comes to making decisions, because as what Amazon CEO Andy Jasse mentioned, not all choices are ones you can go back and redo if done wrong.

How Can You Develop Self-Awareness?

So, if self-awareness is the beginning and end of emotional intelligence, how can you develop it?

1. Take responsibility

The very first thing you should do is take responsibility, and own up to yourself, including your ever-fluctuating emotions. If you take responsibility for yourself, you allow yourself to open up to what you feel and how you react as a result. If you don’t take responsibility, you never confront your emotions, and thus remain disconnected and impulsive.

it’s not the easiest thing to do, but it’s where awareness starts. It’s hard to take responsibility when everything is going on, so before you assess everything and accept what is, you may need to also do the next step:

  1. Pause.

The best way to develop self-awareness is to simply practice it.

As you read this paragraph, notice the feeling in your face, hands, chest, all the way down to your legs and toes. Close your eyes, and take three deep breaths. How does it feel? Does it feel deep, or is It a little rushed and agitated?

Try it yourself. Spend 10 minutes or so sitting down and just focusing on your breath. Let all the thoughts, feelings and sensations come as they are. This is popularly known as mindfulness meditation.

Notice that when you pause, you notice a lot of things much better. You become present. And there is power in recognizing this space. It’s what allows you to be more aware, more grounded. Mindfulness meditation has shown to have numerous physical and mental benefits, but the biggest benefit is that it truly helps you become more self-aware. Give it a try, you won’t regret it.

  1. Ask yourself questions

Last but not least, once you’ve made the decision to take responsibility, and you’ve allowed yourself to pause and to be aware, the next thing you can do to actually begin reflecting on your levels of self-awareness is to ask yourself questions.

Ask yourself questions and assess yourself on how well you have managed your own thoughts and emotions. Some questions to help you get started include the following:

  • How aware are you of your emotions today?
  • Which emotions did you find it easy to recognize in yourself?
  • Which emotions did you miss in yourself?
  • In which situations did you find it easy to know how you feel?
  • In which situations did you find it hard to know how you feel?

Feel free to come up with your own questions to ask yourself. There is no right or wrong.

Lead with Purpose

We’re only scraping the surface when it comes to the human aspect of being a leader, but self-awareness is without a doubt the best way to start. Sometimes, change doesn’t need to be big; sometimes it all begins from within, and how one carries one’s self. But if you follow the ideas of taking responsibility, spending time pausing and reflecting, you’re already halfway there.

Stay tuned for more deep dives on improving your emotional intelligence as a leader. In the meantime, feel free to check out our leadership courses and other resources on our website!

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