Develop Leadership Through Self-Awareness

“Reflecting Pool, Washington D.C” by Hu Totya, licensed under CC 4.0

Daniel Goleman, in his Harvard Business Review article, attributed Emotional Intelligence (EI) as a driving factor in job effectiveness and promotions. A foundational component of EI is self-awareness. Self-awareness develops your leadership by informing you about your strengths and weaknesses; your patterns of behaviour and habits. So here’s how to develop self-awareness using the four parts of leadership:

Self – Practice Self-Awareness Tools. People have a tendency to go on autopilot – people bite their nails and lips, they twirl their hair, their body language signals their emotions without much conscious thought. Sometimes, people are so unaware of themselves that after tensing up during a stressful time, they don’t notice until their muscles are sore at the end of the day. Self-awareness gives you insight into what makes you feel certain things, and also about how you behave or react to certain emotions or situations. Being on autopilot is bad because it means you’re not in control of your life and that you’re not in control of how you react.

Mindfulness is the best and easiest way to develop self-awareness. Mindfulness is about clearing your mind and being able perceive yourself without clouded judgement. It is also good for overall health. I use the SmilingMind app to meditate before I go to sleep. Constantly practicing to focus on my breathing and to be mindful about the things happening around me has enabled me to be able to do it consciously every day. Once you improve your mindfulness, you will be better able to be aware of you – the very skill of self-awareness.

When you’re in the state of being mindful or before, during, and after any significant event throughout the day, take a moment to think about what you’re trying to achieve, how you’re feeling, what’s going well, what’s not going well, what are the problems, etc. This makes you consciously aware of what you need to do and brings your self-awareness to the next level.

Most importantly, take an EI test. I like SixSeconds’ EI test. When I started receiving coaching from my executive coach, I took the EI test at the beginning of the year of coaching. At the end, I had another EI test. My effort throughout the year was demonstrated in a large jump in EI competencies over the year. You won’t understand your progress without a clear and quantifiable record of your EI abilities over time.

People – Take Feedback Seriously. Sometimes, you aren’t self-aware but others are aware of you. Use that to your advantage, because others often see sides of you that you don’t see and that which you are unaware of. For example, today I was working on a start-up project. My co-founder turned to me and asked me why I’m so tense. While we were working on the deliverables for our budding business, I had slowly and subconsciously tensed my face, tensed my posture, and had taken on an aggressive and high-paced working behaviour.

I know this is one of my weaknesses/strengths because I tend to have a lot of energy when I’m doing something but I also tend to exhaust the people around me when I don’t control myself. Therefore, I made a note to myself to ensure I give myself a mental check whenever I’m working at the start-up. This is an example of how self-awareness allows you to target specific behaviours and improve your leadership abilities.

Situations – Examine Your Reactions to Things That Are Happening. Like in the example above, there are a variety of emotions and perceptions that can cloud your self-awareness. Dangerous situations, physically exhausting situations, loud and noisy situations, social situations, all kinds of situations make you react emotionally and physically differently. If you are self-aware, you begin to notice particular things about yourself.

At the beginning of my military career, I had the tendency to jump to action and start making decisions without giving myself the time to accurately assess all the consequences of my decisions. My heart would beat fast, and I would find myself under pressure to be a good leader and to do the right things to achieve mission success. The consequence was that my troops had to execute orders which were not optimal. I was unsure of how to improve myself. After I examined my reactions and my patterns of behaviour in stressful situations, I specifically decided to breathe deeply and take a moment before issuing any decisions. After practicing this for a long time, it became second-nature and I’ve become a better leader from investing that time and effort in identifying and working on my weaknesses. I couldn’t have done this without self-awareness. This leads to the final tip:

Outcomes – Question the Consequences. Think about consequences. What will happen? How will this affect the bottom line? How will this affect your boss? Your followers? Many people blurt out suggestions without taking a moment to reflect on these questions – by working on your self awareness and by noticing your own patterns of behaviour, you will be able to better control yourself. Focusing on consequences while understanding your weaknesses and bad tendencies will enable you to control yourself – which is another foundational component to EI which I will write about on another day.

How will you build your self-awareness?


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