A common foundational practice in leadership is to develop self-awareness. It is also one of the four components of emotional intelligence as described by Dan Goleman, one of my favorite authors on the topic.
While emotional intelligence isn’t necessarily a panacea to every leadership challenges, it is critical for fostering connections with others and with ourselves. And your level of self-awareness can be boiled down to one question: Are you aware of your behaviors? Especially those behaviors that are reactive and often times not helpful?
Consider the following scenarios:
We have just finished a project or presentation and are being given feedback about how we performed. It’s common to be plagued by the defensive response of “Yeah, but…” or “Well, it was so and so’s fault.” These sorts of knee-jerk reactions are not only defensive; they are also the very thing that keeps us from learning and growing.
My good friend Stacy was recently told by her boss that her department would be changing the way their budget is managed for the new fiscal year. Stacy didn’t agree with the decision, and became argumentative with her direct supervisor and the controller, creating a great deal of drama between the three of them. As it turns out, once Stacy was able to return to a baseline level of calm, she recognized that the decision was actually going to benefit the company.
Changing our habits is difficult but not nearly as difficult as actually identifying the ones that we need to change. It can be like asking a fish to tell us about water–they don’t even realize that they are swimming in water.
So how do we become more self aware?
- Feedback: Asking for feedback regularly about how we are performing and what we can do more of and less of is critical. And it is up to you to seek it out. Don’t wait. The truth is most people don’t enjoy giving feedback. So, if you wait, it is unlikely to happen. Try using this simple worksheet to get more feedback from your team.
- Begin a mindfulness meditation practice: Without intentionally working with our bodies and our minds, it is difficult to be aware of our reactions and to learn how to be with our experience without reacting. Pausing during our day to return to a baseline level of calm is incredibly helpful. If you want to learn to meditate and how to incorporate mindfulness during your work day, I highly recommend the Mindfulness Daily Course with Dr. Tara Brach.
- Accept your inner life: Recognize that just because you are a leader, that doesn’t mean you won’t have feelings about a situation. Feelings are normal, and it isn’t helpful to deny them or to pretend that we don’t have them. It is worthy of our time to learn how to ride the waves of our feelings versus fighting them. Self-compassion and befriending ourselves during these moments supports us in developing awareness about what is ultimately important to us, while at the same time allowing our experience to be expressed in a way that is healthy for our team and us.