Leadership development programs designed to increase emotional intelligence have matured during the last 15 years. However, in my experience, I am not seeing a big change in the way executives relate to one other. Despite reading books and articles, taking assessments and attending seminars, leaders still lean toward old habits and can benefit from a better understanding of their influence on others.
All models of emotional intelligence start with a foundation of self-awareness. I spend most of my coaching time on self-awareness because that is where the gold is still to be found. There are two steps to gain self-awareness: 1. Listen to and honestly examine the stories you are telling yourself in your head(Are they true? How do I know?) and 2. Seek feedback from others.
The first simply requires time alone – quiet time for self-reflection and to practice mindfulness. The second, seeking feedback, requires you to identify people who feel safe to you, who you would freely invite to tell you how they react to you, and how they think others react to you. It requires honesty and, of course, the right time and environment where the conversation can occur with out interruption. Easy right? No, of course not. These two steps take time and commitment to change. Coming face-to-face with your flaws, defects of character, pride, ego, distrust, fear – being vulnerable – does not come easily. Further, if business is booming, deadlines are met, and stock value is going up, why go through this exercise? Why dig deeper when all is well on the surface? You dig because you can always up your leadership game and because it will make a difference in how you engage with your team, your vendors and clients.
Here are a few suggestions on how you can practice the two steps to self-awareness right now:
- Listen to Yourself: Force some quiet time every day where your cell phones go off completely and your door is shut for 10 minutes. I have clients who break out in a cold sweat at the thought, but I urge you to try it. Breathe deeply and slowly, and see what surfaces. Let the thoughts roll through your brain like a digital ticker tape. Notice what is happening and see if you can articulate how that experience feels. Pay special attention to anything that feels difficult or sparks negative emotions, as these feelings point to something larger underneath. When you take the time to look below the surface, you can see a glimpse of the source.
- Listen to the feedback of others: Pick one person who you trust to tell you the complete truth about how you look to them. Ask them to find something they believe you do that causes others to disconnect from you – to avoid you, to shut down around you, to be less the honest. This is tough stuff. It requires both courage to take this feedback and a desire to hear it. If you are doing something like this now, keep at it – do it more.
Following these two simple steps will put you well on your way to better self-awareness as a leader and as a person.