Emotional Self-Awareness

Daniel Goleman, in his interview for the online Mindfulness at Work Summit in June 2018, introduced what he calls the 12 competencies of emotional intelligence.  He has recently rethought the emotional intelligence framework and now has four main groups of competencies (instead of the original five) – (1) self-awareness, (2) self-management, (3) social awareness and (4) relationship management – and 12 competencies that sit under the various groupings.  Emotional self-awareness is the sole competency listed under the first grouping.

Understanding “emotional intelligence”

In the interview with Mo Edjlali, President of Mindful Leader, Daniel explained that the term, “emotional intelligence”, challenges people to think about dealing with emotions intelligently, not being under their control nor ignoring them.  He maintained that emotions are “part and parcel” of life and that whatever we do, even if we think we are being rational or analytical, emotions underpin our choices – our thoughts and actions.

This was brought home to me in a recent conversation with a colleague who was describing a number of actions she had taken to help a homeless person she met when interstate.  She had spoken to this person and got to know their domestic violence situation and decided to provide the person with a meal.  This led to helping her in other ways including providing a particular style of footwear required for a job the person was applying for.  After sharing the story, my colleague then identified the emotions she was feeling as a result of her decision and her compassionate actions.  She was asking herself, “For whose benefit am I doing this?”(uncertainty), “Am I doing this because it makes me feel good?”(doubt), and “What expectations am I creating in this person and can I meet them?”(fear/anxiety).

So, to achieve anything, whether improved productivity or compassionate action, we need to be able to intelligently manage the emotions involved.  Daniel mentioned that in recent workshops in Nashville and Romania, different organisations and different countries, participants realised that when they talk about the characteristics of their best and worst bosses, they are talking about dimensions of emotional intelligence.  My colleague and I have undertaken this exercise with over two thousand managers over more than a decade in our Confident People Management Program, and we have found that people intuitively know what are the characteristics of the best and worst managers and can identify their own feelings when working for either category of manager.  There is remarkable unanimity across multiple groups in multiple locations.  The characteristics could be readily matched to Daniel’s 4 groupings and the 12 competencies of emotional intelligence. Emotional self-awareness is the first and foundational competency described by him.

What is “emotional self-awareness”?

If you have “emotional self-awareness” you have developed  awareness about some personal aspects such as:

  • what you do well and what you do not do well
  • what you are feeling and why you are feeling that way
  • how your feelings impact your thoughts
  • how your feelings and thoughts impact your performance
  • why you are doing what you are doing or being able to answer, what am I doing this for? – your purpose/meaning.

Emotional self-awareness underpins everything because it is the gateway to self-improvement – in all its mutliple aspects, including acquiring the other emotional intelligence competencies.

Daniel suggests that you may not achieve complete emotional self-awareness if you rely on mindfulness alone.  He argues that because of the internal and individual focus of mindfulness, you may be unaware of blind spots.  He suggests that mindfulness in combination with 360-degree feedback can help you to identify and act on these blind spots or hidden gaps in emotional intelligence competencies.  He has developed, with his colleague Richard Boyatzis, an Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI 360) as a 360-degree feedback instrument to measure the twelve emotional intelligence competencies and to enable identification of blind spots in relation to the competencies.

As Daniel acknowledges, a competent coach can also help in this area of developing accurate emotional self-awareness.  I recall coaching a manager where his blind spot was defensiveness and it was only after providing persistent and constant feedback over a few months that he finally accepted that he was being defensive.  He was then able to demonstrate emotional self-awareness by pulling himself up whenever he started to get defensive and, in the process, name his feelings.   Mindfulness can also help us to accept feedback that is uncomfortable but accurate.

Another route to developing emotional self-awareness and overcoming blind spots is participation in an action learning group where the group norm is “supportive challenge” and feedback is designed to help you be the best you can be and to achieve the best outcomes for your project and yourself.   The action learning set may be less contaminated by political considerations (such as fear of repercussions) or revengeful action, than a 360-degree feedback process.  The honesty norm underpinning action learning may also help to ensure that the feedback is uncontaminated.

As we grow in mindfulness and engage with others through feedback we can develop increased emotional self-awareness and be able to act on the feedback given.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

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Leadership and Self-Awareness

Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter and Marissa Afton, in their recent Harvard Business Review article , contend that “self-awareness can help leaders more than an MBA”.

On first reading, and based on the minimal evidence provided, this looks like an unfounded assumption.  However, the authors have demonstrated elsewhere a very sound knowledge of the linkage between mindfulness, self-awareness and effective leadership.  Rasmus Hougaard, for instance, co-authored a subsequent HBR article that maintained that ‘spending 10 minutes a day on mindfulness subtly changes the way you react to everything”.  In this subsequent article, the authors explore the impact of mindfulness on a leader and how it enables them to expand the gap between stimulus and response – a key requirement for self-management.

In the earlier article, the authors rely initially on two research studies that led to the conclusion that having an MBA did not differentiate effective leaders from non-effective leaders.  In fact, the reverse was shown to be true – those without an MBA performed better than those with it.  Clearly, we are dealing with limited samples and a limited explanation of the research involved.   There is an over-simplification of the factors impacting leadership performance, partly I assume for the purposes of brevity (not as a result of lack of awareness of the complexity of the factors involved).

Warren Bennis, widely regarded as a pioneer in developing our modern understanding of leadership, wrote about the Seven Ages of Leadership and identified the impact of the level of experience of the leader on leadership effectiveness, while signalling what personal perspectives and actions are required by the leader at each “age” (stage).  Underpinning his classic article, which is highly self-critical and self-reflective, is the exhortation for leaders to develop self-awareness – a high level of consciousness about themselves and their impact on their organisation.

Warren Bennis also agrees with Hougaard and his co-authors that an MBA alone is insufficient to prepare you for leadership roles:

Every new leader faces the misgivings, misperceptions, and the personal needs and agendas of those who are to be led. To underestimate the importance of your first moves is to invite disaster. The critical entry is one of a number of passages—each of which has an element of personal crisis—that every leader must go through at some point in the course of a career. Business school doesn’t prepare you for these crises, and they can be utterly wrenching. But they offer powerful lessons as well. (emphasis added)

Hougaard, Carter & Afton illustrate this inadequacy of a business school education very well when they describe the leadership crisis of Vince Siciliano after he took on the role of CEO of the New Resources Bank, based in California.  It was a deep personal crisis created by his own lack of self-awareness, but he did demonstrate the capacity to address his personal weaknesses and “blind spot” (relating to “soft skills” and relationship building), when confronted with the challenging information from his executives and others.

In contrast, Warren Bennis uses the example of Howard Raines – deposed Executive Editor of the New York Times – who through arrogance failed to see the deficiencies of his own leadership style which was divisive and, as a result, failed to build the alliances a leader needs to succeed.  Arrogance is a blinker, blocking out self-awareness – even when information (and support) is available to address personal blind spots.

Hougaard, Carter and Afton conclude their article by sharing the results of  their research about leader self-awareness undertaken across multiple organisations and countries.  They conclude from this research “that leaders at the highest levels tend to have better self-awareness than leaders lower in the hierarchy”.  They surmise that increasing leadership responsibilities precipitate self-awareness, a conclusion that resonates with Bennis’ “seven ages of leadership”.

Hougaard and his colleagues suggest that leaders adopt a daily mindfulness practice because this enables leaders to grow in self-awareness – in their words, “to expand your awareness of what’s happening in the landscape of your mind from moment to moment”.

These articles demonstrate that, as leaders grow in mindfulness, they not only develop self-awareness but also self-management.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of  PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay