Great Leaders Must Have Emotional Intelligence and Self Awareness
It’s so easy to judge the behavior of others… In our personal relationships with our significant other, kids, or friends; and at work with our peers, our team members, and our leaders… the default path is often to look at their behavior as the cause or determining factor in what’s wrong. The much more difficult choice, and the only one that can actually make things better, is looking at our own behavior. It takes a level of self awareness that, at least for me, seems to come and go.
A little over a decade ago I was getting married. A week before the wedding an old back injury came back to haunt me with a badly herniated disc. After the second surgery (and the better part of a year healing) I was fixed. In the mean time however, I did not deal well with what life gave me. I was out of work, and money became an issue very quickly. I couldn’t lift anything… not even to help with the laundry. I had to watch my father in law mow my lawn… Since I had very little self awareness, I found it emasculating, and humiliating among other things. Unable to identify much of what I was feeling, much less deal with my emotions, I projected all of my feelings onto my wife. Not good…
I was talking with a friend who was in the same class at the Pennsylvania Gestalt Center about all of ‘my wife’s’ issues, and how everything had gone horribly wrong. He told me that in his 20 plus years of marriage he had found only 1 thing to be true all of the time… when problems arose the only thing that made it better was looking at what he was doing, either to cause or fix it. In the middle of my ‘crisis’ I wasn’t really able to digest his advice and make it work for me. However it stuck with, and more and more I find myself able to draw on it.
As leaders we know that we cannot control anyone’s behavior. We can only hope to influence them (or at some point help them find their way to another job). Talking with our team members (or our leaders) about their behavior is appropriate and necessary. I try to impart to my team members that hearing and acting on feedback is one of the keys to success in becoming a leader, and so ‘judging’ their behavior and talking to them about it is what I do.
We will however find ourselves facing situations where we must look to our own behavior… our part in what’s going on. We have to be able to reflect honestly about what we are doing. Even if I’m not aware that I’m feeling offended or insulted, I can more often than not reflect on how I’ve been acting and see that I’ve been defensive or projecting. I may not realize that I’m feeling jealous or afraid of not getting enough attention, and through reflecting on how I’m acting I can see whether I’ve been taking or giving away the credit when things go well, or taking the blame when they don’t.
Once we’re able to recognize how we’ve been acting we can pretty easily drop our defenses (or whatever we need to do) and start acting without the emotional charge. It’s the only way to be really honest, to make real connections, and to find real solutions. And… ummm… easier said than done. The only way to get better is practice, practice, practice. Set some time aside each day to honestly, and as objectively as you can, look your actions each day. Were there any conversations that didn’t go as I had planned? Did I take credit when I could easily have given it away? Did I celebrate and praise my team members as much as I could have today? Have I told AND shown those who are important to me how much I love and appreciate them today? Did I hold the door open for someone and become indignant when they didn’t thank me?
It’s not too late to fix it… And luckily I get a whole new opportunity to get it right tomorrow.
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