Can Self-Awareness Give Serving Leaders an Edge?

Can self-awareness give serving leaders an edge?Can self-awareness give serving leaders an edge?

How do you stand out from your peers? What’s the secret ingredient for great serving leadership? How do you evaluate a leader’s potential leadership capabilities in today’s rapidly changing times? How can self-awareness give serving leaders an edge?

I’ve interviewed over 17,000 leaders in my career as a management consultant.  It seems like there should be some similarities between all the people who excel at leadership over the past 25 years.  Before 2002, if someone had asked, I could tell you what my clients wanted, but it was very hard to define across my clients’ many markets and industries.

I was introduced to the concept of emotional intelligence by Dan Goleman, and then later Cary Cherniss in Washington, DC.  One aspect of emotional intelligence is self-awareness.  Once I understood this aspect, I never had a hard time defining this leadership success factor again.

Today, every client and partner I work with learns about emotional intelligence. I believe it’s the foundation of success for leaders from startups to great nonprofits, to Fortune 1000 global organizations. This week, I share how emotional intelligence can help you become a stronger leader.

I have a slightly different take on emotional intelligence built on the foundation I learned over the past 12 years. I share my perspectives as an executive coach who has worked with a wide range of senior leaders on a daily basis. My job is to help make my clients and partners become more effective. I’m paid when my clients get results. I believe the soft side of leadership leads to breakthrough financial results.

The first key to emotional intelligence is self-awareness. As a leader, do you know what impact you have on other people? As importantly, you must know what you’re feeling and how it impacts your performance. Today, leaders must not only understand themselves, but also how they interact with others.

When I onboard senior executives to new organizations, we spend significant time understanding their own motivation and what moves them to action. Self-awareness means you understand others and how your actions impact others. I help clients understand their agendas and the agendas of others with whom you interact. When dealing with people under pressure, it is critical that you know how you react under pressure. Emotional intelligence means you trust yourself and you know why you are the right person to lead your team. It also means you know when to delegate to others on your team.

Having emotional awareness means you are aware of the values and goals that define success for you. It also means that you have invested the time to understand others’ values and goals.  When you are a leader of an organization, your ability to understand others is your most critical skill in getting the results you desire. Understanding others motivations is a key element to long term trust and engagement for your team.

When sharing this emotional intelligence information with my MBA students at Miami University (Ohio), I was asked about leaders who are challenging to work with. How does emotional intelligence hinder their success? When I was teaching, Michael Maccoby had done some great work understanding this dysfunctional behavior and called them narcissist leaders. I’ve worked for several in my career. I discovered that many of these narcissist leaders are very effective over the short term, but tend to burn out quickly, damage team synergy and leave little lasting impact on the organization. I’ve seen this type of leader destroy organizations before leaving.

For every rule, there is an exception. I can think of two highly regarded leaders who used negative reinforcement and seemed to lack self-awareness yet still got incredible results from their teams. Both went on to be considered the highest caliber leaders in their respective industries. When choosing to deal with them, I understood their agenda and helped my organizations’ leaders structure better deals because I used their apparent emotional deafness to our advantage. I would not want to work with either of these leaders, but leave it open to discussions outside this blog.

Today, we talked about self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Thursday this week, I talk about the benefits for leaders of accurate self-assessment in building a winning team. See you Thursday.

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