As a leadership performance coach, I am regularly reminding my clients that leadership is a skilled profession. It has a language, models and frameworks that provide practitioners with tools that, when used appropriately, can create a positive impact on individuals, teams and organizations.
In the world of leadership, as in life, we can only affect and change things when we have a conscious awareness of them. This why the first step in building your leadership skills is in gaining self-awareness:
- Knowing how you show up
- What it is like to be with you
- How your behavior impacts others
It sounds simple and straight forward, yet most leaders have low levels of self-awareness, despite their own beliefs otherwise. Why?
First, we all have blind spots. We don’t know what we don’t know, and if we do not get open and honest feedback, we have little opportunity or motivation to consider a change. With feedback comes an entry point to consider making both a belief and a behavioral shift because something we are doing is either not working or perhaps it is working well and we can be doing more of it.
Second, we often disregard feedback from those whom we don’t respect, don’t like or don’t want to hear. We humans usually like our own story, self-image and may even proudly proclaim, “This is who I am, and it works for me.” After all, you may be a successful senior leader already in a prominent role. The problem here is that leadership today, first and foremost, is all about others and not about you. So this story you’re writing – if you choose to stick with it – has an unhappy ending for you as a leader. The “old school” days of command and control, hierarchical power and leaders as kings are over. It is now a world of collaboration, mutual respect and personal power over position power.
Third, without self-awareness most of the other tools in your leadership toolbox will just not work for you. It is the cost of entry to begin the process of creating your own unique leadership practice. Without it, you will be wandering around as an unconsciously incompetent leader, similar to the Mr. Magoo cartoon character of the 1970’s, and will simply not have the credibility to influence others.
So, if your leadership “mojo” is not working the way you want it to, check in with your own self-awareness and get feedback from those you trust. Self-awareness is one of the critical components involved in building your emotional intelligence, that set of learnable skills and behaviors that everyone can improve with time, discipline and conscious practice. It’s also what separates today’s most successful and influential leaders from the rest. The curiosity to uncover blind spots, the vulnerability to openly seek feedback to improve performance and understand who they are and who they are not (yet) provides emotionally intelligent leaders with enormous leverage in getting others to follow them.
As a leadership performance coach, much of my work with executives’ teams centers on skill building in the emotional intelligence area. What was historically dismissed as unimportant “soft stuff” has been replaced with validated research; testing confirms that high emotional intelligence produces more positive experiences for everyone involved and acknowledges just how hard these skills are to learn and apply. Those with a natural aptitude for emotional intelligence are often the graceful climbers of the executive ranks. For those with desire and ambition to become leaders at the highest levels, there is nothing that cannot be learned without the “rigor” of both conscious discipline and practice.
Erica Peitler is a leadership expert and an adviser to C-Suite executives, as well as a keynote speaker and author.
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