What Great Leaders have: Self-Awareness and Emotional Intelligence - Day 14 of 40 DAYS OF GROWTH

From Friday 19th January, everyday for 40 days, I will be sharing something each day that has either (1) changed my way of thinking or perspective, (2) helped me get through a challenging period of transition, change or growth, or (3) changed my life for the better. I've called it '40 Days of Growth'. I'd love it if you followed along with me on this journey - contributing what has also helped you to learn, grow and change. And, if I can support you on your own learning journey, please do let me know 😃

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What Great Leaders have: Self-Awareness and Emotional Intelligence

Day 14 of 40 DAYS OF GROWTH

Due to becoming injured unexpectedly last week and needing time to recover, I got a few days behind on posting daily. So, after day 14 will be a brief series of posts that detail 5 key ways to becoming more self-aware. Because, at the end of the day, knowing yourself is a great thing - you're the person that you spend the most time with. Well, of course, unless you're a conjoined twin... But, let's not go down that rabbit hole here. The next 5 posts will be: 5 days to greater Self-Awareness: Days 15 - 20 of 40 DAYS OF GROWTH


Context: This series of posts was inspired by a woman that I met at a friend's birthday party in the weekend who said that her manager told her she "needed to become more self-aware". She seemed totally lost about how to go about doing this. My attempt at answering it included "have you thought of trying reflection, journalling, meditation or asking multiple people for feedback?" After going away and doing a bit of research on what the management and leadership development thought leaders advise people on gaining greater self-awareness it turns out I wasn't far off!


"Know Thyself" - huh?

The aphorism "Know Thyself" is written on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The ancient Greeks travelled to the Oracle at Delphi to seek wisdom and knowledge. Before they entered the Oracle, they would see the words "Gnothi Seauton" (translated as "Know Thyself"). This saying was purposefully placed above the oracle as those who seek wisdom must first know who they are before obtaining any wisdom and enlightenment from outside forces. So, if you're seeking to understand others, understand the world or to understand how to 'get what you want', it's important to first understand yourself.

Gnothi seafton  or "know thyself", written by the ancient Greeks on the temple of Apollo at Delphi. A timely reminder so that they would pause consider their position in life before facing up to the Gods.  Image source

Gnothi seafton or "know thyself", written by the ancient Greeks on the temple of Apollo at Delphi. A timely reminder so that they would pause consider their position in life before facing up to the Gods. Image source


What is self-awareness?

99u has a nice definition of self-awareness and why it's important:

"Self-awareness is defined as conscious knowledge of oneself; it’s a stepping stone to reinventing oneself, learning to make wiser decisions, and helps you tune into your thoughts and feelings. So often we place blame on externalities because it’s the easiest excuse, when in fact we should be thinking about our thinking, reflecting, trying on different perspectives, and learning from our mistakes" - 99U

MindTools is another excellent source to learn about this and other related topics:

"[Self-aware people] understand their emotions, and because of this, they don't let their feelings rule them. They're confident – because they trust their intuition and don't let their emotions get out of control.
They're also willing to take an honest look at themselves. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and they work on these areas so they can perform better. Many people believe that this self-awareness is the most important part of emotional intelligence" - MindTools.

Essentially, it's invaluable knowledge of ourselves that aids us in our growth, understanding of who we are and in our relationships with ourself and others.


Self-awareness is KEY for having Emotional Intelligence

Have you heard of the term Emotional Intelligence (or EI or EQ for short)? Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist and author of 'Emotional Intelligence - Why It Can Matter More Than IQ' (1995) developed a framework of five elements that define emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is the cornerstone/foundation for having emotional intelligence. It's that important. Self-awareness is made up of emotional awareness, accurate self-assessment, and self-confidence. In other words, it's all about knowing your emotions, your personal strengths and weaknesses, and having a strong sense of your own worth. In positive psychology Emotional Intelligence is defined as “knowing one’s internal states, preference, resources and intuitions”. Self-awareness is critical in this process.


Why should I care about self-awareness?

I'm not going to tell you what to think. Instead, I'll let a few other authors give their points of view here and let you come to your own insights and point of view :)

  • Why it's important for professionals:
Self-awareness is a really big deal for everyone, especially executives and business leaders. Failure to face reality can destroy your career and your company - Inc
  • For understanding the emotions of others:
Without awareness and understanding of ourselves, and a sense of self rooted in our own values, it is hard, if not impossible, to be aware of and respond to the emotions of others - Skills You Need
  • From Positive Psychologists:
"...self-aware people tend to act consciously rather than react passively, to be in good psychological health and to have a positive outlook on life. They also have greater depth of life experience and are more likely to be more compassionate to themselves and others" - Source


How can I develop greater self-awareness?

An excellent Harvard Business Review article by Anthony K. Tjan called '5 Ways to Become More Self Aware' (2015) is useful to read. A brief summary of his recommendations are below:

[1] Meditate

I cannot agree more with Tjan here! Practising mindfulness and meditation has been the most transformative practice that I've implemented into my life. Tjan gives a nice definition:

"...meditation is the practice of improving your moment-by-moment awareness. Most forms of meditation begin with focusing on, and appreciating the simplicity of, inhaling and exhaling. But these don’t need to be formal or ritualistic — greater clarity can also come from regular moments of pause and reflection"

Tjan also recommends a meditation and reflection exercise where, while he uses a meditation app, he asks himself a set of questions - such as:

  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • What am I doing that is working?
  • What am I doing that is slowing me down?
  • What can I do to change?
Mindfulness Meditation + Nature = 2 of my favourite things :)

Mindfulness Meditation + Nature = 2 of my favourite things :)

[2] Write down your key plans and priorities

One of the best ways to increase self-awareness is to write down what you want to do and track your progress. Warren Buffet, for one, is known for carefully articulating the reasons he’s making an investment at the time he makes it. His journal entries serve as a historical record that helps him assess whether or not future outcomes can be attributable to sound judgment or just plain luck.

[3] Take psychometric tests

I'm a sucker for taking psychometric tests with friends and colleagues and then comparing results with them. It's a great team building activity and can provide invaluable insights into why you are different or similar to others. Over the next 5 days I'll be recommending some of the better psychometric tests that I've come across :)

Among the best known of these tests are Myers-Briggs and Predictive Index, but all are aimed as serving as a data point towards greater self-awareness. A common design point with all of them is that there are no particular right or wrong answers. Instead, they are designed to compel respondents to consider a set of traits or characteristics that most accurately describe them relative to other people. ...Reflecting on forced trade-off questions such as these help test-takers better understand their own true characters.
The results of 7 years of regular reflection, writing, journalling and recording insights from psychometric tests, feedback and experiences!

The results of 7 years of regular reflection, writing, journalling and recording insights from psychometric tests, feedback and experiences!

[4] Ask trusted friends

Some of your friends may know you better than you know yourself, therefore they can be invaluable sources of insight for you. They can help you become aware of any blindspots you may not be aware you have, such as habits or mannerisms.

None of us is altogether aware of how we come across to others. We have to rely on the feedback of our peers, friends, and mentors. To have your friends play the role of honest mirror, let them know when you are seeking candid, critical, objective perspectives. ...Another strategy is to ask friends to call you out when you are doing a behavior you already know you want to change.

[5] Get regular feedback at work

Provided that feedback is done well (and that we are able to take feedback with a growth mindset - see this blog), it allows us to better see our own strengths and weaknesses.

The keys to effective formal feedback is to a) have a process, and b) have an effective manager of it. ...Once the feedback process is completed, it is important all involved to reflect on it by writing down their top takeaways. Note both any surprising strengths and any weaknesses or blind spots.


Another way of building self-awareness: walking a mile in your own shoes

One way not mentioned above is taking the time and space to spend time with yourself in nature, ideally while doing some form of physical exercise. Being in nature, relying on what you have with you and doing a physical activity that gets your blood flowing, your endorphins releasing and your mind clear can do wonders for 'getting to know you'. This is something that I've personally experienced.

Last year I spent 6 days walking the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage walk, in Spain with my mum (she's a trooper!) Each day we would walk between 17 - 29 kilometres. As we had different walking speeds there would be periods of time where I would be encouraged to go ahead and we'd arrange to meet at the next Aubergue (a hostel for pilgrims). During these periods of time I'd have plenty of time to just 'be' with myself - my thoughts, my body and my emotions. It was a time that I really got to know my thoughts, my emotions and how my body coped with LONG days of physical exertion! If you're more of an 'active relaxer' (like me) I'd recommend trying something like this in order to learn more about yourself.



Questions for you

What does 'know thyself' mean to you? What ways have you learned more about yourself in the past? I'd LOVE to hear your experiences and wisdom in the comments section below :)



Jen Y