SELF AWARENESS PART 2 – EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

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The concept of emotional intelligence has been around since the 1970’s, though it was the American Psychologist Daniel Goleman that brought the concept to life for the everyday leader in the 1990s.  As a result, today’s experienced leaders are cognizant of the importance of understanding, recognizing and managing their emotions. However, awareness does not always translate into action when it comes to controlling and managing a leader’s emotions. Hence why emotional intelligence (EQ) and self-awareness are kindred spirits. In Part 1 of this article I ascertain that self-awareness is a critical attribute for a successful leader, this idea extends to the concept of emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is the foundation to begin recognizing, understanding and managing emotions.

I’ve never had a problem controlling my emotions in regards to reacting to stress or losing my temper. In essence, I have always been able to self-regulate. The majority of my previous leaders, to include my current leader has commented on my ability to remain level-headed in stressful situations. Many leaders feel this is the epitome of having a high EQ. However, this is only one aspect of EQ, leaders must also be cable of mastering the areas of motivation, empathy and social skills.

For example, I’ve often been called emotionally constipated which can be as bad as being overly expressive. When at work, I focus on task accomplishment and overall goals of the organization. This, coupled with my personality type of ISTJ causes me to appear as if I have a lack of empathy. For example, in a previous peer review, I was told that I seemed to be uncaring because I would seldom, if ever, ask individuals how their day was going or engage in conversations unrelated to work. From my standpoint, I felt that topics unrelated to the accomplishment of the daily tasks were irrelevant. However, when I sat back and thought about what the co-worker had mentioned, I realized that from my co-worker’s point of view, it would seem as if I was not friendly or lacked a genuine interest in others. This perception could lead to co-workers believing that I was not a team player or having an inability to work in a group. As a result, I made a conscious effort to balance task accomplishment with basic work courtesies. My example demonstrates not only a lack of empathy, but also social skills.

The article, “Emotional Intelligence in Leadership – Learning How to Be More Aware” from the MindTools lays out the following five elements of emotional intelligence and provides some great tips for conquering each.

  1. Self-awareness.

  2. Self-regulation.

  3. Motivation.

  4. Empathy.

  5. Social skills.

In addition to the helpful tips provided by MindTools, I have a few expanded suggestions that can be applied to the elements of Emotional Intelligence.

KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS

Leaders must know themselves to tackle the elements of emotional intelligence, specifically triggers that may cause negative responses within one of the aspects of EQ. Do you like to work alone? Are you a process-oriented leader that requires precise and defined lanes? Or are you more of a general guidelines type of person that wants the freedom to experiment? These are the type of characteristics that leaders must know about themselves. In a previous job, I was tasked with creating a set of guidelines and policies to address some concerns that had risen as our organization grew in size and diversity. The purpose of the policies was to lay out some baseline standards within the organization so that everyone understood the collective left and right boundaries. The policy covered, such areas as, work hours, mandatory meetings, professionalism and communication. Once the policies were created, reviewed and approved, our leadership team briefed all the members of the organization. Following the briefing, one of my employees asked to speak with the leadership and expressed significant concerns, mainly about her understanding of the policies. She was a leader that felt the policies and guidelines would restrict her ability to be innovative and experiment with new ideas. This, of course, was not true and after sitting and explaining the new policies and exploring the areas that she felt were restrictive, she realized that she initially overreacted. The employee confided that she was an out of the box thinker and that she could be very defensive in response to policies that appeared to limit her strengths. As a leader with self-awareness, she understood that new policies or procedures were a trigger that may cause her to lose motivation if they were perceived that to limit her ability to be an out of the box thinker.

UNDERSTAND YOUR ENVIRONMENT AND ADJUST

Great organizations will promote a culture that ensures that the majority of their workforce is satisfied. Successful companies, such as Google and Facebook allow employees to embrace their personal style to promote good morale and boost productivity. However, understand that even the best company will only go so far to please its employees, especially those that do not adjust to the organization’s environment. We’ve all heard of the saying, “to whom much is given, much is required.”  Leaders must understand the environment in which they work and make the appropriate adjustments, such as understanding the culture and social context of the workplace. For example, during my early years in the military, I spent some time with combat units. Much of our time was spent practicing combat drills in the field, and during that time a standard way to correct young soldiers would be to have them do a physical activity such as pushups, sit-ups or flutter kicks. This method of correcting soldiers became my go to plan until I was transferred to an office environment.

I had been promoted to sergeant and had shown that I was technically proficient at my job and was given the opportunity to lead a small team of joint military personnel integrated into one of the DoD agencies. This new job required me to work within an office building side by side with DoD civilian employees. In my mind, since I still led military members, I should still be able to have them do push-ups and sit-ups as a form of correction. There was an Airman who was consistently late. One day I decided to have the Airman to do 50 push-ups near my cubicle. As a method of correcting his behavior. That evening, my civilian supervisor pulled me into his office and explained that he would prefer that I not force the military members to do push-ups in the office. The next day, the Airmen was late again, so I had him follow me outside to the designated smoking area to do his 50 push-ups. Once again, I was reprimanded by my civilian supervisor. The final time the airman was late, I had him walk up and down 5 flights of stairs. When my civilian supervisor called me in his office the last time, he told me to report to the senior military representative. The senior army representative explained that I would be reassigned due to my inability to adjust to the culture of the organization. I failed to adapt to the environment of the organization and as a result, displayed a lack of emotional intelligence.

PERCEPTION IS REALITY, SO CONTROL HOW YOU ARE PERCEIVED

When you combine self-awareness with the ability to understand and adjust to your environment, you will be in a better position to control how you are perceived. As a leader, how you are perceived affects your ability to direct, motivate, and influence.  In the example above, I’m sure that my civilian supervisor, as well as my subordinate, saw me as an Army hard ass and to a certain extent, they were right. However, what they didn’t see is that I used physical activity as a means to avoid creating a written reprimand that could potentially affect the airmen’s promotion opportunities or take away from the phenomenal technical job he was doing. Due to my lack of EQ, I didn’t even consider how I would be perceived. A better approach would have been to lay out my standards and requirements after my first thirty days within the organization. The thirty days would have given me the ability to observe the environment. From there I could have developed a set of guidelines for the military members within the scope of the organizational culture. Additionally, I could have shared my concerns for the Airmen with my civilian supervisor, specifically sharing my desire to find alternatives to written reprimands, but as the saying goes, “hindsight is always 20/20”.

Emotional intelligent leaders are capable of using the knowledge of self and their environment to ensure they are not inadvertently perceived negatively but their subordinates and the leadership. As diverse leaders, we must strive to improve every aspect of leadership and emotional intelligence coupled with self-awareness are key to this improvement.