Self-Awareness, Leadership, and Supervision

This fall I started facilitating a course for individuals who are in leadership and /or supervisory roles. As a part of the course I intend to use some case studies for some practical application. So I asked the participants to provide me with some examples of issues or concerns that they have working with employees or co-workers. As I reviewed those examples, I am again reminded of how important people skills are to a leader and just how uncomfortable some leaders are with these skills.

As I read through the examples and the background the participants provided, I am reminded of the work of Daniel Goleman as he focused on emotional intelligence. I also thought about the work of James Kouzes and Barry Posner on leadership. The case study examples clearly indicate that the issues that cause significant concern for leaders and supervisors are the people relationship issues and not the subject matter or the content of the work itself. It is the human interactions in the process of building a productive work unit that is the focus of these participants.

As Goleman points out, at the heart of being an effective leader and supervisor is the concept of knowing oneself, of being self-aware. This concept comes into play when I interact with individuals who don’t seem to understand their own emotional and/or cognitive states. Some people seem to react to the emotions, unaware of how they feel and thus respond with whatever thought is running through their mind at the moment. Others seem to be aware of their emotions and how those emotions impact their thoughts. These individuals are conscious of how they are feeling and use these emotions to appropriately respond to the situation at hand.

This difference was clearly demonstrated to me when I was called by an individual and abruptly chastised for a misunderstanding. The individual was very angry at me for what was interpreted as a huge mistake having potential ramifications for the individual. The anger and potential embarrassment was clearly directing the comments at me. Unable to connect the emotions to the verbal comments, the individual left our conversation believing I am less than a competent professional and that I was properly put in my place.

About the same time I recall having a conversation with a very skilled leader who was also not totally happy with something going on in the organization. Unlike the first conversation, in this case we were able to openly discuss the situation by owning and sharing our emotions. By utilizing those emotions in the process we were able to recognize how two individuals can see things so differently and still work to a common understanding and solution to the situation.

As I prepare for the leadership course, I hope to be able to demonstrate the importance of knowing and understanding ourselves as humans and how both our emotional and cognitive selves are critical to being an effective and powerful leader and supervisor. In The Leadership Challenge, the authors clearly spell this out when they say exemplary leaders “model the way”. These leaders know that their behavior is more important than their position or title, or even their personality. Exemplary leaders know that what they say and do will have significant impact on the people with whom they work. Therefore, they are always aware of their emotions and share those emotions in a cognitive manner that leads to trust and respect. Respect for others and respect by others.

The next time you find yourself in a difficult situation pay attention to your emotions. Own those emotions and don’t let them own you. Connect with the others by sharing your emotions in a constructive and thoughtful manner. Be an emotionally intelligent leader and supervisor and see how difficult situations become more manageable.

Until next time, practice being aware, name your emotions, and observe how this awareness impacts your thoughts, comments, and behavior.