Saturday, January 10, 2009

Self Knowledge and Awareness

What is it that sets top leaders apart from the average performer? Why are some people better at moving an organization forward than others? In the book Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman puts a microscope on these and other questions about leadership to discover what sets the great leaders apart from the rest of the crowd.

One of the first discoveries Goleman shares is that there are four competencies of Emotional Intelligence (EI) - and not a single technical or purely cognitive competency - exhibited by these top performers. (P. 36-37, Primal Leadership) This discovery puts Goleman in the camp of authors who believe that it is not necessary to be born a leader. Leadership can be learned. (This is good news for all of us.)

These four dimensions of Emotional Intelligence identified by Goleman fall into two categories - Personal Competence, and Social Competence: (P. 39, Primal Leadership)

Personal Competence:
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
Social Competence:
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Management
Each of these competencies is worthy of study. I recommend Primal Leadership as an easy and accessible way to learn more about these and other aspects of leadership.

The first EI competency that Goleman discusses is self-awareness. On the surface, that may seem like a simple thing - "Of course I am aware of myself. So what's the problem?" However, I don't think the topic is quite that simple.

True self-awareness requires reflective self-examination, feedback from others, and knowledge of "who you are, where you are going, and why you are going there." (For more about this read the blog titled: Asking the Right Questions, and Cashman's book Leadership from the Inside Out.) These questions get to the heart of defining what matters most to you, and the values that drive you.

There are a number if instruments you can use to get an understanding of who you are and what drives you. For example, tools like the Strengths Deployment Inventory (SDI) give you an insight into how you relate to others (relationship awareness), your motivations, and how you change when things are not going well. This information prepares you to both be more self-aware and socially aware in your relationships. This is also a very useful to use in groups or teams that gives each member a boost in their self-awareness, as well as a better understanding of social awareness and relationship management styles that help the group work more effectively. (For more on the SDI instrument, email me - - and I'll send you some background.)

Self study is essential. Tools for improving self-awareness and receiving feedback help. But underlying it all, you must have a desire and openness to new information; a desire to know more about yourself and how you relate to others, and the openness to take in new knowledge about yourself, even when that knowledge may not be consistent with you prior image of yourself.

If you have that inner drive, you will gain self-awareness, and take a fateful step toward being an emotionally intelligent leader.