By Lisa Heay, Marketing Planning Manager at Heinz Marketing

I recently attended another management workshop – Next Level Leadership Development, the second in a series following a New Manager Development Workshop I attended back in January of this year. What surprised me most about this workshop was it didn’t just include tips and strategies to lead others or how to approach conflict management, but it was instead heavily focused on looking inwards at myself – do I have the emotional intelligence required to be an effective leader?

Emotional intelligence is defined as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” I hadn’t arrived thinking it’d be an exercise in evaluating myself, but this workshop forced us to look introspectively. Am I self-aware? Do I know my own strengths, weaknesses, drivers, values, and the impact I have on others? Can I manage my own emotions? Do I have self-control? Am I adaptable? Am I able to build rapport and show empathy to others? As you can see, the questions went on and on.

A few days before the workshop, we were sent some homework – to read a provided Inc. article titled “Self- Awareness and the Effective Leader” by Chris Musselwhite. In hindsight, that should have been my first clue to what was to come. The subhead to the article said it all – “Organizations benefit more from leaders who take responsibility for what they don’t know than from leaders who pretend to know it all.”

The article went on to say that “although it is probably one of the least discussed leadership competencies, self-awareness is possibly one of the most valuable. Self-awareness is being conscious of what you’re good at while acknowledging what you have yet to learn. This includes admitting when you don’t have the answer and owning up to mistakes.”

Understandably, that can be uncomfortable when put into practice. To some degree, this goes against the “Fake it ‘til you make it” mentality we’ve been taught as professionals, at least when it comes to vulnerability and hiding mistakes and weaknesses. But the opposite is actually true: Self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses not only increases your credibility with others as a leader, but you set the example for others around you to follow suit—resulting in an organization as a whole that is supportive when people make mistakes and accepting when asking for help.

And, as the Inc.com article puts it, “…whether you acknowledge your weaknesses or not, everyone still sees them. So rather than conceal them, the person who tries to hide weaknesses actually highlights them, creating the perception of a lack of integrity and self-awareness.”

So how does that get put into practice? In the workshop, we took a test to inventory our own self-awareness. It consisted of a series of phrases that describe people’s sense of self-awareness, and we were to use a rating scale to describe how each statement described us. How we really are, not how we’d like to be.

It was a 6-point scale, 1 being “strongly disagree” to 6 being “strongly agree”, and there were 11 phrases on the assessment. Things like “When I receive negative feedback about myself from others, I do not get angry or defensive.” And “I have a good sense of how I cope with situations that are ambiguous and uncertain.”  And “I have a close personal relationship with at least one other person with whom I can share personal information and personal feelings.” It was hard to answer based on how I really am versus what I knew the right answer was, but that defeats the purpose of an exercise on self-awareness!

Once we assigned a number to each of the phrases, we added the numbers to determine our results. Those with the most self-awareness scored over 60 points, with the average being 51.47. To my dismay, my results fell around the average. I’d thought for sure I would score higher, but I guess that was the point of the exercise—and the awareness that I’m not as self-aware as I thought is the first step to improvement!

There are tools out there to test yourself at home without attending a workshop as I had done. Myers-Briggs is one of the most well-known. It’s is an introspective self-report questionnaire indicating differing psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. The DiSC Profile is another – published by Wiley, it’s a non-judgmental tool used for discussion of people’s behavioral differences. It will help you understand your behaviors and personality, how you approach work, how you respond to conflict and associate with others. CliftonStrengths, formerly StrengthsFinder, is another. The CliftonStrengths assessment uncovers your unique rank order of 34 CliftonStrengths themes, which explain the ways you most naturally think, feel, and behave.

No matter what tool you utilize, the first step to enlightenment is knowing you need to look inwards to yourself and how you impact others around you.

So, what’s next? How do you move forward from here and become even more self-aware? You could make a point each day to think back and reflect on the day’s events: what were your conversations like? How did people react to you? Did you work well with others or was there tension?

Another easy, yet possibly difficult approach is to seek feedback from others. You likely have a formal performance review each year, but as an informal tactic, just ask those around you questions about your performance and really listen to the answers. It could be after a specific project or just in general, but keep in mind these conversations are not the time to be defensive—you need to listen without justifying your actions. It might be uncomfortable if you’re not used to that level of open critique and self-reflection, but worth it to your team, your organization, and your own professional development.

If you’re interested in diving in deeper on self-awareness and emotional intelligence, here are some more resources:

Make the effort to look inside yourself as a leader and your team and your organization will be better for it. Happy reflecting!