FBI agents who work undercover are given a series of psychological tests to determine their level of self-awareness. Without self-awareness, agents would not be able to predict their responses when confronted with the unknown that accompanies undercover work.
Psychological tests are constructed and administered by the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. I spent a week being assessed by FBI instructors and attending classes intended to drill into me the importance of emotional intelligence if I was to become a successful undercover agent.
Emotional intelligence is recognizing and understanding emotions, both your own and those around you. Since self-awareness is the ability to accurately perceive your own emotions, your competence as a leader rests on your ability to stay alert to them so you can manage your behavior in different situations.
A high degree of self-awareness requires a willingness to tolerate the discomfort of focusing on feelings that may be negative. It can take mental toughness to move through that discomfort, but it’s essential because the more you know about yourself, the better you can predict your reactions.
He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened—Lao Tzu
It’s important to understand, however, that self-awareness is not about discovering deep, dark secrets about your inner world.
Instead, it is about developing a straightforward and honest understanding of what makes you tick.
Successful leaders understand why they do well, what motivates them, and which people and/or situation push their buttons. If you are self-aware, you are far more likely to pursue the right opportunities, use your strengths, and keep your emotions from holding you back.
Here are 5 tips to help you use emotional intelligence to become a self-aware leader:
1. Stop Treating Feelings As Either Enemies or Friends
It’s far too simplistic, and childish, to divide your emotions into two piles: good and bad. So stop labeling them; instead, become aware of each and every emotion without judging it. Observe it, let it run its course, and remind yourself that the feeling was there to help you understand something about yourself.
2. Be Bold and Lean Into Your Discomfort Zone
The biggest obstacle to observing the entire range of your emotions is the tendency to avoid the ones that produce the most discomfort. If you try to avoid certain emotions because they are uncomfortable, you are caught off guard when they do rear their ugly head. Avoidance is a short-term fix. You’ll never be able to manage yourself effectively if you ignore how to deal with the unpleasant stuff.
Don’t minimize an emotion because it’s not comfortable. You are being arrogant if you think you can control it by using this tactic. Instead, be bold and learn about the emotion so it no longer controls your behavior.
3. Learn What Pushes Your Buttons
We all have buttons that produce predictable reactions. When the right ones are pushed, we can scream, throw tantrums, or burn with anger. Knowing who, or what, pushes your buttons and how it happens is critical to developing the ability to take control of the situation.
Knowing where your buttons are opens the door to managing your reaction to their triggers.
4. Keep A Beady Eye Focused on Yourself At All Times
Personal surveillance can produce a mother-lode of important information about how you tick. Observe how you react to situations in conversations, meetings, or one-on-one.
Notice your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors as each of the situations unfold. Slow yourself down so the fast-thinking emotional part of your brain doesn’t overtake the slower-thinking logical part of your brain.
You are in the best position to surveil yourself in all situations, so take the opportunity to notice what your hot button looks and sounds like. Again, this self-awareness will enable you to calibrate your reactions.
5. Stop and Ask Yourself WHY You Do the Things You Do
Your emotions often show up uninvited and unexpected, so stop acting surprised when they do. Emotions serve an important purpose—they are clues you need to pay attention to in order to fully understand yourself.
Even when the emotions are painful, you need to trace them back to their origin to understand their purpose. Pay attention to them, spend time looking for why this emotion surfaced at this time, who triggered it, and in what context?
Self-awareness provides you with the ability to understand why you do the things you do so you can choose your responses instead of reacting to situations around you.
We can all become more self-aware leaders if we learn how to read our own emotions.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7
How has self-awareness helped you become a more effective leader?
© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.
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