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Leadership development programs designed to increase emotional intelligence have matured during the last 15 years. So why haven’t we seen a big change in the way executives relate to one other? Because, despite reading books and articles, taking assessments, and attending seminars, leaders keep their old habits.

Emotional Intelligence scores typically climb with titles, but peak with middle management, according to Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Any higher up the ladder, and the scores plummet. CEOs rank at the bottom.

Put a stop to passive aggressive behavior

Toxic behaviors from leaders are prevalent from the warehouse to the boardroom. Leaders yell at, embarrass, and publicly criticize subordinates. Tempers flare, anger surfaces, and emotions are unchecked or mismanaged. In toxic work cultures, passive aggressiveness is the rule, not the exception.

This happens for two reasons:

1) One, leaders simply don’t have sufficient desire to be better—i.e., they don’t care.

2) The other is lack of self-awareness.

All models of emotional intelligence start with a foundation of self-awareness.  Time spent on coaching needs to focus on building self-awareness because that’s where the gold is.

There are two ways to gain self-awareness:

1) Listen to and honestly examine the stories you are telling yourself in your head. Are they true? How do you know? This simply requires quiet time for self-reflection and to practice mindfulness.

2) Seek feedback from others. This requires you to identify people who feel safe with you, who you would freely invite to tell you how they react to you, and how they think others react to you. It requires honesty and, of course, the right time and environment where the conversation can occur without interruption.

Easy, right?  No, of course not.

These steps take time and commitment to change.

If Business is Good, Why Should You Care?

Coming face-to-face with your flaws and defects of character including pride, ego, distrust, and fear and allowing yourself to be vulnerable is self-improvement work that doesn’t come easy.

Additionally, if business is booming, deadlines are met, and stock value is going up, why go through this spending the time to improve, to be self-aware? Why dig deeper when all is well on the surface? Effective leaders dig anyway because they know they always need to up their leadership game, and because doing so will make a positive difference in how they engage with their team, vendors, and clients.

Listen to Your Own Stories

Force ten minutes of quiet time every day. Turn off your cell phones. Close your office door. (I have clients who break out in a cold sweat at the thought of doing so, but I urge you to try it anyway.)

Breathe deeply and slowly. See what surfaces. Let the thoughts roll through your brain like a digital ticker tape. Notice what’s happening and see if you can articulate how that experience feels.

Pay special attention to anything that feels difficult or sparks negative emotions. These feelings point to something larger underneath. When you take the time to look below the surface, you can see a glimpse of the source.

Listen to Stories of Others

Pick one person who you trust to tell you the complete truth about how you look to them. Ask them to find something they believe you do that causes others to disconnect from you, to avoid you, to shut down around you, or to be less the honest. This is tough stuff. It requires both courage to take this feedback and a desire to hear it. If you’re already doing something like this now, keep at it. Do it more.

Following these three simple steps will put you well on your way to better self-awareness, not only as a leader, but also as a person.  And that’s good for everyone.

Today’s guest contributor is Kevin McHugh, president of JKM Management Development, a management consulting firm specializing in increasing organizational performance and coaching business leaders to develop emotional awareness, conflict resolution capabilities, and maximize executive effectiveness.

Image credit before quote: Pixabay



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