Emotional Self-Awareness: Living Into Your Leadership Potential

Rhonda blog post covers

Although most people think they are self-aware, few actually meet the criteria. A study by Harvard Business Review estimated only 10 to 15 percent of participants met the criteria. Emotional self-awareness is even lower, especially among generations who were not raised to identify and show their feelings. Research led by Brené Brown showed that, on average, people can only identify about 3 emotions they experience. However, there’s a vast range of emotions beyond mad, glad, and sad. If we can’t name our emotions, how can we possibly manage and work through them effectively? 

Unsurfaced emotions can be a real problem for small business owners. They are setting a tone for their team and their behavior impacts all the people around them. That includes employees, vendors, customers, and other stakeholders. And it’s more than the impact they have at a particular moment. Their actions have an emotional ripple effect when people carry that emotional hangover throughout the day and even bring it home into their personal lives. 

Here’s the great news—emotional self-awareness can be learned and developed. As leaders, we are responsible for learning about ourselves and our emotions. When you are emotionally aware and doing your best to bring that awareness into your leadership in a positive way, think about how that impacts the people around you, your team, their families, and the community as a whole. You are establishing a culture that draws people to you and makes them want to work with you, whether as an employee, vendor, or customer. 

What is Emotional Self-Awareness?

Self-awareness is the first domain of emotional intelligence, a topic we covered in April’s blog (Improve Your Emotional Intelligence To Boost Your Bottom Line). It really comes down to knowing and recognizing your emotions, which in turn helps you understand your strengths and energizers and the areas where you’re most challenged. There are other significant benefits to emotional self-awareness. 

  • Focus. Understanding your emotions affects your ability to pay attention. If those emotions are swirling within you, you’re not able to zone in on a specific task. Getting unsurfaced emotions out of the back of your head allows your prefrontal cortex to concentrate on the things that need your attention at any given moment. 
  • Decision-Making. You can't make a good decision if you're driven by emotion alone. When we experience a feeling, we need to identify it, think about it, and then generate an action. If we skip the thinking part, we’re reacting instead of responding.
  • Relationships. If you have emotions you're not understanding and dealing with, you will have relationship problems. Things will come out sideways and you will take your feelings out on the wrong people in the wrong way. 
  • Performance and Creativity. How you deal with your emotions affects your physical and mental health. As psychologist and author Bessel Vander puts it, your body keeps the score. If you’re not managing your emotions, your body and mind will carry them. Clear those emotions so you can move forward and bring your best to your leadership role. 

How Do You Become a More Self-Aware Leader?

Once you understand the value of emotions, you can start building the skills of emotional intelligence and self-awareness. The RULER approach, developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, is a great place to start. Founding Director Dr. Marc Brackett breaks down the RULER acronym on Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast.

  • Recognizing emotions in oneself and others. 
  • Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions. 
  • Labeling emotions with a nuanced vocabulary. 
  • Expressing emotions in accordance with cultural norms and social context. 
  • Regulating emotions with helpful strategies. 

With all this in mind, here are my tips to become a more emotionally self-aware leader.

  1. Learn to recognize and name your emotions. Stop suppressing your emotions and pushing them down. You need to feel them to recognize them. That doesn't mean you have to act on every emotion you experience. It means you must acknowledge and identify them. Look beyond the three emotions people are generally able to identify. Don't just say you're mad. What kind of mad are you? If you’re sad, are you more devastated or frustrated?
  2. Be curious about what precipitated an emotion. Sometimes we don’t immediately know what caused us to feel a certain way or we develop a story that strays from the truth. Asking what questions, not why questions, will help you be objective, future-focused, and empowered to act on your new insights.  
  3. Identify the safe places to process your emotions. Your “Corner 4” people build you up, give honest feedback, and help you grow to your highest potential. They are the people you should go to with your emotions and figure out a way forward. Be fully present, ready to listen to their perspective, and open to learning from the situation. 
  4. Set a culture of emotional awareness in your organization. As a leader, you need to make your business a safe place to process emotions by setting a positive example. Your team will know and remember if you consistently and thoughtfully respond rather than react in the moment. Share your strategies and be a Corner 4 person for them. 

Emotional intelligence, which starts with self-awareness, is essential to fulling living into your potential as a leader and achieving your business’s vision. Emotional self-awareness can save you from pitfalls in your business and leadership journey. You can grow yourself out of pitfalls you may already be in to become the leader you are capable of being. And all the aspects of emotional intelligence are learnable skills if you have a growth mindset. Take the first step today with the emotion wheel [link pending] a valuable tool to help you identify your emotions and understand your reactions to them. There’s no cost! I’ll send it to you and you’ll be better equipped on the path toward improving your emotional self-awareness and your business.

Like what you’re reading?

Receive my weekly techniques, tips and ideas about Masterpiece Work in your inbox each week.


Scroll to top