It seems not many business leaders have great self-awareness. In today’s fast-paced business world, it’s hard to take time for reflection and introspection. But if you’re leading others, your ability to manage and influence first depends on knowing yourself well.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, an authority on emotional intelligence in organizations, calls this the leadership paradox in Primal Leadership:

“For leaders, the first task in management has nothing to do with leading others; step one poses the challenge of knowing and managing oneself.”

The greatest obstacle to managing others is lack of self-awareness and the inability to manage ourselves. If you fail to connect with yourself and are constantly “doing,” you’re not in touch or self-aware. If you’re focused on future results, or looking back on past events, you aren’t tuned into the here and now. You can’t be mindful of others without first being mindful of yourself.

Open, honest and accurate self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence for leaders. As Goleman writes in Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ:

“Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and drives. People with strong self-awareness are neither overly critical nor unrealistically hopeful. Rather they are honest — with themselves and others.

“People who have a high degree of self-awareness recognize how their feelings affect them, other people and job performance…It shows itself as candor and an ability to assess oneself realistically. People with high self-awareness are able to speak accurately and openly…about their emotions and the impact they have on their work.”

Knowing and managing yourself includes:

  • Connecting with the deep values that guide you
  • Imbuing your actions with meaning
  • Aligning your emotions with goals
  • Keeping yourself motivated
  • Keeping yourself focused and on task

Here’s what I’ve found to be true: When we act in accord with these inner measures, we feel good about what we do. Our emotions become contagious. When we, as leaders, feel positive, energized and enthusiastic about our work, so do those we influence.

Honing the skills of awareness leads to mindfulness — becoming aware of what’s going on inside and outside and around us. Mindfulness is living in a state of full, conscious awareness of one’s whole self, other people and the context in which we live and work.

Recent studies in management science, psychology and neuroscience point to the importance of developing mindfulness through the practice of meditation. I’m not speaking about something abstract, spiritual or philosophical. Before you dismiss mindfulness as New Age rhetoric, pay attention to the research.  It’s as simple as taking a few minutes out of the day to sit and be still. You can train your mind and improve focus and concentration, all qualities for leading others.

What do you think? I’ll share more about this quality of mindfulness for leaders and how to develop more self-awareness in my next post. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this; you can contact me here or on LinkedIn.