Leadership KeyYou know what “they” say … perspective is everything; perception is reality.

If that’s true – we ought to pay attention to the way we are perceived.

What would others say about your capacity to lead?

How do others perceive you?

As uncomfortable as this question may be, it is an important question if you want to lead effectively … because we all lead someone. We lead our families, or our teams, or ourselves, but we lead someone.

You will find an endless stream of resources on leading others and/or leading organizations, but you hear much less about personal leadership, though I would argue in order to be exceptional at leading others, you must also be able to lead yourself.

Personal leadership is a layered topic and it hinges on our capacity to be self-aware – a hallmark of “Emotional Intelligence.”  Most of us have a basic understanding of the importance of Emotional Intelligence, also known as EQ. You have probably heard this concept talked about in your circles – or at the very least you instinctively know when someone lacks self-awareness.

Howard Gardner, an influential Harvard theorist, talked about EQ as “…the ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them.” Emotional Intelligence is our ability to perceive, evaluate, and control our emotions. Some experts claim that it is an ingrained characteristic and cannot be changed, while others argue it can evolve over time – ultimately it is up to you to decide.

We all know this guy (or gal): a CEO or director who leads an organization and who has absolutely no idea how he/she is perceived by people. They walk into a full room, deliver the quarterly strategy, insult half of the people in the room, and leave oblivious to the jaws on the floor and the morale in the gutter.

This example demonstrates a radical absence of self-awareness and it is not very charming – and it is certainly ineffective.

The cliché “ignorance is bliss” is very true: It is much easier to find fault with others instead of looking at ourselves. It is easier to make excuses and justify our actions, but avoiding looking in the mirror does not foster the kind of leadership that changes people and it is settling for less than what you are capable of. 

Perhaps that CEO sounds familiar or perhaps you recognize yourself in the description – I know I do. I have sometimes been painfully unaware of how I am being perceived by others, and replaying those experiences makes me cringe. And I am certain they will happen again because I am…well, human.

Let me also acknowledge that just because someone struggles with self-awareness, it does not mean he/she cannot be an effective leader.  There are plenty of effective CEOs who fit the description of “that guy,” but what it does mean is there is a dimension to their leadership that lacks a certain depth of connection and engagement.

Self-awareness is difficult and requires courage, but it is a non-negotiable if you want to lead effectively. Experiment with it!

Choose to suspend any self-judgment and start watching how you feel and what your corresponding response is.  Start observing your motivations and patterns without critique:

  • Do you hijack conversations and interject to feel superior?
  • Do you seek recognition from others to camouflage your faults?
  • Do others perceive you as open, approachable, authoritative (or whatever adjectives you strive for)?
  • Will you ask someone you trust and respect completely what he or she thinks?  (This is an act of unbridled courage!) 

Trust in the freedom and power that comes with being able to see yourself more objectively.

Trust the people in your inner circle to be your barometer.

Trust that recognizing your internal thought processes and patterns allow you to let go of the ones that no longer serve you (or anyone else).

Trust this will create the space you need to become a more effective leader.

**If you are curious where you stand, you can always find a licensed professional to do the EQ test – it is fascinating, if nothing else. Here is an article to get you started.