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Emotional Intelligence in Leadership: Developing Self-Awareness and Empathy

When Tech and Engineering managers were interviewed about the development challenges for specialist managers taking on leadership roles, they identified several practical factors that can make the most difference. The top five (5) factors are:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Communication and Influence
  • Commercial Acumen
  • Letting go
  • Handling difficult conversations

Often engaged for our ability as individual contributors and valued for their specialist skill, engineers, science and tech managers, psychologists, lawyers, medical professionals etc. can come later to leadership and while not always the case, can sometimes be promoted into leadership roles based on their technical talent more than their leadership skills. Developing their leadership is crucial for both the organisation’s capability and for the attraction and succession pipeline of technical talent. It is a challenging career point, as some do not necessarily want to take on leadership roles and may enter it for the purposes of advancement, unprepared for the demands placed upon them.

Developing and continually cultivating self-awareness is consistently identified as the top issue for effective transition to leadership. Understanding our strengths, blind spots and development needs enable us to balance engaging what we know and do well with making informed judgements about our continuous learning needs, i.e. what experiences and exposure do I need to seek out to grow and become the professional leader I want to be.

The emotional intelligence that comes with self-awareness enables effective performance as a leader because it informs our situational judgement, e.g.,, do I step in or step back, do I ask questions or make statements, am I directive or empathetic? Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Together with self-awareness it is the other half of emotional intelligence. Empathy doesn’t mean being soft. It is a talent for reading the room and picking up on the mood of others and responding in way that sends a signal that your are listening. Reflecting what others have said, recognising and acknowledging their emotional state and adjusting your own behaviour.

How to develop self awareness for leadership

Three actions can help us develop our self-awareness:

Special idea: For professionals and specialists taking on leadership roles, their organisation plays a role in determining how hard or easy it is to develop their leadership potential. Eight (8) factors supporting development were identified by the reference group. The top five (5) factors are:

  • Keep a Log. Logging or journaling your experiences and feelings. How are your responding to situations and other people. What is working well and what is not? This is a fact finding rather than emotional exercise.
  • Focus and mindfulness. Intentional reflection on your emotional responses to situations. What winds you up, what gives you joy, what are you indifferent about?
  • Feedback. The gift of feedback is incredibly valuable. Knowing how you come across to others and what they see you doing well and not so well is a key input to self- awareness.
  • Leadership Coaching can raise our self-awareness. This means identifying our strengths and how you can make the most of these. It can help us identify our blind spots and develop strategies to either close these gaps or mitigate any risks that comes with these natural gaps.

    Learn more about developing self-awareness for leaders and enhance your leadership journey by connecting with me on LinkedIn