Develop the Self Awareness You Need to be a Transformative Leader

Photo Credit Michael Dam via Unsplash

I walked to my sixth-month review as the Director of Youth Education at the local temple wondering which programs would come up in the conversation.

Which aspects of the work I had been doing to build program infrastructure, family and holiday programs or improved communication between teachers and parents was going to be noticed?

I was stunned when the topics for discussion revolved around a handful of times when I had been less than perfectly friendly and hospitable to parents. The layperson who supervised my role had prepared for the meeting by asking people what they thought about me in an open-ended way that had invited them to share the moments when I had spoken matter of fact, abruptly or overzealously.

No one really knew how to recognize the work that I did, the quality of the programs, the changes in school culture, or any of the specifics of what had made those things successful.

What they did recognize was how I had made them feel while doing all of the above.

It didn’t matter if the distracted and concerned look on my face was from the board asking me to let go of a staff person midyear in order save money, if it was from hearing about the teacher who was drumming up conflict behind my back, or about a family that was facing hardship and financial difficulty.

It didn’t matter if the rule I had just reiterated to a parent existed for their children’s safety. Inevitably, no matter the cause, the next person I saw, would think my expression was about her and was intended for her. She might even have a reason and a story about me to go with it.

In the Jewish Tradition the ancient rabbi named Shammai teaches in Ethics of our Fathers:

Havei mkabel et kol adam b’sever panim yafot.

Welcome each person with a pleasant and smiling face.

Well, that seems obvious that we would welcome people with a smile. Would I welcome them with a scowl? It’s when I was recently reading the research on how easily smiles and happiness can travel from person to person, that the true wisdom of Shammai’s teaching and its relevancy for leaders struck me.

Daniel Goleman explains in his book Social Intelligence:

Emotions flow with special strength from the more socially dominant person to the less. One reason is that people in any group naturally pay more attention and place more significance on what the most powerful person in that group says and does. That amplifies the force of whatever emotional message the leader may be sending, making her emotions particularly contagious

Especially as leaders, we need to be cognizant of the emotions we are bringing with us into each interaction and relationships. Our emotions will affect everyone in our organization.

We need to greet everyone with a genuine smile because they will catch our smile!

An open, smiling, welcoming face on the leader, will put others at ease and can create a positivity that will influence the entire organization.

In this context, Shammai’s teaching seems brilliant to me!

In the last several years of working as a Director of Education in synagogue schools, I found it to be important to remember to always greet people with open receptivity. As long as I found a way to communicate with a genuine smile, everything went well.

(Did you get that part, “As long as I found a way?”)

How do you find a way to smile, to be open and receptive when there are stimulants in your environment or relationships making you feel otherwise?

How are you supposed to always have a genuinely happy smile when you are feeling and experiencing so many other things?

This is where self care and self management make a big difference. Not self management as in time management and organizational management, but in how you manage your own emotions.

In order to manage your own emotions, you need to develop an acute awareness of your own emotions.

So, how do you develop this kind of emotional self awareness?

To start try the exercise below:

How are you feeling right now in this moment?

  • Can you name what you feel right now?
  • On a scale of one to ten with 1 being the most negative (you have just suffered a major personal tragedy) and 10 being the most positive (you just had one of the most uplifting experiences of your life), how are you feeling right now?
  • For whatever general emotions you named, can you find a more specific word that matches how you feel right now? For example: if you said “angry” are you feeling more “frustrated,” “out of control” or “defiant?”

Now inventory your physicality to see how this mood is showing up in your body.

  • Where in your body are you feeling some tension?
  • What else are you feeling: any itching? tingling? aching?
  • What expression comes easiest to you right now?

What actions feels easiest to you right now? What do you have the urge to do?

  • Do you feel like yelling at someone, slamming a door or punching someone?
  • Do you feel like celebrating, hugging, or high fiving someone?
  • Most of our days we feel somewhere in between. What is that for you?

Recognize the urges without giving into them.

You can do this a few different times during the day then try checking in with your body during moments of heightened emotions. Just by naming your emotions, noticing your physicality and your urges, you create a little bit of space between you as an observer and you as the experiencer of the emotion. In that space is the opportunity to make a choice to react to the moment, or to bring something new with you.

In that small space, you have the opportunity to make a powerful difference in your leadership.

Contact me for a complimentary session to develop your self-awareness and self-management skills so that you can increase your impact and influence in your organization.

A certified Positive Psychology coach, Leah works with people who want to upgrade their level of influence and impact to lead others towards a vision and a common goal. 

One Comment on “Develop the Self Awareness You Need to be a Transformative Leader

  1. Pingback: Leaders! Why aren’t you giving that feedback? – Stepping Stool Coaching

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