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Learning Leadership: Leadership Skill Set 1: Self-Awareness

One of the greatest educational journeys you can take in life is to study yourself, other people and business, in that order. Too many people today have the journey backward. Knowing yourself is a fundamental objective when learning and understanding leadership. Throughout this article, we will build a case for why effective leadership of others starts with leading yourself.

By definition, leading means to take to or show the way. Before you begin to lead and show others the way, you have to first learn the skills to lead your own way. The age-old cliché of the blind leading the blind is a trap that must be avoided.

In “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” – a book I highly recommend – author John C. Maxwell states, “The long and short of leadership is influence; your ability to influence another.” Good leadership skills in your personal and professional lives give you the ability to positively influence others and show them the way to a safe work practice, a successful job safety analysis, a successful financial plan, a completed job task, a new skill set and myriad other items.

An Emotional Art
The emotional art of leadership includes stressing the reality of work demands without unduly upsetting people. There is a serious business case for keeping employees – sometimes called human capital – in good spirits. When you influence others in a way that increases anxiety and worry, research has documented that you contribute to the erosion of mental skills and abilities. As anyone in safety will agree, keeping the mental focus on the task at hand is a critical objective. If you influence your workers in a negative way, not only will you fail at leadership, but you will cost the company profits.

In Dr. Daniel Goleman’s “Primal Leadership,” the author references a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. workers in which 42 percent reported incidences of yelling and other kinds of verbal abuse in the workplace while 30 percent admitted they had directly yelled at a co-worker.

Yes, you may have been yelled at coming up in your career, whether a lot or a little, and we know too much about the negative consequences. As a child in the 1960s, my father yelled, ranted and raved while raising three boys. I also remember seeing him get yelled at a few times by his lineworker supervisor while working for Public Service Indiana. Today, as a leader of my own family and an enterprise, I can’t yell and expect positive results, nor can I demonstrate a lack of self-control as a leader and expect to have a positive influence on my personal or professional team.

People who are upset have trouble accurately reading emotions. Your ability to properly read your own emotions builds the foundation for your future success in learning to read and influence positive emotions in others. If you find yourself in a high-pressure job or situation, understanding your own emotions will improve your decision-making. You then learn the ability to empathize – to read and understand the emotions of others. Empathy is a critical skill that you must learn in order to positively influence others whether you’re working with teams or on a one-on-one basis. I will expand more on this skill set in future articles. For now, the focus is on awareness and acceptance of the importance of emotions and what roles they play in your leadership abilities.

Emotional Intelligence: Self-Awareness
Winston Churchill – who demonstrated successful leadership most notably in times of war and distress – once wrote, “How easy to do nothing. How hard to achieve anything.” Understanding emotional intelligence is hard; learning to apply it in your own life is even harder. This development journey is not for the weak-willed or faint of heart because it requires you to first look at yourself and clean up all that you’ve neglected, and then learn and develop new behaviors that promote personal growth.

Self-awareness is the first core skill of – and the foundation of understanding – emotional intelligence. You may ask yourself, “What do I have to be self-aware of?” It’s a valid question; the answer is that you must recognize and understand your moods and emotions, as well as their direct effect on personal performance. This is the first building block to applying all the other skill sets.

Characteristics of self-awareness include self-confidence, realistic self-assessment, and a sense of humor about who you are and your capabilities. Having a good sense of self-awareness depends on your ability to monitor your own emotional states throughout the day and to make changes as needed to accomplish your leadership goals. The following are several self-awareness practice tips to help you hone this skill.

A. Emotional Awareness
Definition: Recognizing one’s emotions and their effects. Leaders with this skill know which emotions they are feeling and why; realize the links between their feelings and what they think, do and say; recognize how their feelings affect their performance; and have a guiding awareness of their values and goals.

Practice Tip 1: Ask yourself two questions often throughout the day:
1. What am I thinking?
2. What am I feeling?

Practice Tip 2: Don’t just think it – ink it. Learn to take notes about your emotions as needed by keeping a journal. Record your thoughts and feelings during a conflict or difficult situation. Your brain moves too fast for you to rely only on your memory.

B. Accurate Self-Assessment
Definition: Knowing one’s strengths and limits. Leaders with this skill are aware of their strengths and weaknesses; are reflective; are able to learn from experience; are open to candid feedback, new perspectives, continuous learning and self-development; and have a sense of humor about themselves.

Practice Tip 1: Take a personality profile assessment – colors and DISC are just two of many – and study the results. These assessments are an excellent resource for identifying your strengths and weaknesses.

Practice Tip 2: Speak your strengths into practice. For example, state “I am a good communicator” or “I am a good listener.” This will help you get better at your bad skills and great at your good ones through positive self-talk and edification techniques.

Practice Tip 3: Speak your weaknesses in a proper manner. For example, state “I am learning to listen better and pick up on verbal and nonverbal cues” or “I am learning to control my temper by asking what else could be going on here.” The key word here is “learning.” By design, human beings receive information via the five senses, process it and store it for use at a later date. Practice learning, seek opportunities to learn and exchange knowledge with others, a technique known as knowledge transfer.

C. Self-Confidence
Definition: Sureness about one’s self-worth and capabilities. Instead of presenting themselves with arrogance or cockiness – which often signifies a lack of confidence – leaders with this skill present themselves with self-assurance. They can voice views that are unpopular without being overly assertive or offensive, can go out on a limb for what is right, and are able to make sound decisions despite uncertainties and pressures.

Practice Tip 1: Reinforce your self-talk with what you do well. You can’t rely on others to build you up – each day you must nourish yourself often and honestly assess what is good within you.

Practice Tip 2: Practice voicing your beliefs and values even when going against the popular vote, and work to refine the way you state your point so that your views and beliefs are heard, but heard in a nonthreatening way.

Measurable Business Results
Everyone knows a story about a highly intelligent, highly skilled worker who was promoted into a leadership position only to fail at the job. And they also know a story about someone with solid, but not extraordinary, intellectual abilities and technical skills who was promoted into a similar position and excelled.

The qualities of emotional intelligence may sound soft and unrelated to business. However, research indicates direct ties between emotional intelligence and measurable business results. While the need for emotional intelligence will continue to spark debate, the truth is that we must learn how to recognize it in potential leaders, how and why it connects to performance, and how it can be taught and learned.

Your lesson objective is to study each skill set of emotional intelligence, and the Learning Leadership series is just part of your educational journey. To truly become emotionally intelligent, do your research – read, listen to audio books and do everything you can to develop new ideas with the intent of improving your critical thinking skills. By exposing yourself to these new ideas and learning new skills – along with practicing patience and perseverance – you will experience improved results in leading yourself, your family and your enterprise, in that order.

About the Author: Parrish Taylor is the author and instructor of Mental & Emotional Training (M.E.T.), a skills development program. He has successfully implemented workforce development strategies within the electric utility sector for numerous clients including Entergy, Cleco and Oklahoma Gas & Electric. To learn more, visit Taylor has also served as an adult learning consultant for the last 20 years. Learn more at

Editor’s Note: “Learning Leadership” is a series dedicated to the human side of doing your job well. Each article in the series will help readers develop a greater understanding of the mental and emotional skills necessary to succeed in today’s workplace. If you have comments about this article or a topic idea for a future issue, please contact Parrish Taylor at 866-487-2815 or

Leadership Development