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When a leader lacks self-awareness

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Members of the House of Representatives during a plenary


The fundamental key to effective leadership is the ability to be aware of one self and the skill to effectively exhibit that to the world. Emotional intelligence is one of the most coveted skills to acquire. For some it comes naturally and for others it is a priceless yet expensive asset to obtain. We are seeing a wave of leaders who no longer exhibit the fundamental characteristics of what it means to be a leader.

Let’s first begin with a general yet universal definition of leadership: leadership is a process of social influence that maximizes the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal. There are key words that stand out in the definition of leadership such as “influence” “maximize” “others” and “goal”. The definition can be broken down even further however one thing about leadership is that there are many different path, styles, traits and attributes to lead. However what makes the difference and has the most positive impact is if a leader has a high level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, desires, motives and feelings. It is the ability to compare one’s behavior to one’s internal standard and values. By doing so, it serves as a personal checks and balance system. Psychologists Shelley Duvel and Robert Wicklund who are credited with developing the landmark theory of self awareness in 1972 proposed that the process of comparing the self with standards allows people to change their behavior and to experience pride and dissatisfaction with the self. Self-awareness is thus a major mechanism of self-control. If a leader lacks the ability to be able to see himself or herself separate from their own environment and is unable to understand how their behavior, decisions and or actions can affect others then the outcome of their leadership can cause serious problems.

We have seen leaders in various sectors who are incapable of self-regulation and self-reflection. Their values and ideals are contrastingly different from their policies, public rhetoric and decision making processes. Whether in the workplace or in public office, those who lack self-awareness are unable to reflect on how their words and or actions affects others.

Self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990) coined the term emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) and described it as a form of social intelligence. Daniel Goleman, also a psychologist later expounded upon the theory by adding five characteristics of emotional intelligence. According to Goleman, the five characteristics of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Without mastering the first skill which is self awareness an individual will be unable to exhibit the four remaining characteristics. Without self-awareness one is unable to take control of his or her thoughts and emotions. In addition, one will be unable to make the necessary changes that will positively affect behavior. A leader who lacks self-awareness and self-regulation is also unable to emotionally connect to others or understand their feelings therefore inhibiting maturity in social development.

In this day and age it’s important to choose people who are not only intelligent academically but intelligent emotionally. People are suffering from a level of emotional incompetence exhibited by those who are in leadership positions. Citizens are being led by politicians who lack empathy and self-regulation. Employees are dealing with those in upper management positions who lack the proper social skills and motivation that is needed to boost workplace morale and increase performance. What is more frightening is when a leader believes they are self aware but in retrospect is not. For anyone in a leadership position, it is imperative to have sound and external council, leadership training and the desire to become a better leader.
Dr. Yetunde A. Odugbesan-Omede, is an author, professor and CEO of Yetunde Global Consulting.


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