What is Emotional Self-Awareness?

Emotional Intelligence expert Daniel Goleman explains the connection between your emotions and your ability to lead. First in a series.

Emotional Intelligence remains a key ingredient in the development of corporate leaders. In this series, best-selling author and Korn Ferry columnist Dan Goleman reveals the 12 key skills behind EI. It is excerpted from Emotional Self-Awareness: A Primer.

Emotional Self-Awareness is the ability to understand your own emotions and their effects on your performance. You know what you are feeling and why—and how it helps or hurts what you are trying to do. You sense how others see you and so align your self-image with a larger reality. You have an accurate sense of your strengths and limitations, which gives you a realistic self-confidence. It also gives you clarity on your values and sense of purpose, so you can be more decisive when you set a course of action. As a leader, you can be candid and authentic, speaking with conviction about your vision.

Consider this real-world example: The chief tech officer at an innovation incubator is a bully, but he doesn't know it. He's very good at what he does except when it comes to managing people. He plays favorites. He tells people what to do. He doesn't listen. He freezes people out that he doesn't like. If you confront him with a specific incident, he denies it. He pins the blame on someone else and gets angry with them. Or he tells you that you’re the problem. Last I heard, he was about to be fired.

That bully tech officer lacks Emotional Self-Awareness.

Here is some of the data about Emotional Self-Awareness that shows why this competency is so important. For one thing, a boss being a bully or arrogant or stubborn is often viewed by subordinates as a sign of incompetence. Those traits correlate with poor financial results, being bad at managing talent and inspiring people to do their best, and being a poor team leader.

Korn Ferry Hay Group research found that among leaders with multiple strengths in Emotional Self-Awareness, 92% had teams with high energy and high performance. Great leaders create a positive emotional climate that encourages motivation and extra effort, and they're the ones with good Emotional Self-Awareness. In sharp contrast, leaders low in Emotional Self-Awareness created negative climates 78% of the time.

Emotional Self-Awareness, which is the least visible of the Emotional Intelligence competencies, has a surprising role as the foundation for the others, the Korn Ferry Hay Group research reveals. People strong in Emotional Self-Awareness typically demonstrate 10 or more of the 12 competencies. This, in turn, lets them make frequent use of positive leadership styles, which results in the best working climates for their teams. On the other hand, those low in Emotional Self-Awareness tend to show strengths in only one or so of the competencies—and their leadership and team climate suffer accordingly.

Emotional Self-Awareness isn’t something that you achieve once and then you’re done with it. Rather, every moment is an opportunity to either be self-aware or not. It is a continual endeavor, a conscious choice to be self-aware. The good news is that the more you practice it, the easier it becomes. Research by my colleague and friend Richard Davidson suggests that one way to become more self-aware is to check in with your sensory experience regularly, and shift your behavior accordingly.