Why Being a Self-Aware Leader Is Not Enough

Guest Writer
Top 100 Leadership Speaker, Mentor, Bestselling Author, Master Storyteller
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Journalist Daniel Goleman, who studied the phenomenon of "emotional intelligence" (EQ) in his 1995 book of the same name, made a big point of comparing the importance of EQ to IQ. He quoted studies, in his chapter "When Smart Is Dumb," for example, proving that many high-IQ scoring students end up failing miserably in their practical lives. In contrast, many “average” people, Goleman pointed out, go on to phenomenal success.

Related: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence at Work

Emotional intelligence means the ability to recognize and differentiate others' feelings and respond to them appropriately. It means perseverance, self-control and skill in getting along with others. Apparently these abilities play a big part not only in the full-blown human beings we turn out to be, but, for some of us, our potential success in the business world.

If IQ-scoring also plays a role in that category of success, Goleman pointed out, its percentage is no more than 20 percent. That leaves 80 percent of success which may be attributed to emotional intelligence.

The filters

Goleman's book had great insights. But as usually happens, readers filter those insights through their own ideas, beliefs and goals. The result is that many of today's business leaders who have since embraced the idea and importance of EQ have done so in order to better manage those underneath them.

This, in my opinion, is the exact opposite of what EQ is really about. Its very foundation concerns self-awareness, not the management of others; and self-awareness is possible only with the self-knowledge that comes from looking under the hood of our own lives.

We have to develop self-knowledge before we can have self-awareness, because, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” I’ve been asked many times: If a person could do one thing, and one thing only, to transform leadership, what would it be? In response I would say that that one thing wouldn't depend on the individual's level of intelligence; and it certainly would not involve extra charisma. My answer would be that those who lead in any capacity have massive self-knowledge.

The difference between self-awareness and self-knowledge

What is self-awareness? It's like driving down the road and suddenly having to swerve dangerously to miss hitting another vehicle. You are aware that this was a close call, and in that moment you are aware that you shouldn’t have had that third glass of wine before getting behind the wheel.

Self-knowledge is understanding why you, an intelligent human being with everything to lose, would dismiss the potential ramifications of drinking and driving. True self-knowledge occurs when you know what drives you to either your higher destiny or to disaster.

Related: Why Leaders Lack Emotional Intelligence

Self-knowledge creates self-awareness, and it is through a combination of the two that we develop both empathy and compassion for those we lead. Furthermore, through the combination of these qualities, plus empathy and compassion, we can hold courageous conversations where we establish and maintain healthy boundaries.

Healthy self-awareness lets you "own" what you are great at (your strengths) as well as bad at (your weaknesses). Self-knowledge lets you stop beating the crap out of yourself for the latter so that you can develop, delegate or delete that particular action from your personal agenda.

Leaders with great self-knowledge are very clear about what works for them, and at the same time are at peace knowing that their way may not work for others.

Arrogance or self-knowledge, and how to know the difference

Leaders with great self-knowledge may be misconstrued as “arrogant,” but what they really are is “certain.”

How can you know the difference between arrogance and genuine certainty? Arrogant leaders are hard-liners and believe theirs is the way. They compare everyone and everything to their standard. On the other hand, self-knowing, self-aware leaders say, “My way is my way, but it might not be your way.” They have deep empathy and compassion for others, and the only comparisons they make are with themselves. 

Self-knowledgeable leaders also know who they are and know that who they are is constantly evolving. They have no desire to be anyone other than a deeper, more expansive version of themselves. Self-knowledgeable leaders love to acknowledge others. Just as they have no desire to become anyone other than themselves, their desire for others is to be the greatest version of who they can be.

On your journey to becoming a powerful, authentic, deeply compassionate, self-knowledgeable, self-aware leader, then, remember that you have gifts and abilities that will take you where others cannot go. Also remember that others will have gifts and abilities that will take them where you cannot go!

As long as you stay committed to deepening your self-knowledge and self-awareness through continual self-development, you will experience a moment, if not a cascade of moments, where you will be at peace with who you are.

To have the kind of success you are looking for, you have got to go “under the hood” of your own being, and know and embrace both your strengths and weaknesses. In other words, you must increase your EQ. When you do that, you naturally will find the deep fulfillment you seek and that may very well include becoming a better leader of those who depend on you.

Related: Why You Need Emotional Intelligence to Succeed in Business

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