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How to be a High EQ Leader: Be Self-Aware

Emotional Intelligence, leadership

How to be a High EQ Leader: Be Self-Aware

For this blog series, I asked some of my favorite leadership experts this question: “What do high EQ leaders do that sets them apart?” Their responses were both informative and inspiring. Some expressed similar ideas, but each person’s approach added depth to this important question. This is the first in the series. I hope you enjoy all of them.

In a 2004 Harvard Business Review article, Daniel Goleman wrote about his review of senior manager comments from 188 companies regarding their organizations’ most outstanding leaders. He said, “When I compared star performers with average ones in senior leadership positions, nearly 90% of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence factors rather than cognitive abilities.

He went on to say, “In a 1996 study of a global food and beverage company, [David] McClelland found that when senior managers had a critical mass of emotional intelligence capabilities, their divisions outperformed yearly earnings goals by 20%. Meanwhile, division leaders without that critical mass underperformed by almost the same amount. McClelland’s findings, interestingly, held as true in the company’s U.S. divisions as in its divisions in Asia and Europe.”

Clearly, emotional intelligence affects a leader’s success and the success of an organization, but what are the EI skills leaders must possess or develop?

Goleman and others have outlined emotional intelligence competencies, but I wanted to get ideas from a few of my favorite leadership specialists. I asked 16 of those favorites what emotionally intelligent leaders do that sets them apart.

Four of the 16 wonderful leaders who shared their ideas began with the idea of self-awareness. I was inspired by their comments, and I will begin this series with quotes from Steve Gutzler, Dan Forbes, Greg Richardson and Lolly Daskal.

Others articles in this series will focus on other aspects of emotionally intelligence leadership others identified.

Steve Gutzler:

Steve Gutzler"First and foremost, Emotionally Intelligent leaders have high self-awareness. They know their strengths and weaknesses...with a sense of humor and approachability. They are always open to learning where they need to improve, and they welcome loving critics who offer valuable intel and feedback. Knowing their abilities with accuracy allows emotionally intelligent leaders to play to their strengths...move in influence and stand out as a trusted inspirational leader."


Dan Forbes:

Dan Forbes"The biggest asset of emotionally intelligent leaders is their self-awareness. What do they do differently from other leaders? They recognize and understand their own moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others. Emotionally Intelligent Leaders don’t take themselves too seriously. They recognize their flaws, foibles, and failures and use them as opportunities for learning and growth."

Emotionally Intelligent Leaders focus on “being” as much as on “doing.” As we learn from Lao Tzu, “The way to do is to be.”


Greg Richardson:

Greg Richardson"The leaders who inspire me are not always smarter than anyone else. It is not their analytical skills or their ability to find solutions to problems. They are not necessarily the best planners, or most able to see into future possibilities. They are not the most articulate people I know, or even the people with the best sense of humor.  

The leaders who inspire me know themselves deeply and well. They invest the time and effort it takes to recognize and appreciate their true selves. They share their true selves with the people around them. Their willingness to be honest with and about themselves gives them wisdom and understanding that draws people to their leadership."


Lolly Daskal:

Lolly Daskal"What separates leaders with emotional intelligence from others is a high degree of insight and awareness. They know what they are feeling, they know what their emotions mean, and they know how these emotions affect other people.

The leader with emotional intelligence leads with heart over mind, with soul over reason, and with love over logic. If you are a leader who wants to enhance you EQ, what does self-awareness mean for you? What specifically can you do that will set you apart from others?"


Consider these 10 intrapersonal skills and evaluate you own self-awareness.

  1. Be aware of your physical body to recognize what emotions you are experiencing so you can accurately understand and express them.
  2. Recognize how your emotions affect your actions. What are you likely to do when you are angry? What are you likely to do when you are afraid?
  3. Be aware of possible causes of emotions so you can decrease the number of emotional hijackings and spend more time in positive emotional territory.
  4. Realistically evaluate technical and EI strengths so you can build on them.
  5. Realistically accept, acknowledge and manage your developmental areas and find ways to minimize them.
  6. Notice how your emotions affect other people so you can take steps to show up in productive ways.
  7. Recognize and promote your personal independence even as you form strong relationships with others.
  8. Strengthen your relationship with self as you assert your thoughts, needs and emotions. Grant yourself permission to learn, grow, succeed and fail.
  9. Actively seek opinions of others about your progress so you can continue to learn and grow.
  10. Analyze what self-actualization means in your life and make that your goal.

I hope you find these 10 self-awareness steps helpful. What addition thoughts or suggestions do you have for greater self-awareness?

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Goleman, D. (2001) What Makes a Leader? Havard Business Review accessed August 4, 2014.


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