A March, 2014 McKinsey article states, “organization change is inseparable from individual change.” Attempts to change, though, often fail because leaders refuse to make fundamental changes in themselves.
Said another way, “Organizations don’t change. People do.”
If you want your company to change, you must have a deep commitment to change yourself
Widespread research shows that:
- Self-aware people perform better
- “Understanding the powerful role of emotions in the workplace sets the best leaders apart from the rest.” (from the book Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee)
Now, think about your personal relationships. How many times have your emotional reactions to others caused you problems or pain? What if you could better manage those reactions? Would you be happier? Be a better leader?
Self-awareness is the key to any type of personal change
Steven J. Stein and Howard E. Book state in their book,The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success:
“Obviously, what you don’t recognize, you can’t manage. If you aren’t aware of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the way it’s affecting others, you can’t change. If in your own blinkered view, there’s nothing wrong, then there’s no need or reason to change. That’s why self-awareness is key and basic.”
There are countless assessments and personality tests you can take to help you understand yourself. My preferred tool is the Enneagram, which is a very deep and dynamic map of the ego. In order to become self-aware, it’s important for you to find the tool that best resonates with you.
Self-management and emotional maturity
However, an intellectual understanding of yourself is not enough. You must apply this self-knowledge in order to not only manage, but to choose, your emotional states.
Learning to manage yourself starts with self-observation, a process of neutrally and compassionately watching yourself. Self-observation allows you to recognize when a habitual pattern and consequent reaction is presenting itself in the current moment.
Once you gain this awareness, you can make a choice. How do I want to behave and feel now? Without this awareness, your emotions will control you, which can potentially damage your business and personal relationships.
Many of the CEOs and Sr. Executives with whom I work frequently say, “Take the emotions out of it!” Actually, that is exactly the wrong approach. Each attempt to deny and control your own emotions disconnects you from your self and separates you from others. Relying solely on thinking and thereby trying to deny your emotions only intensifies them until they can no longer be contained. An explosive reaction is inevitable to release all of that pent-up emotion.
How to acknowledge and release your emotions
Most of our conscious brain is focused outside of ourselves. We make plans for the future, or we try to persuade others to change so that we may feel better. However, that does not help us manage ourselves. Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is to become aware of our own inner experience and learn to allow it.
Tara Brach, a Buddhist psychologist, describes a process she calls RAIN to manage our emotional states:
R– Recognize what is happening (be self-aware).
A- Allow this situation to be just as it is. Don’t fight it or deny it. Reality always wins and resisting it is a major cause of emotional reactivity. Instead, notice each thought and allow any sensation in your body to be there.
I- Investigate your inner experience with kindness. Gently, ask yourself questions to understand what is happening inside of you, and why.
N- Non-Identification. Brach states that, “Non-identification means that your sense of who you are is not fused with or defined by any limited set of emotions, sensations, or stories (self-identity). The first three steps of RAIN require some intentional activity. In contrast, the N of RAIN expresses the result: a liberating realization of your natural awareness.”
The result? Fully living in the present.
Over time, Brach states, “RAIN directly de-conditions the habitual ways in which you resist your moment-to-moment experience” and helps make these patterns less compulsive. By responding differently, you can create new neuron connections and emotional patterns, and gradually change your behavior.
If you truly want to change, you must relax your current patterns of thinking, feeling and reacting
Self-awareness and self-observation, combined with acknowledging and releasing emotions, are your tools to become an emotionally mature person and, as a result, a better and happier leader.