Self-Reflection Is the Antidote For a Leader’s Declining EQ

“To move forward glance backwards”

As I read that quote, I said yes, I can dig it. Quotes, if powerful, always cause me to reflect.

Reflection is a powerful lens and a powerful mindset. As I am a frequent traveler and on a flight nearly every week with frequent down time, that has become my reflection time. I mentioned to someone the other day that I love airports. In amazement, she looked at me as if I had two heads.

My explanation was that is when I am able to zone in on me. Not from a superficial point of view, but from a recap point of view — the past week, the recent conference call, the interaction with a client. I “glance backwards,” thinking over each encounter:

  • What it affected?
  • What was the learning point?
  • If I could do over, what would I do or say differently?

The leadership gym

Some of you may think that is over reach or over thinking. However I see it as staying in growth mindset because if we do not take time to reflect we could, and most likely would develop leadership blind spots. The prescription for this deadly leadership disease is being self-aware.

The only way that is done is through discipline. We exercise to get in better shape. We eat properly for better health. We play sports for fun. We do these things not for monetary gain, but because they are good for us.

So my mental exercise may seem tedious, but to me it is “my toll” that I pay to move to the next stage and be more happy and successful. Your model may be different than mine but we all hope this cleansing process will produce better results. Self-awareness is a crucial key to happiness and success. Without it, we move through relationships and experiences disconnected, unaware of how others receive and perceive us, and unable to take full responsibility for our outcomes.

I recently read some research that we tend to believe that leaders with the most experience and the most seniority would have the highest levels of self-awareness. Surprisingly, the opposite is true. As we ascend through the organization,  self-awareness and emotional intelligence decline if we do not develop a self-check.

 The emotionally clueless CEO

According to Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, “For the titles of director and above, scores descend faster than a snowboarder on a black diamond. CEOs, on average, have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace,” he wrote. I call this CLUELESS.

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Blind spots are a major symptoms in organizations today. We have leaders that feel they have mastered the art of leadership, whereas their constituency thinks the exact opposite. So here’s my advice to leaders that want to get better at what they do:

  • The first step is to look inward and be honest
  • Sense your surroundings
  • Listen to coded messages, and more importantly,
  • Ask your team how you are doing

Do not perceive this as a weakness; it just shows you are willing to practice to become better.

If you happen to see me in an airport lounge staring in a far off place, I am not day-dreaming; I am getting a mental checkup to make sure that I do not let the cobwebs grow. I want to get better. So let’s just say I am in practice mode.

We can all strengthen with practice, time, or desire. You can thank me later.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.