Leadership is a complex and multifaceted activity that requires a combination of skills, traits, perspectives, and behaviors. In this article, we look at leadership through three different lenses: personality, emotion and social awareness. Each offers a different source of insights to help us bring our best selves to the challenge of leadership.
The Lens of Personality
The leader’s personality is an important factor that influences leadership effectiveness. Personality is the unique set of characteristics, traits, and behaviors that define an individual’s way of thinking, feeling, and acting. Understanding the key elements of personality can help leaders leverage their strengths, manage their weaknesses and lead more effectively.
Many different personality models and frameworks are used to describe and categorize personality types. One of the most widely used and researched models is called the “Big Five,” which include the leadership traits of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Each of these traits represents a continuum of characteristics that can be used to describe different aspects of personality.
- Leaders with high openness tend to be creative, curious and open-minded. They are often innovative and willing to take risks. This can help them lead organizations through change and uncertainty.
- Leaders who are high in conscientiousness tend to be organized, detail-oriented and responsible. They are often effective at setting goals, planning and executing strategies. These can be valuable in achieving results in a structured way.
- Leaders who are high in extraversion tend to be outgoing, with high levels of energy. They are often effective at building relationships, networking and inspiring others. This can be valuable in leading teams and organizations.
- Leaders who are high in agreeableness tend to be cooperative, empathetic and compassionate. They are often effective at building trust, resolving conflicts and creating a positive work environment. These traits can be valuable in leading teams and promoting engagement.
- Leaders who are high in neuroticism may be naturally anxious, moody and sensitive. They may struggle with stress and emotional regulation, which can be a challenge in leadership roles. However, leaders who can manage these emotions and cope with stress can use their sensitivity to empathize with others and build strong relationships.
In addition to the Big Five personality traits, there are many other personality models and frameworks that can be used to describe and categorize personality types. Each provides data that can help you identify both your strengths, and your overdone strengths that can get in your way.
The Lens of Emotional Awareness
Emotional awareness is the ability to process your emotions and the emotions of others. It is a crucial skill for effective leadership, as it allows leaders to connect with their team members, build trust and make informed decisions. Now that we have covered personality, let’s look at how emotional awareness impacts leadership success.
First, emotional awareness helps leaders build strong relationships with team members. When leaders are aware of their own emotions, they are better able to regulate them and communicate effectively. This creates a positive work environment where team members feel valued and supported. Additionally, emotional awareness allows leaders to understand the emotions of their team members, which helps them to respond appropriately to their needs. For example, if a team member is feeling overwhelmed, a leader with emotional awareness may be able to offer support and guidance, rather than missing or dismissing their concerns.
Second, emotional awareness helps leaders build trust with their team members. When leaders are open and honest about their own emotions, it creates a culture of transparency and authenticity. This, in turn, encourages team members to be open and honest about their own emotions, which helps to build trust and strengthen relationships. Emotional awareness may also allow leaders to empathize with their team members, which helps to build trust and understanding. When team members feel that their leader understands and cares about their emotions, they are more likely to trust and respect them.
Third, emotional awareness helps leaders to make informed decisions. When leaders are aware of their own emotions, they are better able to regulate them and balance logic and reason with a more emotional gut feel. This allows leaders to make informed decisions that are in the best interests of their team and organization. Additionally, emotional awareness allows leaders to consider the emotions of their team members when making decisions. This helps to ensure that decisions are made with empathy, which can help better anticipate impacts and lead to better outcomes for everyone involved.
Finally, emotional awareness helps leaders to manage conflict effectively. Conflict is a natural part of any team or organization, but it can be difficult to manage without emotional awareness. When leaders are aware of their own emotions, they can better regulate them and respond to conflict in a calm and rational manner. Additionally, emotional awareness allows leaders to understand the emotions of their team members, which helps them to resolve conflicts in a way that is fair and respectful. This creates a positive work environment where conflicts are resolved quickly and effectively, without causing unnecessary stress or tension.
Here are three questions to start thinking about this lens of leadership:
- How do you feel? No, really! How do you feel? Ask this question often to start getting in touch with how your emotions may be impacting you and how they change throughout the day and week.
- How do you think your team and customers feel? Pausing to consider their emotional reactions may help you better prepare for thoughtful conversations.
- For a specific problem, ask, “what’s the best logical choice?” Then ask, “what’s the choice that feels right?” If these differ, ask yourself why, and how you might align them.
The Lens of Social Awareness
Social dynamics play a critical role in shaping our world, and social awareness can impact our decision-making processes without us even realizing it. Social awareness helps you understand the complex relationships between individuals, groups, and society. Applying social theory to our leadership practices gives us a deeper understanding of the social forces that influence our organizations and the people in them.
For example, one of the most influential social theories is the concept of social capital. Social capital refers to the networks, norms and trust in a community or organization. As a leader, understanding, and building and using social capital can help you build stronger relationships with your team members, and foster a sense of community within your organization and with your customers.
Another important social theory is the concept of power. Power is the ability to influence others and shape the world around us. As leaders, we must be aware of the power dynamics within our organizations and how they can impact our decision-making processes. We should also be aware of where our own power comes from and how to use it. By understanding power, we can implement leadership practices that are fair, just and equitable.
Finally, social theory can also help us understand the role of culture in shaping our organizations. Culture is shaped by a group’s shared goals, processes, practices, structure, resources, values and history. By understanding the cultural norms within our organizations, we can create a more inclusive and diverse workplace that values the contributions of all team members.
Social awareness allows us to step back and consider the complex social dynamics that shape our organizations and the people within them. By applying a social perspective to our leadership practices, we can create more effective, inclusive and equitable organizations that benefit everyone. So, let’s embrace social theory and use it to inform our leadership practices!
Here are three questions to start thinking about this lens of leadership:
- To consider social capital, ask: Who could you reach out to if you needed help or a favor? Who would most likely reach out to you?
- Where do you fit within the power structure in your organization? Consider both the formal structure, and your sources of informal influence. How could you build your power base through networking and other activities?
- If you had to describe your team’s culture, what imagery or key story would you use? Is it positive or negative?
Pryor offers a wide variety of live and on-line courses that touch on all three leadership lenses. Here are some examples.
- Leadership, Team-Building and Coaching Skills for Managers and Supervisors is a 1-day training that can help you lead your team to excellence.
- Creative Leadership is another 1-day training to help your team apply new solutions for success.
- The Learn to Lead series includes online courses and videos covering a range of topics.
- The Emotional Intelligence Library covers both emotional and social awareness.
See more in the training category of Management and Leadership!
Reference for the Big 5: Citation. John, O. P., Donahue, E. M., & Kentle, R. L. (1991). Big Five Inventory (BFI). APA PsycTests. https://doi.org/10.1037/t07550-000