Emotional Intelligence and breathing are essential
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Leaders Must Continually Improve Their Self Awareness and Self-Regulation

As experts, trainers, and coaches in leadership development, human behavior, and emotional intelligence, we want to share three essential practices for leaders to continually improve their self-awareness and self-regulation, the first two pillars of Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

Firstly, it’s crucial for leaders to reflect on their emotions. I encourage leaders to take time to recognize and understand their own emotions. This requires building their emotional vocabulary and sensitivity so they can be more specific than simply being happy, sad, or mad. For example, if I feel frustrated after a difficult meeting, I will pause and reflect on why I feel that way. When I feel unwanted or unproductive emotions, I will frequently take time to examine why I’m feeling it and what to do about it or the situation. By understanding my emotions up front, I can better manage my responses, and make more thoughtful decisions rather than just reacting.

Secondly, practicing mindfulness can greatly enhance self-awareness and self-regulation. Leaders practicing mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing or meditation will experience an improved ability to stay present and calm in challenging situations. The easiest breathing technique is to sit up straight and breathe in deeply through the nose for a count of 3 and then out through pursed lips to the count of 6. Repeat the process three times. Box breathing is an excellent breathing technique used by our special operations forces regularly throughout the day to reduce stress and increase thoughtful responses to challenges faced. Box Breathing is done by breathing in through the nose to the count of 4, hold the breath in for the count of 4, exhale through the mouth to the count of 4, and hold the exhale for a count of 4. Repeat the process four times. I might use a breathing exercise before a big presentation, a challenging conversation, or a high stakes meeting to center myself and focus on the task at hand. Box breathing has become my favorite stress breathing exercise. Mindfulness and breathing exercises help us, as leaders, to regulate our emotions and respond more effectively to stressors and challenging situations.

Finally, seeking feedback from others is essential for personal and professional growth. We teach and encourage leaders to seek feedback from others about their behavior and effectiveness as a leader. Asking for feedback about your own behavior and abilities is not an easy thing to do. But there are few things you can do that build trust and engagement quicker than a personal feedback dialogue with team members. For example, I can ask my team members for input on how well I communicate. Do I communicate often enough. Do I communicate enough information? How well do I handle challenges and conflicts? I can ask my team what things I could do less of and what things I could do more of to improve my performance and effectiveness as their leader. By listening to feedback we, as leaders, gain valuable insights into our own strengths and highlight our own areas for improvement, allowing us to adjust our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors accordingly.

By practicing these three strategies – reflecting on emotions, practicing mindfulness, and seeking feedback – leaders can enhance their self-awareness and self-regulation skills, ultimately becoming more effective leaders and building stronger relationships with their teams.

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