Strengthen Your Social Awareness Skills to Become a Great Leader

Arden CoachingKayla found herself increasingly frustrated. Promoted six months earlier, she had a strong sense of herself and her skills. She possessed a clear vision of where she wanted her department to go and what she wanted to accomplish. Kayla was an achiever — someone who got things done.

But she felt she wasn’t getting traction with her new team. Worse (she thought), Kayla had accomplished only a handful of modest goals since her promotion.

Maren Perry, president of Arden Coaching, said, “As an executive coach, I would explore Kayla’s level of social awareness — one of the four elements of emotional and social intelligence pioneered by Daniel Goleman — and work with her to assess and strengthen her capabilities.”

Social awareness is comprised of two components: empathy and organizational awareness.

“It’s great to have a strong understanding of your own skills, values, and emotions,” said Perry. “It’s also essential to be able to manage your emotions and focus on those things you want to achieve. However, outstanding leaders balance this self-focused drive with a healthy amount of empathy and organizational awareness to leverage others to accomplish more than they can alone.”

Empathy is the ability to step into another’s shoes and experience that person’s situation — their thoughts, feelings, and circumstances — from their point of view.

“Kayla is very task-oriented and places a lot of value on getting things done, but she can’t simply direct her team to implement her vision. Practicing empathy to understand and appreciate the people on her team will help her become more compassionate, and in turn, create a more trusting environment where people are encouraged to contribute and make the most of their skills. That will expand her reach far beyond her own set of skills or bandwidth.”

Three Ways to Practice Empathy

Become a better listener. Listening skills are built on concentration, awareness, and sincere interest. For more, read Arden Coaching’s article, “Beyond Active Listening: The Power of Level Three Listening.”

Be intentional about engaging in empathetic behaviors such as acknowledging the genuineness and authenticity of someone else’s beliefs or point-of-view, suspending judgment, and avoiding any temptation to diminish someone else’s feelings simply because you don’t share them.

Ask questions that help you better understand the other person’s situation and viewpoint. Ask questions that are open-ended. Pose a hypothesis to seek clarity. Ask why? Ask what they think should be done next?

For more, read “Empathy: Leading From the Inside of Another’s World.”

Organizational Awareness

According to Daniel Goleman, “Organizational Awareness means having the ability to read a group’s emotional currents and power relationships, and identify influencers, networks, and dynamics within the organization.”

Organizational awareness is systems-based thinking that applies the concept of empathy to the larger organization. When we consider corporate culture or office politics, we are thinking about organizational awareness.

Perry notes that, “This is not a negative thing. Sometimes, people who don’t get promoted or whose project isn’t funded will blame office politics. They are implying that they ‘lost’ because they are above engaging in what they believe is unsavory gamesmanship.”

“Organizational awareness is observing and understanding how things really get done at your company, and who the key influencers are. For Kayla to grow as a leader, she needs to develop a heightened awareness of her organization’s operating values, what the unwritten rules are at her company, who shapes internal opinion, and how to forge relationships.”

Your title and place on the organizational chart only get you so far. When someone is able practice and apply empathy, and reflect on their organization and recognize how informal decision-making structures work, who the most influential people are, and what unofficial networking opportunities are most critical, they become more effective leaders.

To learn more about emotional intelligence, social awareness, and executive coaching, contact us at [email protected] or 646.844.2233.