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Relational Intelligence

Have you seen an episode of the TV show The Office? It’s a comical mockumentary revolving around Michael Scott, the manager of a small, and increasingly struggling, fictitious paper company.

One reason his character is so entertaining to watch is that he unknowingly embodies the leader who remains completely unaware of his own contradictory philosophies, offensive insecurities and oblivious way of constantly insulting people. He’s relationally awkward in dealing with his employees and remains blind to any and all of his limitations.

The Harvard Business Review published an article titled “Discovering Your Authentic Leadership.” In it are the results of the largest in-depth study ever undertaken on how authentic leadership fuels effectiveness and success.

The article describes a critical component that every great leader needs in his or her journey toward authentic leadership. In one study, when 75 members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness.

The path toward increasing our greatest leadership impact begins with honestly acknowledging our inability to see ourselves clearly. As we acknowledge our blind spots and identify our limitations, we can make adjustments that allow us to improve our vision, and we can begin to develop a new level of ability that strengthens our leadership force, precision and impact.

Let’s identify three life habits that can help increase your self-awareness. These are habits, which means they’re not something you do once; they are intended to become a new way of living that will lead to increased relational intelligence over time.

Habit #1: Learn to Access the Perceptions of Those Around You.
The truth is, the people around us are often much more discerning than what we give them credit for. Because it is impossible to see ourselves accurately from every vantage point, we need to learn how to access the perceptions of those around us. They can be our greatest gift in self-discovery, but it takes intention and courage to identify those perceptions.

In seeking people to help you identify your blind spots, don’t limit yourself to those who always agree with you. People who are yes-men say things that make us feel good, which everyone seems to enjoy. But that’s not going to help us much in unveiling our blind spots. If we want honest feedback and input about our relationships, leadership and even character, then it will demand courage to invite others into our vulnerable relational space.

Habit #2: Learn to Activate the Reflective Mind Within You.
By this I mean the consistent habit of gaining insight through replaying situations in our minds. I try to walk away from every leadership team meeting I lead reflecting on what I could I have done differently.

For example, I may ask myself what I could have added to the conversation, or what I should not have said that I now regret. I sometimes wonder what results, outcomes or goals came from the meeting, and I ponder whether the decisions were the right ones. I ask questions of this kind and ponder the flow of the meeting in my mind, hoping to learn.

I know that I don’t have control of what other people say or do, but I always try to learn how I could have said or done something better in that meeting. And if I said something that offended someone else, I try to apologize, or at least check in with that person to make sure everything is all right between us. These reflections help me think more thoroughly about relational dynamics and inevitably help me increase my relational intelligence.

Habit #3: Write Clarifying Statements.
If we think of our blind spots in vague terms, it’s much like telling a doctor that we are in pain without clarifying where the pain is. Not knowing the location of the pain is unhelpful to the doctor, because his or her treatment or prescription is entirely dependent on our ability to describe where the pain is and what it feels like.

If we want to increase our relational intelligence, we must learn how to identify our blind spots clearly and specifically, while also paying attention to how they affect our leadership and relationships. Naming our specific blind spots can help us know which specific prescription or treatment is needed.

For example, here are a few clarifying statements for some common blind spots:

“I usually think of myself as wanting to build others up, but in reality I find myself putting others down in effort to deal with my own deficiencies.”

“When I make decisions, I often fail to consider the opinions of others on the team, and it often stifles team cohesiveness and ownership.”

“I usually think of myself as a good listener, but the truth is I have a reputation of always talking about myself rather than focusing genuinely and unselfishly on others.”

True self-awareness guides us more accurately down the path toward becoming who we really long to become in both our leadership and our relationships. If we desire to expand our influence, we must push through the muddied waters of self-denial into the clarity that self-awareness brings.

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Steve Saccone serves as a catalyst at Mosaic in Los Angeles. He speaks internationally and is an adjunct professor at Golden Gate Seminary. This article is adapted from his new book, Relational Intelligence: How Leaders Can Expand Their Influence Through a New Way of Being Smart. Copyright © 2009 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Jossey-Bass, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

serves as a catalyst at Mosaic in Los Angeles. He speaks internationally and is an adjunct professor at Golden Gate Seminary.