Award-winning social worker. Cofounder/CINO at WorkLifeHealth.design, an executive-leadership coaching and social impact consulting firm.
getty According to Catalyst, one in five Americans is a woman of color, and in the United States, by 2060, women of color (WOC) will be the majority of all women. WOC represent two or more intersectional identities that make navigating advancement and leadership challenging, given that systemic oppression still exists. Long overdue is the need to redefine leadership that is inclusive of WOC and other members of traditionally marginalized groups. To conceptualize leadership in a transformational way, it's imperative to break free from traditional and outdated notions of how leadership has been recognized and defined—white, heterosexual, cisgender and male and the associated characteristics narrowly tied to that identity. Society has progressively grown more diverse over time, yet many organizations still struggle with making the necessary cultural transformations that would go beyond mere window dressing to create cultures that truly embody diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging (DEIB) and intersectional social justice. As an executive leadership coach, I've found that when WOC learn how to use their emotional intelligence to thrive instead of just for survival, they become much better equipped to navigate their challenges and can enable themselves to flourish despite the realities of systemic bias and racism. The modern world needs emotionally intelligent leaders to reshape workplaces and society at large, and WOC are more than capable of meeting the challenges of the present and future. This is the first in a series that will explore how WOC can leverage emotional intelligence to level up as leaders. So what exactly is emotional intelligence (EI)? As Maya Angelou is often credited for saying, 'I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.' These words allude to the power of EI, which is the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions and to recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others. Psychologist Daniel Goleman has identified twelve competencies within four domains.
Self-awareness Emotional self-awareness Self-management Emotional self-control Adaptability Achievement orientation Positive outlook Social awareness Empathy Organizational awareness Relationship management Influence Coach and mentor Conflict management Teamwork Inspirational leadership
For now, let's take a broad look at each of the domains. More will be explored in later articles.
Self-Awareness Starting with self-awareness as the foundation, the competencies in each domain build on each other. To leverage this domain, you must 'Know thyself,' as the Delphic maxim states. A good starting point for gaining clarity on who you are is to identify your core values. Listen to what your emotions are telling you is important. Which values are non-negotiable, and how well are they aligned with how you lead your life? For WOC, it's important to have clarity on who you are and how others perceive you, especially when bias and racism may factor into everyday reality. Recognize that who you are is how you lead.
Building on self-awareness is self-management. An effective way to leverage this domain is to choose mindfulness over mindlessness. Mindfulness is active intentionality; moment-to-moment awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts, feelings and the external environment; and acknowledging and accepting thoughts and feelings without judgment.
It can be formally practiced through meditation or informally practiced in how you choose to be present—like how you might savor a good meal within a pleasing space by paying attention to how you are experiencing it through all of your senses. For WOC, it's important to consider that effective self-management is about how to manage yourself well to be your authentic best rather than learning how to conform to the status quo.
Social awareness builds upon self-awareness and self-management. To leverage this domain, hone your listening and observation skills. For people to feel seen and heard, listen with your eyes, ears and heart. Pay attention to facial expressions and body language, as well as tone, inflection and volume. Set aside judgment to understand how someone feels from their perspective and be compassionate. Genuine connection is cultivated through empathy and can pave the way toward mutual understanding.
WOC can use social awareness to build and strengthen their networks toward solidarity and allyship and strategically challenge the status quo at every level of racism to promote inclusive behaviors.
Last is relationship management, which is about interpersonal dynamics. How well do you communicate and cultivate relationships? To be effective, this domain requires you to build on self-awareness, self-management and social awareness. In so doing, you can create genuinely strong connections with people.
A way to leverage this fourth domain is to learn how to be a better giver and receiver of feedback, a critical skill for WOC. Receiving feedback is essential to developing and advancing our careers, and being effective in providing feedback helps others do better, whether it's our leaders, peers or direct reports.
Feedback is a gift, and being able to do it well draws on every competency in every domain. Be proactive and ask for feedback from as many people as possible. Two-way feedback done well can increase awareness that facilitates growth while strengthening the relationship when empathy is part of the feedback given or received. The better you are at receiving feedback, the better you'll be at giving it. It's important for WOC to consider how to build and strengthen relationships to help us get what we need and deserve to succeed and thrive.
By leveraging emotional intelligence, women of color can level up as leaders by becoming better at navigating the challenges of combating the stereotypes, biases and assumptions that come with being marginalized and moving progress forward in dismantling systems of oppression. The work of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and intersectional social justice is nothing less than leadership work. So who better to set up for success than women of color as the leaders of social and cultural transformation? As a woman of color, what are your thoughts, and how do you think we might imagine ourselves leveling up as leaders by leveraging all 12 competencies of emotional intelligence?
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