For almost 25 years, I’ve been using an emotional intelligence (EI) model to help people discover their level of authenticity. The questionnaire I use is based around 16 different scales of you as a human being, which all relate to the various behaviours you’re running – or that are running you (an important distinction).

What the model does quite effectively is highlight people’s blind spots, in terms of how their behaviours affect other people.

In my most recent book Vicious Cycle, I talk about the blind spots that caught me out – most prominently in my last significant relationship. The reason we need models to properly uncover these issues is because of the problem that many people have with self-awareness. As a direct line of enquiry, “What are your blind spots?” feels a bit inappropriate – like a trick question. Most of us are bound to say, “What blind spots?! What are you talking about?”

Much of self-awareness is about being open to feedback and, in many cases, actively soliciting it – which is something that many of us prefer to avoid. As such, people need a lot of warming up to the whole idea of self-awareness. To do just that, I have a tool that I use, called the Fingerprint Metaphor.

Shattered glass

The fingerprint Metaphor is designed to help people triangulate what good behaviour looks like in an everyday citizen. It covers everyone on the planet, including leaders – but I believe that we are all leaders, even if we don’t have that title. And we all need to role model what good behaviour looks like.

Essentially, the idea is that if you go to pick up a glass of water and you have high EI, you’ll leave a crisp, positive and not too greasy fingerprint on the vessel. If your EI is so-so – let’s say you’re 50% right and 50% wrong – you will leave a crisp fingerprint on the good days, and an unsightly smudge on the bad. If, however, you are operating with very low – or, indeed, no – EI, then your contact will shatter the glass.

A leader who is operating out of awareness, then, won’t just leave a bad fingerprint – they’ll leave a shockwave, too.

As a way to encourage people to think about self-awareness, the Fingerprint Metaphor is a tool that’s quite easy to understand. When I’m introducing concepts to people, I always want to ensure not that they “Get it,” but that they “GET IT get it” – which means that people have picked up an idea that they can consciously apply in daily life.

And there are three groups of people to whom you should consciously apply the Fingerprint Metaphor:

1. Intimate relationships – ie, our romantic partners, our children, our close family members and closest friends. They’re the most important people, because they’re our life-support system: the ones who keep us going. Unfortunately, we often take them for granted because of their familiarity, so they often see us at our worst and get the rough end of us.

2. Colleagues at work These are the people we spend around a third of our time hanging out with – so we should be very conscious of the fingerprint that we’re leaving in our daily interactions with them and how we’re showing up for them.

Unfortunately (again), that consciousness often goes astray, because we’re busy. And a lot of that stems from the corporate world’s grim addiction to a fast pace. We expect answers to be pinged back to us instantly – but the self-aware response would be: “That’s a really great question. Let me think it over for a little while, because it deserves a really great answer”

3. Everybody else The checkout clerk who’s processed your goods at the supermarket, the mechanic who’s done the MOT on your car, the commuter who’s reading the same book as you on the train… these are just three of a myriad people, loosely described as The Rest of the World, who you may only ever meet once – but provide vital opportunities for positive interactions. Whether that’s in the form of friendly words, a smile, a bit of eye-to-eye contact to mutually acknowledge how great that book is – all are valuable.

Now, let’s think of that in the context of a leader with no self-awareness. An eye-roll? There goes the glass. A tut? There goes the glass. “No comment!” There goes the glass.

Typically, the way a lot of people would react to the idea of being positive towards random individuals is, “Why on Earth should I give a hoot for all those people I don’t know?” But doesn’t that explain quite a lot about the mess we’re in a species?

Genuine interest

In an international setting, all those points are magnified.

I recently spoke with an ex-colleague of mine who still works in the pharmaceutical sector and has just come back from a spell of work in Saudi and Dubai. The cultural context is wildly different – and sometimes, a lot of leaders who are assigned international posts won’t quite get how hyper-conscious and respectful they must be of the cultural norms they encounter.

Authenticity is about being an example of what good looks like, in any context you’re in. The skilful international leader will show a genuine interest in the culture they are spending time in, and have a facility for picking up pieces of the body language and speech mannerisms and enfolding them into their own interactions – in a respectful way.

Show your audience why they are meant to be following you by being ‘akin’ – comfortable enough in your own self to know how to adjust to your environment.

One area where leaders often come unstuck is walking the talk – a critical part of what it means to be authentic. On that subject, one of the best interviews I’ve ever done for my podcast was with a guy called Ian Eggs – former vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa in the Ortho Clinical Diagnostics business of Johnson & Johnson.

He’s a senior leader in another global organisation now, and whenever he visits parts of its overseas operations, he makes a point of blocking out time so he’s not available for official meetings. Instead, he walks around the local outpost – be it an office or factory – just talking to the people who work there. Striking up completely unplanned, informal conversations, purely to see how they’re doing and get a sense of the mood and morale in the building.

I don’t know many leaders who would actually go to that much trouble. But it’s an incredibly powerful asset to have the confidence and self-awareness to put yourself in front of the people on the front line of your business – and show that you care about their lives.

Just think about what kind of fingerprint that leaves.

Voices from our community: Jim Rees is an executive coach specialising in EI. He is also an ultra-cyclist, author of Vicious Cycle and co-host – with Dr Jo Maddocks – of podcast The EI Guru

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