Self-leadership: Savvy career advancement for Asian Pacific American lawyers

Topics: APA Lawyers, Asia Pacific, Career Development, China, Diversity, Gender Equity, Leadership, Leadership & Retention, Mentors & Sponsors, Networking, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

Asian woman lawyer

In honor of May being Asian Pacific Heritage Month, we offer weekly discussions about issues of importance to APA attorneys, such as skills for career advancement.

In his bestseller Emotional Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman points out that “exceptional leaders distinguish themselves because of superior self-leadership.”

This self-leadership come about by observing and managing the awareness of your own emotions, accurately engaging in self-assessment, controlling your outward emotional responses, taking initiative, and demonstrating optimism. Mastering these skills results in excellent relationships and expedites career advancement.

Mastering self-awareness

Emotional intelligence (EI) has two distinct parts: i) self-awareness; and ii) social or relational awareness. To achieve success in the first part, you must be willing to do some inner work, such as acknowledging your strengths and engaging in regular practices of mindfulness or journaling.

First, there are several actions you can take to explore your strengths, such as:

  1. Become familiar with the relationship among EI, self-awareness, and success as outlined in Goleman’s book. (You can access a summary of it on Blinkest).
  2. Take a strength-finder assessment, such as those offered by Clifton Strengths. Knowing your strengths will provide clarity and offer a confidence boost because you are on the path of action.
  3. Initiate a regular practice of mindfulness. During stressful times filled with anxiety and fear — like now during this time of economic uncertainty and crisis — mindfulness gives you the opportunity to bring unconscious thoughts into your conscious mental awareness and creates the space necessary for skillful responses during highly emotionally charged situations.

Practicing mindfulness is simple, but often finding the time for it is not easy in a world filled with intense work and distractions. To start, stop multi-tasking and focus on one activity at a time, using intentional breathing while you do it. To gain self-awareness of your physical body, focus solely on where you hold tension and heaviness and where you feel lightness.

Becoming more conscious of your thoughts, mental state, and body enables you to create the pause that gives you choice in how you respond rather than react during moments of stress.

  1. Another great option for increasing self-awareness is through journaling. If you are a glass half-empty person with a natural “what’s the point?” way of thinking, try a five-minute journaling practice to help. For example, Ritu Ghai, associate counsel at Google, says she uses journaling to organize her thoughts before sleeping and brainstorm resolutions to some of the issues and conflicts she is currently facing.

Grasping social awareness

Once you’ve enhanced your self-awareness skills, your energy and mind are freed up to focus on those around you, which is a great tool for strengthening relationships within your organization and with clients. Indeed, better relational skills can be built by active listening and asking insightful questions.

Actively listening means that you are fully concentrating on what another person is saying. You’re listening with all your senses — observing their words, their body language, their energy behind the words they are using, and tapping into what is not being said. If you are just hearing their words, this is not listening actively, says Sameena Kluck, a strategic account executive at LawGeex. “If you’re only partially listening to clients because you’re more focused on what you’re going to say next, you can miss the nuance of what they’re saying, or a nugget indicating what’s underlying what they’re saying, which can be a chance to uncover what their true concern or fear is,” Kluck explains.

When you are using all of your senses to listen, you also can dive deeper with your subject by asking questions. Michael Nguyen, a deputy district attorney in California, uses both active listening and asking insightful questions together. It is not uncommon in a criminal law trial to have victims refuse to cooperate. In one trial, the victim’s frustration was palpable because of fear of retaliation against him and his family by the defendant, who had been charged with assault with a deadly weapon and allegations of a hate crime.

To gain the victim’s trust and cooperation, Nguyen listened with empathy and compassion, asked important follow-up questions and validated the victim’s apprehensions about his involvement in criminal proceedings. The rapport and trust established — even in the short time that Nguyen had to speak with the victim — helped to ease the victim’s stress and gain the confidence to ultimately testify in the trial.

Using EI in conflict resolution

EI during a conflict is helpful in two ways. First, it helps you to be aware of your emotions and empowers you to make a choice to remain calm. It also opens you up to quickly analyze what it is about you, your ideas, or past actions that is getting in the way of a resolution. Further, EI also enables you to remain curious about the other person’s perspective.

For example, when a client issues a blanket No to a program of document automation, Kluck says she asks them to further describe their objections so that she can uncover what the underlying fear or objection is really about. “It might instead go to fear about quality control being lost, or a fear of changing the way newer employees get trained on how to create documents,” she says. “But if you dig into your position and keep reiterating that, you’ll miss finding the heart of the matter in which your conversation could pivot instead.”

In addition to using active listening, asking insightful questions is another way of honing relational awareness because you are gaining the other person’s perspective. To further collaboration or resolve a disagreement, begin with these questions:

  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • What would you like to see happen?
  • What would it take for us to be able to move forward?
  • Are you willing to share the impact this has had on you?
  • What ideas do you have that would meet both our needs?

Finally, building social awareness skills helps in career development because new ideas and opportunities will be discovered when sharpening self-leadership and exploring new ways of collaborating with those who can influence your career.

At the end of the day, self-leadership is about relationships — the one with yourself as well as those with others. Enhanced EI enables greater self-leadership, which begets success and creates a multiplier effect of one positive outcome building upon another.