If my social media activity is any indication, the story of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s viral meltdown resonated with a lot of people. My post on the emotional intelligence lessons to be learned from this episode drew an amazing amount of response!

Most of the responses I’ve seen focus on Kalanick’s inability to self-regulate, a foundational component of emotional intelligence. Self-regulation is critical! But it’s important to remember it’s not the first step in building emotional intelligence. First, we need to take a step back and examine our self-awareness and the opportunities reflection offers.

You see, you can’t effectively self-regulate if you are not self-aware. That’s why self-awareness is the first building block of emotional intelligence. Like a house with a weak foundation, any efforts to build emotional intelligence without developing self-awareness will crumble. It is essential to your work in this area, and to your success in work and in life.

What do I mean by self-awareness? The ability to be reflective, to look inward and recognize our strengths, our areas of growth, our triggers, our lizard-brain selves that allow our emotions to take over. The capacity to recognize that our thoughts and behavior impacts the behavior of those around us, even more so than the words we use. Self-awareness means being able to name our feelings, recognize them and understand how they are influencing you. Only then can you control (or self-regulate) them.

No matter how emotionally intelligent we are, we will never be able to eliminate negative emotions. Fear, jealousy, anger – these are natural, normal feelings that all human beings have. The key is to identify negative emotions when you feel them and understand why you’re feeling them. This is self-awareness. Once you’ve got that down, you can learn to control your emotions in a productive way – that’s self-regulation.

Developing our emotional vocabulary

Take a minute and jot down all the positive and negative emotions you can think of. You’d be amazed at how many people draw a blank. They can’t get much beyond ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ and ‘angry’. But in reality, there are hundreds of emotions we feel on a daily basis. As you develop your self-awareness, you’ll also be developing your emotional vocabulary. This will help you name the emotions you’re feeling more precisely, which helps you get closer to understanding where they’re coming from and how to address them.

 For the next few days, try to reflect each time you have a negative reaction to a situation. Are you feeling angry, or are you really feeling vulnerable, or disappointed, or threatened? Sometimes you have to dig a little, but when you do, you’ll find that many of your negative emotions are rooted in fear. Fear of being rejected, fear of looking dumb, fear of losing something or someone.

Think of it this way: your emotions are the fuel in your engine. They drive your decisions, your actions, your body language, your energy. In other words, they drive your life.

An engine fueled by fear doesn’t travel to good places. It leads to isolation, lack of transparency, distrust, suspicion, hubris. A fear-driven leader won’t ask for feedback, because they’re afraid of what they might hear. A fear-driven leader won’t share information, because they want to control the power. A fear-driven leader won’t be transparent, because they don’t trust those around them.

On the other hand, a person with self-awareness can lead through collaboration, transparency, trust, and humility. Self-aware leaders ask for feedback regularly, admit their mistakes and shortcomings, and recognize how their emotional state impacts how they come across to others. They validate and empower others to contribute, share information appropriately, and communicate effectively to all levels of the organization.

Which do you think produces better results?

All of this takes time and effort, and I know both are in short supply. Our world values action, not reflection – but reflection is exactly what is needed to build self-awareness, and ultimately, to grow EI. In my next post, we’ll talk some concrete actions you can incorporate into your daily life to help build your self-awareness and self-regulation mechanisms. There’s a lot you can do on your own.

But as with any discipline, you’ll see faster, more impactful results if you work with a professional coach. Admitting you would like to grow in this area is a sign of self-awareness – so you’re off to a good start.