The Trick to Being “Organizationally Aware”

The Trick to Being “Organizationally Aware”

by Daniel Goleman

Some leaders seem to have ESP. With a little effort, these businesspeople can sus out an organization’s unwritten rules, the necessary steps to get things done, its hidden landmines, and the person, or people, who have considerably more power than their titles suggest.

But it only seems like some otherworldly sixth sense. It’s actually an overlooked skill called organizational awareness that can help in-touch leaders not only understand the forces at work within an organization, but also the guiding values and unspoken rules that operate among its people. Most leaders take their level of this ability as a given, not realizing the ability to recognize networking opportunities and read key power relationships is a talent they can develop. As with all the emotional intelligence competencies, there are strategies for strengthening organizational awareness.    

First, it requires a foundation of self-awareness. This tells us not only the impact of our emotions and actions on our performance. As importantly, it puts us in touch with the guiding, but hidden, norms for behaving in our organization and helps us sense the dynamics of the system within the organization. 

To move from self-awareness to organizational awareness, begin by observing workplace dynamics and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do the parts of this organization fit together?
  • Does the organization have a mission statement? If so, is it reflected in day to day realities?
  • What are the norms, both spoken or unspoken?
  • What is the emotional climate and why?
  • Are people engaged and passionate about their work?
  • How does the organization relate to business partners and competitors?
  • Where is there tension in the organization, and what is causing it?
  • What are the social networks within the organization? Who talks to whom? Who holds informal power? Who does key information pass through? To whom do people listen? 

Compare your answers to how other people read the organization. You can ask the same questions of a colleague or anyone you know whom you think has a knack for awareness of the organization’s systems. You can even do this as an awareness drill with your team, running through these queries to sharpen your group’s interactions with other parts of the company.

This organizational awareness goes hand-in-hand with the competence called “influence.” For instance, once you have a clear sense of who the decision-makers are for an initiative you care about, you can target them. Your goal: face time with each, which might require a bit of networking on your part. But face time gives you the chance to make the arguments that might persuade them to take your point of view.

Here another emotional intelligence competence will help: empathy, which gives us an accurate perception of other peoples’ emotions and motives, as well as how best to put things to them in the moment. You can sense, for instance, when some data might help, or when a powerful story might make the point even better.

Before you meet with the decision-makers, do a bit of research on their background, interests, duties and such will give you points of connection. Once you connect and build a rapport, you can pitch.

The ability to read key relationships and understand people’s motivations and goals is essential for building buy-in for your ideas. Strengthening your organizational awareness will help set you up for success as you turn your newfound insights into pointed actions. 



Originally published on June 5, 2018 in  Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body,” is available now.  

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