Self-Management — how to operationalize your Emotional Intelligence

White man with angry facial expression, pounding on a wooden desk with his fist.
White man with angry facial expression, pounding on a wooden desk with his fist.

This essay explained the concept of Emotional Intelligence, as popularized in North America by Daniel Goleman, and provided an introduction to the first pillar of EQ: self-awareness. If you’ve read that piece, you’ve had a chance to think about where you fall on a scale from low to high self-awareness. The second pillar of EQ, self-management, is clearly related to self-awareness and offers us the additional opportunity to think about what we do with the emotional information we gather from being self-aware!

Briefly, self-management skills refer to those abilities that allow us to pursue our goals with integrity and trustworthiness, as well as to be creative and adaptable. At a fundamental level, self-management means that you are able to exercise discipline in your habits as well as your reactions. Good self-management means that you are not at the whim of your environment or its effects on your emotions, but rather maintain your own inner alignment around your goals and values and use those to direct your responses to environmental cues.

The components of self-management that are assessed in EQ inventories are self-control, transparency, adaptability, achievement, and initiative. While each of these competencies is worth paying close attention to, I’d like to draw your attention to transparency, adaptability, and optimism.

Transparency in this context means being authentically open about your feelings and values and living according to them. Transparency also means that you openly admit to mistakes and that you confront unethical behaviour in others. Adaptability speaks to your comfort level with the inevitable ambiguities of organizational work and life. You can adjust to changes and be flexible in how you work with others. Optimism in the EQ sense means that you tend to see the best in others and in changing situations.

The current rate of change in higher education environments in North America calls for us to examine our relationship to institutional values, and how adaptable and optimistic we can remain in the face of change.

Transparency: We recognize transparency in those individuals who “walk the talk.” Being transparent in an EQ sense does not mean sharing anything and everything, but rather being clear and open to the people around you about what is at stake for you in decision making, what values and priorities guide your choices, and where your boundaries are. Transparency lays groundwork for trust and does not invite people to question your motives or your sincerity.

Opportunities for transparency include explaining the larger context of a decision, or an objection to someone else’s decision. For example, explaining to colleagues why you do or do not support a curriculum change in terms of how you see your own workload, or the relevance of your research, coming into play.

Being transparent, as you can see then, can also involve a bit of vulnerability, because it involves being honest about your values, priorities, and goals. Not all professional environments are safe for this kind of vulnerability — but this kind of safety is one we should definitely strive for in our workplaces. Most people become academics because something in their discipline animated, excited, and inspired them. To pretend that our emotions — our values and goals in life — are separate from our academic work is asking for us to be disconnected to the larger meaning of that work in our lives.

Among EQ competencies, transparency may be one of the most important for leaders. While matters like annual reviews, merit increases, promotion and tenure decisions, grievances and other disciplinary matters should be treated with confidentiality, a department chair can build a foundation of trust in their department by being clear about what they value.

Adaptability: Adaptability in an EQ context refers to the ability to “roll with the punches.” Adaptable people can juggle multiple demands without losing their focus or energy, and are comfortable with the ambiguities of organizational life. They can change their opinions and their plans based on new information and new circumstances and are not resistant to change merely for its own sake.

The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 offers ample illustrations of both high and low skill around adaptability in the academy. How you have adjusted to remote teaching, restrictions on travel, working from home (with kids! and partners!) and delays in just about everything provides an indication of how adaptable you are in your personal and professional life. Being able to retain a connection to your larger values and goals (teaching students well, conducting high-quality research, serving your community) while recognizing that current conditions prevent “business as usual” indicates a fair amount of adaptability.

Lack of adaptability, on the other hand, may manifest itself in rigidity around your expectations of others, and of yourself, during a period in time where many students and faculty do not have the daily conditions to meet those expectations. This lack of adaptability, of self-management, often coincides with lack of emotional self-awareness and a lack of attention to the “emotional wake” the person leaves behind.

Optimism: Being optimistic is not the same as sticking your head in the sand and ignoring negative events or circumstances. Rather, it is the ability to recover and regroup from disappointment and setback and reclaim a state of satisfaction or happiness. Happiness, while challenging to quantify, is associated in EQ inventories with optimism, as well as with self-regard, self-actualization, and good interpersonal relationships. Positive emotions associated with these areas of our lives correlates to a feeling of flourishing, or happiness.

Examining your own strengths (or weaknesses) in the area of self-management and its component elements is an invitation to yourself to articulate your goals and set an agenda, so that you are behaving in resonance with your values. It is also an invitation to examine your own effectiveness in reaching those goals in balance with your behaviour and impact on others and your environment.

If you are interested learning more about your EQ, or in working with a valid EQ assessment instrument, I’d love to hear from you. Find me at jenniferaskey.com

Written by

Academic Leadership coach working with emotional intelligence & positive psychology to help scholars and administrators flourish.

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