Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Emotional Intelligence / knowledge 1.

"Emotional Intelligence" is a much used and abused term. The concept of an emotional intelligence was first raised by the researcher John Mayer who together with Dr. Peter Salovey developed the idea of EI and later emotional knowledge - a metacognition of a representation of the emotions.

Outside of the current debate about the measurement of emotional intelligence, a useful definition for emotional intelligence is:

An ability, capacity, or skill to perceive, assess, and manage the emotions of one's self, of others, and of groups.

This is worth thinking about in the context of leadership, problems solving and ambiguity. Defining EI as an ability, capacity or skill suggests that ones EI can be raised or developed. Mayer talks much about this and one of the central arguments about EI is whether it is a fixed attribute or whether it can be developed. Notwithstanding this, my argument here is that the ability to perceive or recognise our emotions can be developed (or raised) as can the ability to control and manage those emotions.
Further, that if emotions can affect our behaviours, interpretations and thinking then those behaviours, interpretations and thoughts are more likely to be historically based reactions rather than contextually sound actions based on some form of logic. For example a person who is frightened or in some other emotional state is more likely to react differently to a situation than if they were in a more stable, emotionally neutral state where they could apply a logic not contaminated by emotion. The idea is that emotionally intelligent people can identify what emotional state they are in at any time and understand the affect this is having on their perceptions of the situation, their behaviours and their cognitions. People who are not as emotionally intelligent are more likely to be at the mercy of their emotions in that they will colour and change their perceptions of reality, their behaviour and the way they think and think about their thinking and emotions without being aware of this.

We all probably know leaders like this.

In my next post I will explore the affect of this on how leaders deal with ambiguity.

Oh yes what is the picture all about? The Amygdala at the centre of the brain are almond-shaped groups of neurons located deep within the medial temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans. Shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions. More about this later.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Something is missing

I was working with a group of senior leaders in a very large national institution last week. For 90% of the 2 day long meeting the leaders were all working on the problem of how to develop better leadership underneath them and create a more agile and ambiguity tolerant workforce.
The main problem they mused was that people were following orders blindly, not challenging and that there was a total lack of creativity in the workforce.
Solutions abounded about how to fix 'them' and what should be done to solve the problem.

When asked what it is they are doing to increase their own tolerance to ambiguity, develop their own creativity and challenge people in a developmental way there was silence. Indeed if any of us honestly ask ourselves what we are doing to increase our own tolerance to ambiguity and increase our creativity and critical thinking we would draw a blank.
The first issue probably is that we just hadn't thought about it. Once you do start to think about it the second issue then naturally comes forth - just how on earth do you develop your tolerance to ambiguity? Over the next few blogs I will be exploring just that. How can we all get better at dealing with ambiguity?

Back to the meeting - we explored the effects and affects of emotions on problem solving, ambiguity, perceptions of us and them and critical thinking - evidence based thought. It was widely agreed that the key to al of this was understanding our own emotions and the effects they have on our reactions and thinking; emotional intelligence if you like.

So 90% of the meeting was talking about leadership and how to create a more agile, ambiguity tolerant leadership below the board. The other 10% of the time was spent at the end of the meeting reacting to the news that the responsibility for training of new recruits was being removed from this group and was being given to a central agency.

"Our founder would turn in his grave if he knew what was happening"

"We need to stop this before it goes any further"

"They need to be shown the red card"

"This is outrageous how can we indoctrinate them with the right culture if we are not doing it - we need to do something about this now."

The next blog will concentrate on emotional intelligence - what is it and what does it do for us?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Risky business, ambiguity

Risky business asking for an Ambiguity Advantage workshop it would appear.
I thought that you might like this. I have been asked to provide a workshop to help develop a bit more tolerance to Ambiguity in a large organisation in London. I agreed and the job of arranging it fell to the organisational HR department.
I was asked by them to provide:
  • A full rationale for doing the workshop
  • A list of all the outcomes of the workshop
  • A full by the minute breakdown of the programme 'so we know what to expect'.
  • A risk analysis of everything that could go wrong and a statement of what I would do to prevent each item.
  • The total cost and a statement of the value this would bring to the company
  • A list of all the resources used and why each would be used
  • A chapter and verse briefing for the participants including a full breakdown of every exercise so that 'there were no nasty surprises'.
  • A full CV and a statement of expertise
  • Details of indemnity insurance in case 'anything goes wrong'.
  • Details of any first aid / medical qualifications I hold
  • Details of how to evaluate the outcome to 'ensure compliance' after the event.
I could see the conflict on their faces as I pointed out the dichotomy. The answer was that they would have to go and seek higher authority to make a decision. Talk about disempowerment.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Risk Aversion and Problem Solving

I have been helping a group of managers in a large corporation learn a series of different problem solving techniques. Three of the managers are by their own admission very risk averse. In the words of one of them "I need to know what is happening and I hate anything happening I wasn't expecting, absolutely hate it. I make sure that everyone in my team brief me everyday and anything that goes out of the group only goes through me."

It has been interesting watching this group of managers engage with a series of problems and the process. There are a number of observations worth making:

  • The first is that when compared to the rest of the group what constituted a problem was very different. For example a great worker was identified who was the most productive in the firm. A discussion about them started and it was discovered that because she was so outstanding she kept her own hours. Often preferring to work out of the 8 - 6 hours of the office. Sometimes she would be seen working at weekends too. These three managers would have stopped such practices and made her conform to the 'normal' working hours. Such leniency was seen as a risk and therefore a problem. 'The thin end of the wedge' according to two of them.
  • The second observation was that people prejudge a problem based on the amount of risk they perceive is inherent in the problem. So their definition of the problem (see previous posts about reality and problem solving) was altered radically dependent on how much risk and uncertainty (which were the same for these three managers) they thought the situation contained. In one case we studied all three of them started to engage in flight behaviour. When explored they saw the situation to be so uncertain either they engaged in displacement behaviour or outright denial. "No one can solve this it's just ridiculous". The answer to this by another (non-risk averse) manager was "Are you kidding this has happened here. I dealt with it last year. They were dumbfounded.
  • Another observation about how risk aversion changed the problem solving process is that the range of possibilities of the problem definitions was a lot narrower and 'safer' than for the rest of the team. All of the categorisations of the problem were already part of the common knowledge. Unlike the rest of the group non of them came up with new problem definitions. Interesting once they had settled on a problem definition moving them to other possibilities was hard.
  • This lead to all of their solutions being ones that they had previous experience of working. Not one solution was experimental, they were all solutions that were historical, tried and tested. When solutions from others came up that were novel and had never been tried these were seen as too much of a risk. "But what if it doesn't work" and "Prove that it will work and then I'll go along with you".
I gave my business card to someone last week. He thanked me and stood there reading it for a while. Then he raised his head and peered over his glasses at me and asked. "What on earth has ambiguity and problem solving got to do with each other?"