Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Emotional Intelligence in the College

New President Interview -- Part 39

Preliminary remarks

It has been nine months since we heard from the College President.  The last installment concerned use of power.  The very last comment from the interviewer said, “This is obviously an emotionally charged issue.”  This article deals with emotional intelligence in the organization.

Q> What part does emotion play in the running of the College? I thought that emotions are love, hate, respect, etc.

A> Daniel Goleman in his books from 1995[1] and 1998[2] introduced a new approach to how we deal with interpersonal relationships. The concept is not easy to define or explain. Emotion is a multi-faceted phenomenon that involves the psychological, behavioral, and sociological parts of the human experience. Internal feelings can be manifested by behavior, facial expressions or another physical expression.  That is why hand moments, hugging, kissing, or violence are viewed as emotional reactions. One who is perceived to “control his emotions” is someone who recognizes feelings and how to express them in the appropriate physical movements.  Events trigger reactions.  The people with the most emotional intelligence have self-awareness, self-control, and know how to read the feelings of others. Connecting these feelings to actions is a skill that is important to the running of the organization.

Training, expertise, and academic preparation are only part of what we bring to the job.  While academic learning is the main focus of higher education, we must also teach the soft skills needed for success.  How we understand ourselves and the people around us plays a role in how we get hired, retained, and promoted. When I taught graduate school, I initiated conversations concerning what it is like to be an educator and leader. Students had to observe mentor teachers in action.

Q> What are the competencies that are needed for the organization?  What  do the administrative people need to make the management of the College better?

A> People need to be able to read the feelings of others including both the staff they work with and the students we serve.  We need to recognize our fellow staff members at any given moment could be our customer or supplier.  The local goal is to serve the students’ education needs, but the bigger goal is to send educated individuals to the larger community.  Empathy, which involves the reading of the emotional needs of others and social skills, which enable us to act artfully and professionally are skills that can be taught.  Everyone needs to practice the behavior explained in words.

We have students who are used to getting their way with everything.  Their parents shielded them from the real world and told them how “great” they are.  They cheered their children and didn’t let them fail. They only wanted “safe spaces” for their children.[3]  On the other end of the spectrum we have “street wise” students who have seen the worse society offers. These students balance a difficult home and community life with the college classes to make a better life.   We have students who do not understand delayed gratification.  They want instant answers to complex questions.  Social skills (the way we act toward others) need to be taught and practiced because that is how we gain their respect, recognition, and honor.

Q> On May 21, 2017 Vice-president Mike Pence gave the commencement address and received an honorary degree from Notre Dame University in South Bend, IN.  About 150 students quietly rose from their seats and exited as a protest.[4] They had announced their intentions in advance as a protest to the Trump administration’s policies and Pence’s own record as governor of the state. The students claimed Pence did not represent their understanding of the Roman Catholic social teaching tradition that Notre Dame University emphasizes.

Was this an example of students behaving like “snowflakes?”

A> Mike Pence did not have a great record with the educators of Indiana when he was governor.[5]  The Notre Dame protest was over policy, not free speech.  The walkout was quiet; no one shouted disrespectful words.  As governor, Pence was at odds with Glenda Ritz, a veteran educator, who was Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction.  She won more votes in the state-wide election than Pence in the 2012 election.   See Valerie Strauss’ July 15, 2016 article in the Washington Post[6] for more information.

Some of those students must have read and understood Pence’s Indiana record as governor.  However, the university has the right to invite him or anyone of their choice for receiving an honorary degree or giving an address. 

The emotionally intelligent thing to do is realize that no one can agree with you 100% of the time.  Common ground (also called “big tent” issues) must be found to make the community a better place.  They should agree on the major goals even when they can’t figure out which road is the best to follow.

Q> What does Daniel Goleman say about framework for emotional intelligence?  How does the College encourage the required competencies?

A> There are two parts to this framework – personal and communal. Just as the College’s goals have the personal and communal components; emotional intelligence has the personal and social-communal components.  The road to excellence includes:

1) Independent, unique contributions of the individuals.  This included the unique skill sets of the individuals.
2) The interdependent and teamwork aspect of working with others for a common goal.  No one knows everything.  The organization has tacit knowledge that is not written down or recorded. Knowing who knows what is part of teamwork.

3) The hierarchical capabilities build on each other.  The experience of today is the basis for tomorrow. This manifests itself in the classroom as what you learn today prepares you for tomorrow. The lessons learned in Course 101 are needed to understand the material of Course 102.  This is also part of being self-aware.  We need to be self-aware of our skills, limitations, and psyche before we can regulate our behavior and understand motivation.

4) Understanding the situational challenges – Having an ability, skill, or experience does not guarantee success.  Not everyone will develop or display the competencies they learn about.  The climate of an organization or the egos of the players may limit the success of the individual.

5) There are generic skills that apply to all organizations and jobs.  Learning how to transfer these skills to new situations and understanding how to deal with competing demands is part of the journey to succeed.

Goleman has a table explaining the two parts of competence –the personal and the social.[7] The personal involves understanding one’s internal messages such as skills, psyche, resources, health, and intuitions.  Self-awareness combines academic learning with the internal messages no one else can hear.  While Goleman does not talk about understanding one’s body messages, I think this is very important.  As we get older health issues consume more of our resources and “worry time.”  Assessing our strengths and limits includes mental and physical abilities.  It does no good to want to lift the weight when the body refuses to move.  Once you are self-aware you understand your self-worth, position in the community, and you develop self-confidence to accomplish your goals.

We all have animal instincts that includes hunger, lust, and self-preservation. Instincts keep us alive, but without regulating them with self-control we are not human. Keeping disruptive emotional responses in check is what makes us part of the group and team.  Learning self-control keeps us likeable.  Having self-control leads to trustworthiness.  That means we are honest, ethical and have integrity. Part of ethical behavior is recognizing a higher authority that is governing group behaviors. This authority may be laws or regulations that put limits on the individual so that the group can flourish.

Building on self-awareness to taking responsibility for personal performance.  Academic and experiential learning teach both the way to do something right and how to adapt to new situations. Adaptability leads to being comfortable with innovation and new ideas.  Because situations change “the usual” does not always work.  Understanding what works today leads us to find new information to make innovations.

Once we learn to innovate or the possibility that innovation can occur, we need to have a motivation to achieve the goals.  Once we know what excellence is, we can work toward creating the goals to achieve excellence.  Commitment is aligning the personal and group goals to complete the task or the combination of all the tasks for the project. If you want to complete the task, you must believe in yourself and the organization with optimism. The emotional component is how you carry yourself in public.  One should put on a happy face when working toward the goals.

The personal competencies are how we manage ourselves, internalize academic learning, work with a team, and self-improve. 

Q> What is the communal or social component that helps the organization “click?”

A> The two most important aspects are empathy and social skills. You cannot control others.  You have to understand their needs, feelings and perspectives.  It takes a team to approach the impossibility of perfection. In a previous article, I talked about getting to yes[8].  It is better to come to a consensus than to say, “No!” To make the make work, I do not need to know everything.  I do need to understand how to develop and use the competencies of the members. I need to give them the tools they need to flourish.   In the service areas of the College we need to anticipate and recognize the needs students and internal customers. We need the structure to meet those needs today and in the foreseeable future.

Political awareness is the understanding of the power structure and how to read the group’s leadership and power needs.

This leads us to leadership.  Leadership is the way we inspire and guide individual and create a team from a group of individuals.  All social skills are based on communication skills.  That is why teaching English, world languages, and the interpretations texts[9], is an important part of the curriculum.  A computer programmer was asked what is the most important computer language, “English or the language of your users.  If you can’t tell your users about the usage of the program, the most innovative or skilled programming is useless.”
Communication is the way I send my thoughts to you and anyone who can hear me or read my recorded thoughts.  Good communications and organizational systems are what builds the bonds between team members, refines the organizational goals and creates the synergy for future projects.

Q> That’s a lot to comprehend.  What is the goal of emotional intelligence in the organization?

A> To summarize, the goal is to understand oneself, become self-aware and project that self-awareness to reach personal and organizational excellence. The skills needed for excellence are both academic and situational.  The goals and mission statements serve an emotional function.  They create a sense of shared “goodness.”  That is the organization exists for a greater good.  Those people who fight the creation of mission statements are probably the ones who don’t know how to read the needs of others.  Success is not just the economic bottom line.  We need constant awareness of the higher cause as a morale and energy booster.  The organization needs a self-awareness strengths and weaknesses just as the individual has those needs.  While the College does lots of assessment on academic progress, I have to keep reminding the staff and faculty of the other ultimate goals and to think about the jobs we do in public service.  Some faculty need reminders to understand learning for the test is not enough.  Students need to learn how to be good citizens and members of the larger community.

If we have a better organization, we can attract more students and do a better job for the community. Both the big picture and the small pictures are important to success.

Q> How does the College implement improvements in emotional intelligence?

A> I don’t go around using the words “emotional intelligence.” I do keep the concepts in mind when policies are made.  In meetings, I try to make participants more self-aware.  When creating committees or other groups, I am aware of the need for diversity.  I try to emphasize are shared goals. I encourage people to set good examples with their words and actions. I encourage people to see the good in the organization.  When something does not work or people do not perform, rather than getting mad, I am just “amused.”  When I see idiocy or stupidity outside of the organization, I try learn from it what not to do.  I use humor to lighten the moment.   Learning and improving oneself in a search for excellence is a never-ending process.

Q> We are out of time for this interview.  Thank you very much.

[1] Goleman, Daniel.  Emotional intelligence : why it can matter more than I.Q. New York; Bantam Books, c1995, 1997.

[2] Goleman, Daniel. Working with emotional intelligence. New York; Bantam Books,  1998.

[3] Some of these students are “snowflakes” that is a student who is afraid they will melt if they hear or see someone or something they do not agree with.  Academia is supposed to be a place for the exchange of learned ideas.  Not everyone will agree to you, but that does not mean one has a right to act disrespectfully.  This morning a colleague told me about a student who questioned the reasoning for a religious ritual.  The student was quick to condemn a practice they didn’t believe in.  The colleague told the student that he is welcome to discuss the idea after an intense period of study to learn what are the issues. The academy is the place for learned debate, not a safe space shielded from reality.

Once a student in a children’s literature class felt offended by some of the assigned books.  I told her that she didn’t have to like everything. As a parent, she could withhold these books from her children, but as a teacher, some parent or child is going to read that book.  The teacher or librarian will need to know how to address students, parents, and faculty about controversial materials with wisdom and confidence.

[4] Stack, Liam.  “Notre Dame Students Walk Out of Mike Pence Commencement Address” New York Times, May 21, 2017.  Retrieved May 29, 2017.   https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/21/us/mike-pence-notre-dame-commencement-address.html?_r=0

[5] Weddle, Eric and Claire McInerny , “What Did Mike Pence Do For Indiana Schools As Governor? Here's A Look”  NprEd. July 20, 2016.   http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/07/20/486654015/what-did-pence-do-for-schools-as-governor-heres-a-look  Retrieved May 29, 2017.

[6] Strauss, Valerie.  “How Gov. Mike Pence worked to undermine the will of Indiana’s voters.”

[7] Working with emotional intelligence. Pages 26-27.

[9] Also, the interpretation of music, poetry, visuals, and any other creative human works.

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