Archive | June 2011

Some Philosophical Contemplation On Introverts And Extroverts

the beginning of a wild fire

(First of all, I apologize for the small delay of this post because we have been consumed by anxiety over a rapidly spreading wildfire that’s close by, and by preparations for possible evacuation.  For now, it’s difficult to predict when our situation will stabilize and so I cannot say when the next post will be.  Please be patient with me.)  Now about today’s topic:  

When I was young, about 7th or 8th grade, I often tested myself:  Listening for the faint triangle notes in Alexander Borodin’s “Prince Igor.”  I had only a small record player, and with LP’s quality back then, detecting such a subtle background was a bit of a challenge.  I used this test whenever I felt that I was edgy, unsettled, unfocused, and so if I could still hear those notes produced by the triangle, it meant that my mind wasn’t too distracted and was fairly composed.  However, there were times, no matter how hard I tried to concentrate, I simply missed those notes.  I offer this little story as a way to relate how introverts recharge their energy: by being alone. The extrovert gathers his/her energy by being with others.

This aspect of the Myers-Briggs personality type resonates with me the most.

Now, by no means I am a hard-core introvert; I ought to know, I married an introvert whose score would fly off the chart.  My social world evolves around friends; at small gatherings with friends, I am perfectly conversant.  But I cannot handle cocktail parties; I was once caught reading a magazine in such a party.  And I dread meeting strangers, especially on the phone.  When I am frazzled, I want to be alone to regroup.  So, while on the surface, I seem comfortable with people, my internal self isn’t always so comfortable.  Being a social scientist gives me the satisfaction of observational learning about human behavior while not directly involved in the situation. I have some extrovert friends whose score would also fly off the chart on the other side of the scale.  They can’t help themselves; they don’t ever seem to run out of things to say (not unpleasant, by the way), and they are also very keen in getting you to join in the conversation.  At the end of a long hard day, their energy level grows when they are with friends.

another kind of test for an introvert…looking for a 4-leave clover, can you find it?

Put these two types in a work situation, and you may sense some tension.  The world is dominated by extroverts, and they don’t quite get how introverts operate (and yes, introverts have a better grasp of extroverts and how they operate).  To me, this type of challenge is just as important in diversity/multiculturalism discussions as those presented by race, gender, and other conventional indices.  It’s one thing to analyze someone’s personality, ability or capability, it’s a totally different beast when we try to understand the interaction effects of people who are introvert and extrovert.

I have known an extremely introverted (really really extreme) person (there is no such thing as “small talk” to him) who would relish telling good stories, with eyes looking down most of the time.  In some of these tales he has told, I can see that he would have no trouble of speaking up to correct some egregious situation (though his first choice would be through writing) or engage in interactions on topics that interest him.  At one time, he tutored math, and had encountered an immigrant from Mexico whose English was rather limited, but he still enjoyed his task because he loved math.  Someone asked him, why not learn some Spanish (there was a healthy population of migrant workers in town), to which his puzzled response was, “why?  I have no use for it.”  An extrovert might regard this as “self-centered,” or “so utilitarian.”  As if extroverts can never be like that!  But more importantly, there is simply nothing wrong with his attitude.

It is particularly intriguing, and frustrating, when there are conflicts between an introvert and an extrovert.  In fact, the perception of a “conflict” isn’t quite symmetrical between these two types.  In general, introverts would prefer to avoid conflict altogether, while extroverts think only by facing conflicts squarely can solutions be found.  However, avoiding conflict doesn’t necessarily mean that the introvert cannot handle the troublesome issue; he would just like to work on the issue without it being elevated into a “conflict.”  On the other hand, given a choice, an introvert would happily choose solitude, and thereby, “what’s the issue?”  So, the same dynamics on conflict can be put this way:  Some people are more ready to turn a troublesome issue into a conflict in order to hash out the differences, while others would prefer to find tangential ways to take care of the issue.  Is one method necessarily better than the other?

first glance…a snake? nay, just a twig…

I have had some really unpleasant conversations with dear friends in the past.  In one, we understood each other’s positions but could find no way of resolving the differences.  My friend wanted me to show my hospitality not only to her but also to all her entourage of friends or relations whenever she came to visit me.  I stood my ground about drawing some limits.  While she understood my principles, I failed, in her eyes, to be the “generous friend” by her definition.  In another incident with a different friend, the exchanges were on a very mundane issue but the miscommunication ballooned into such extreme expressions on her part that, while we are still friends, I have become extremely wary of saying anything that could be interpreted differently.  In their eyes, they’ve said their piece and the burden is on me as to how I want to carry on.  Indeed, I think the burden is almost always on the introvert, to adjust, to adapt, to find ways of resolving every situation internally, or simply to ignore it.

So, why am I talking about personal stuff instead of organizational stuff?  While it is true that social interactions are not quite the same as professional interactions at work, there are lessons offered in both situations. Besides, work and life are not dichotomous but intertwined.  I do believe in openness and honesty, but I think far more important is understanding the art of when and where to voice and deal with potentially conflicting issues or volatile situations.  Perhaps this is what most introverts would find more appealing: wait for a while, mull it over a bit longer, find an opportune time, and assess the larger context, before broaching the subject with the other person.  I love this quote, by a science journalist, (as quoted in New York Times opinion, link provided below) “The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement.  Neither E=mc2 nor ‘Paradise Lost’ was dashed off by a party animal.”  Of course, more likely in reality is that people at work usually don’t have the time to reflect, so they have to either “confront” right away or “sweep” the issue under the rug and hope it will go away magically.

The workforce everywhere is largely controlled by extroverts, and since they are the majority, that’s understandable.  What’s frustrating for a lot of introverts, particularly at work, is that they are often misplaced, misjudged, and misunderstood.  Our world, our societies, schools, work places, all emphasize teamwork these days, but is teamwork good for everyone?  Most introverts actually adapt to their environment, but at some cost to their emotional well-being.  And if most organizations and specific projects are designed by extroverts, is the welfare of introverts being adequately addressed?  To some extent, the struggle of the introverts at work is similar to the homosexuals — when they are being told to change to being heterosexuals — with one major difference, introverts won’t make a lot of noise or complaints.

In addition to the question of introverts’ welfare is the more encompassing question:  Are employers and institutions making the best use of the resources available to them in the introversion of many of their employees?  Should employers elevate introversion to the same proactive “diversity” status as gender and race?  I ask these questions because research does indicate that people tend to have much stronger favorable opinions of those who are “assertive,” willing to talk, and socialize more, and regard them as more “competent,” regardless of facts.

I don’t have answers to these questions, but feel compelled to raise some awareness of this matter.  However, just in time, yesterday’s Sunday New York Times opinion pages offer an article on this very issue.  When they start offering medicine to “cure” shyness or introversion, I definitely worry.

found it!

In closing, here is a little pop quiz:  Regarding someone who likes to post lewd pictures of himself on Facebook, what is the probability of this person being an extrovert?  Not to mention having distinctly non-astute judgment?

Till you find your way of recharging your energy,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:  taso100@gmail.com

copyright taso100 © 2010 – 2015 all rights reserved: no photos or content may be reproduced without prior written consent

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More Half-Truths To Dispel

In this entry, the spotlight will be on the areas of “financial incentives,” “when (not) to change,” and “effects of managerial control.”  These are the remaining topics discussed in the Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense.

Money issues can really mess up people and organizations.  The biggest myth in our financial incentive system is this:  People’s motivation to work, and to work hard, lies in the amount of money they get.  If the money isn’t “right,” employees will undermine the organizational goals and management goals.  Once organizations figure out the reward system, which is always intricate and complicated, employees’ behavior will be perfectly aligned with the organization.

Do you think you only work for money?!

my sweet little new toy…still learn to control it, especially on sandy gravel, single track (my worst enemy) trail, oh my!

This assumption is also responsible for the perennial debate about teachers’ performance and whether teachers’ salaries should be tied to performance, as measured by the students’ test scores.  First of all, do we really think that our own, and our next generation’s, education is all just about how we do in tests?  This is not about politics, but about how to understand and employ logic and facts to engage in meaningful and intelligent discussions.  And it’s a topic about which we all feel passionate, and we all have some experience.  How many teachers that you know of are actually motivated by their salary?  Is teacher’s motivation the sole determinant of students’ performance? How about the teacher’s skill, parents’ involvement, parents’ education background and financial standing, the community in which the school resides, the school’s culture, the administration’s record, the resources, etc.?

Having reflected on these nuanced concerns, would you be surprised to know that the idea of merit-pay for teachers has been around since early 1900?  Furthermore, the research in this area has been abundant, and the results have been pretty conclusive:  Whatever benefit merit pay may achieve generally doesn’t last more than five years, and it consistently fails to improve students’ performance, i.e. test scores.  By the way, what motivates students?

The two major points about financial incentives I learned from the authors of Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense are:

  1. While financial incentives can increase people’s motivation, for a short while, the motivation will improve only effort (work harder, and only in the short term) but not ability (If you are not fundamentally good at something, additional money isn’t going to change that.).  As Sherlock Holmes said to Watson:  Once it’s explained, of course, it’s obvious!
  2. We think others are motivated by money, even if we are not.”  A study of prospective law students found that 64% of respondents indicated that they wanted to pursue a law degree because of the intellectual work or interest in law, while only 12% thought their peers were likewise motivated.  In fact, 62% thought the others pursued the degree because of financial rewards.

also, a new crossover cycle for papa bear…and another crossover for big boy bear

Of course, in general, people would like to have more money, but they want it for a wide range of reasons, most of which are not directly linked to the motivation over which the organization wants control.  And by and large, the intrinsic value of the work itself plays a significant role, a fact often overlooked by management and compensation consultants.  These often untested assumptions help warp our notions of what work means to us, and what it means to others.  Hence, financial incentives get overemphasized while the intrinsic importance of work gets underemphasized.

As much as I love studying organizations, there are times I just want to throw my hands up and say, “why bother?”  Especially when everything about organizational life seems complicated, without easy answers, or often, with no answers.  We like nothing better than a linear, neat, straight road to lead us through the day.  So it is with issues like “change!’  On the one hand, we extol those who embrace change and disdain those who “resist” change; on the other hand, we don’t ever know exactly howto go about engaging change effectively.  It’s yet another either-or, “change or die,” dichotomy we keep running into.  One major reason why changes are messy in organizations is because the goals of management and those of the “other employees” are often orthogonal or even opposed.   What management may see as an improvement, “other employees” (the ones who do the work?) often see as a dis-improvement.

fun for them…and fun to watch

The authors mentioned the Oracle (software) system.  Stanford University, where the authors are professors, wanted to “improve” their software system using the “enterprise resource planning” (ERP) by Oracle.  The project cost twice as much in time and money as projected, and as a result the university administration actually “apologized to the staff for putting them through it!”  The very same system is still wrecking havoc in the scientific organization whose examples I often use.  This is a typical kind of decision where executives love the “concept” of ERP without really grasping the costs for the implementation and the time and effort it costs the staff who are forced to use the system.  This is all the more glaring when these top level managers’ own work isn’t likely to be profoundly impacted by the proposed change.

Other typical organizational changes that the authors warn about include:  mergers and acquisitions; switching to “better” HR practices; quality improvement efforts (such as the Six Sigma I discussed in the post, “A Sensible Organization Is Not A Perfect Organization:  Drawing boundary, yes, generating unlimited rules, not so much”); business process reengineering; layoffs; launching a new product; and starting a new organization.  Management really needs to have a deep understanding of how each of these types of change would impact the organization.  Are the changes really worth the upheavals that they are guaranteed to bring to the organization?  Is the management willing to be honest and open to employees’ feedback, and have a genuine dialog?  When planning a major change, perhaps it is wiser to start with experiment, such as making the planned change in a smaller unit.

wicked fun

Combing through research from economics, psychology, sociology, and business/management, the authors offer the following key questions for decisions on changes:

  1.      Is the practice better than what you are doing right now?”
  2.      “Is the change really worth the time, disruption, and money?”
  3.      “Is it best to make only symbolic changes instead of core changes?”
  4.      “Is doing the change good for you, but bad for the company?”
  5.      “Do you have enough power to make the change happen?”
  6.      “Are people already overwhelmed by too many changes?”
  7.      “Will people be able to learn and update as the change unfolds?”
  8.      “Will you be able to pull the plug?”

Good questions.  But an important platform for assessing and answering these questions, is honesty and authenticity on management’s part.  For instance, the answer to question 4:  The kind of managers who are into making themselves look good (of which there are plenty and they are likely to be the last people to admit it) cannot possibly answer that question wisely, which can begin the downward spiral.

These issues ultimately beg inquiry into the quality of managers and how much control they should and do wield.  Since I have touched on managers/leaders roles in previous entries, I will try not to repeat myself, but will highlight a few points that intrigue me.

refreshing…especially in the summer heat

Managers-leaders do make differences, big and small…except when they don’t.  In general and on average, managers cause moderate impact at best; however, the lower the level where managers reside, the higher the likelihood that their actions are impactful.  One of the major reasons for limited impact is the constraints posed by both internal and external environments.  This is especially true for large organizations.  Remember, it’s really about the system (discussed in the post, “If You (Management) Want The Best People For The Organization:  Get out of the way”).  As much as managers would like to believe that they are in control, reality says otherwise.  In addition, at least in most of the western developed countries, there is a natural built-in tension between accepting hierarchy and authority and keeping the power of control at the upper level in check.

Now, why would the managers at the lower levels have more impact?  There are more managers at this level; the probability of diverse backgrounds is therefore higher, and we are likely to witness a wider range of management styles that may be more in touch with the staff’s needs.  Upwardly-mobile managers tend to have more homogeneous backgrounds, education, track records, management styles and ways of thinking, etc.  The paradox here is that the higher the management level, the more complex the problems and situations the manager faces, yet the more homogeneous the approaches and styles one has learned along the managerial ladder, which constrains the imagination of the higher management levels.  What most managers/leaders need to bear in mind is that the majority of their responsibility is about projecting confidence while exercising humility in the face of flaws in the system, and retaining the (internal) doubts necessary for accepting improvement.

One final point about managers/leaders is this:  While the good ones’ impact is rather moderate, the bad ones inflict enormous damage, to organizations and the people working in them.  “Study after study demonstrates that bad leaders [managers as well, my words] destroy the health, happiness, loyalty, and productivity of their subordinates.”

beauty to feed the soul

CODA

The authors offer 9 points for taking evidence into actions:

  1. Treat your organization as an unfinished prototype.”  Except don’t overwhelm people with changes.
  2. No brag, just facts.”  I like this one a lot.
  3. Master the obvious and mundane.” Such as, avoid mergers and acquisitions!
  4. See yourself and your organization as outsiders do.”  Talking to customers is a good way to start.
  5. Power, prestige, and performance make you stubborn, stupid, and resistant to valid evidence.”  This would require a high level of self-awareness, which I believe has a tendency to diminish as one moves up.
  6. Evidence-based management is not just for senior executives.”  True, except lower level managers tend to be extremely constrained by resources and time.
  7. Like everything else, you still need to sell it.”  Stay on message, and the fewer the messages the more effective they can be.
  8. If all else fails, slow the spread of bad practices.”  This is a tough one.
  9. The best diagnostic question:  What happens when people fail?”  I could write another thesis on this one.  Love it!

And finally finally, HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!  Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:  taso100@gmail.com

copyright taso100 © 2010 – 2015 all rights reserved: no photos or content may be reproduced without prior written consent

Intuition In Management Is Unavoidable; Intuition Backed By Evidence Is Much Better

Sometimes, management seems to focus on only that which can be measured – regardless of whether what is measured is a worthy focus – at the expense of softer issues, such as relationships, judgment, wisdom, emotions, etc.  Yet, just as often, perhaps almost always, they forego all evidence in favor of that “gut feeling.”  Much as I think “intuition” is a bit too fuzzy and too much of a catch-all, its existence, usage and applications cannot be neglected.  When intuition is the gestalt for accumulated experience and knowledge, that’s fine, but if it’s based on wishful thinking, ideology, fear, or some guru’s sound bites, then, it can hurt, both the organizational performance and the people doing the work.

looks warm…not

Of course, it is understandable that managers often cannot afford to wait, in terms of time and money, for all the data before having to make decisions.  It is yet another fine line for managers to walk.  But on balance, managers should seek and utilize evidence as much as possible to weigh in making decisions.  During the month of April, my topics, Work-Life, System, and Organizational Strategy, had been largely based on chapters of Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense:  Profiting from evidence-based management, by Jeffrey Pfeffer & Robert Sutton.  There remain a few chapters for which I will provide some summary and discussion in the next two entries.  In this entry, I will lay out the why and the how of evidence-based management.  In the next entry, I will put the spotlight on specific issues:  Financial incentives; When to change and when not to; and Management control.

Who’d dispute that you should follow the evidence?  It’s intuitively (yes, pun intended) common-sense, isn’t?  Yet, we see again and again in Pfeffer & Sutton that often, not only does management fail or even refuse to follow the trail of evidence, they sometimes choose to do the opposite.  For instance, “mergers often come to a bad end” (approximately 70% failure rate) especially when the firms to be merged are of vastly different sizes, of different industries that bear little resemblance to each other, or of similar sizes but of very different cultures.  Yet, senior management keeps heading that direction.  Remember Daimler-Chrysler? AOL-Time Warner? HP-Compaq?  The evidence strongly suggests that merging is an excellent means of spending lots of money to accomplish nothing, yet managers continue to pursue mergers.  That said, there are examples of successful mergers, which achieved success because the initiating firm has done careful studies prior to the proposal, and once the merger took place, the merging firms were (and still are) careful to work out the differences in their operations, cultures, and management philosophies.  In other words, they pay more attention to the “doing” to create effective integration than the “planning and negotiations.”

looks cool…not

There are certain common decision-making practices that seem reasonable, but are deeply flawed upon examination.  Pfeffer & Sutton list three:  Casual benchmarking; Doing what works best in the past; Using untested ideologies(or using them regardless of evidence).  On the surface, it seems reasonable to do benchmarking, embrace successes from the past, and holding onto principles/ideolgies.  Certainly, there is nothing wrong to benchmark against the best practices of other organizations.  However, just copying the outcomes without understanding the philosophies, process and procedures of bringing successful outcomes, the thinking and attitude of the workforce of the successful firms… is like copying wealthy people’s spending habits in order to become wealthy.  To be truly useful, benchmarking requires careful study of the indices or dimensions for comparison.  How do we choose these “important” criteria?  Again, based on what do we deem certain aspects to be more important than others?  Quite often, management uses benchmarking as excuse to hide from their own organization’s reality, and at the same time, reject the voices of truth from other employees.  (I use “other employees” because managers are employees too.)  As the authors point out, if Southwest Airlines – the current darling model – has a CEO who favors a certain brand of whisky, should that be an index?!  How many airlines have tried to copy Southwest Airlines?  And how are they doing?  Similarly, the U.S. auto industry has been trying, for years, to copy what Toyota does, with little successful results.  What most successful organizations do lies in their fundamental philosophy of treating employees as the most sacred asset and listening to their customers; it’s all about relationships, not snazzy uniforms, parading “employee of the month,” or painting your airplanes with interesting motifs.

definitely windy

The same logic applies to continuing the successful past practices within the organization.  Environment changes; workforces evolve; technologies can metamorphosise so that the current conditions are drastically different from the past.  Not only it is important to recognize that what worked in time A may not work for Time C, but more importantly, do most organizations have a good grasp on why and how certain practices brought about success, say, for time A?  The answer to this question is all about establishing causality, a notoriously moving target in the social sciences.  Certainly we should learn from the past, but we shouldn’t be locked in the past.

As for unexamined ideologies, they are numerous, and the bulk of Pfeffer & Sutton’s book deals with some of the most common ones which I related earlier and of which I will provide more in subsequent entries.  For now, let’s use the favorite “stock option” as an example of defying evidence for the sake of ideology, to the detriment of real organizational performance.   Even Moody’s, the bond rating agency, states that “[incentive pay package] can create an environment that ultimately leads to fraud.”  Because stock options are essentially about expectations, not performance, they are subject to hyperbole and manipulation.  This is not to say that stock options would never work , but it depends on many factors and circumstances; generally they are best used for organizations that are small startups.

So, why do managers keep using “half-truths” or “nonsense?”  The authors give at least three reasons: 1. “using data changes power dynamics;” 2. “people often don’t want to hear the truth;” 3. “the marketplace for business ideas is messy and inefficient.”  Facts and evidence are equalizers; anyone can gather them and present them to back up their assertions.  If we allow anyone to apply facts, we can easily imagine the erosion of management power, and newly-legitimized criticism of the often ridiculously high pay associated with senior management levels.  Issues of ego, hero stature, and power probably will all be re-written.  Have you tried to change the power dynamics at work lately?  And, have you tried to tell whole truths, especially unpleasant ones?

a short lived beauty

Concerning the business literature, the marketplace for business advice and ideas is huge, and quite often fraught with contradictions.  How do you separate good and sound ideas from others that look similar but are without merit?  When truths are not pleasant, it is all the more enticing to just grab whatever seems attractive and sounds appealing; for example, who wouldn’t want to “search for excellence?”

How, then, does one go about gathering and assessing evidence?  The answer sounds an anticlimactic truth:  “Use Sound Logic and Analysis.”  Readers, take note:  There just aren’t any simple 12-step programs to guide managers.  Managers need to invest time and effort to get acquainted with as many logical and analytical issues as possible, so that when encountering yet another book or essay, managers will be in better position to judge the validity of claims.  Related, managers should have some ideas of how social research is conducted, i.e. what the main questions in the study are, how the data are collected, where the samples come from, the approach of analysis, etc.  For instance, are the data all about successful firms?  Any failed ones for comparisons?  Are they all based on respondents’ memory?  Any “objective” data to back up assertions?  This doesn’t imply that another workshop on statistics or research method is needed.  However, setting this foundation will go a long way toward developing more rigorous criteria for choosing publications, and assessing ones’ own organizations, knowing what to ask and when to ask.

So here are the guidelines authors offer:

  1. Treat old ideas like old ideas.”
  2. “Be suspicious of breakthrough ideas and studies – they almost never happen.”
  3. “Celebrate communities of smart people and collective brilliance, not lone geniuses or gurus.”
  4. “Emphasize the virtues and drawbacks (and uncertainties) of your research and proposed practices.”
  5. “Use success and failure stories to illustrate practices supported by other evidence, not necessarily as valid evidence.”
  6. “Take a neutral approach to ideologies and theories.  Base management practices on the best evidence, not what is in vogue.” 

a sweet pair

Most of these points are fairly self-explanatory.  Yet, they do require some thought and reflection before they can be internalized.  Remember what I mentioned in the last entry on emotional intelligence?  It will take at least one year before changes in emotional state may be long lasting.  Evidence-based management may sound dry, and the consequences do evoke emotions.  So, best to start with just one principle and familiarize with it and practice again and again.  After all, doing supersedes planning and learning.  Till you internalize one principle,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:  taso100@gmail.com

copyright taso100 © 2010 – 2015 all rights reserved: no photos or content may be reproduced without prior written consent

A Few Reflections To Transit Back…

It’s been a while; I appreciate your patience.

Since I got back home a little more than a week ago, life has resumed its “normal” rhythm, but obviously, my emotional state has been fluctuating.   So, in this entry, I will jot down a few somewhat random personal reflections as a transition back into my original agenda, which now feels like it was set half-a-lifetime ago!

first of a series of light show, at National Gallery of Art East Bldg, D.C.

I am deeply grateful for many people in and features of my life, not the least of all being my freedom to do as I please and design.  Yet, I can also see how a more rigid structure might provide better boundaries, say if I were holding a full time job with an organization where I would have to plunge right back in the work.  This reminds me of a bygone time when I was working for a Fortune 500 company; how I was out for three days recovering from a traumatic extraction of my wisdom teeth (three).  I slept through the majority of those three days, aided occasionally by pain-killing medicine.  Then, in my sleepy state, I received a call from my big boss asking about a project I was handling.  So, I had to go in to take care of it.  I managed to do the shortish drive and take care of the work, but later – when I was more lucid – I wasn’t sure the task was that urgent at the time.  You see, I was only a trainee still, with two immediate supervisors who knew my work and schedule.  I wonder if they couldn’t have just picked up my stuff and taken care of it…if they had known the “urgency.”

This example left an indelible impression on me.  It isn’t that I think I needed more sympathy and understanding – though that would have been nice – it’s the tone of my big boss, checking on me and making sure that I wasn’t “pretending,” that was disturbing.  If he were distantly removed from my work, didn’t know me well, wasn’t just down the hall from my office, and hadn’t taken lunch with me and other colleagues at least once or twice a week, I could have understood his suspicion.  I think that was my very first encounter with cold side of management, and because I have worked with several warm-hearted and considerate managers before, I knew this boss didn’t have to behave that way.

So, why did he let his suspicion overtake his otherwise pretty positive assessment of me?  Part of this has to do with the assumption of the “agency theory” I discussed in my first entry, (The Beginning…And:  Bad management theories lead to bad organizational practices) in which employees should be regarded as selfish beings who would shirk, cheat, or put in the least amount of efforts whenever they can get away with it.  Another part is a profound lack of “emotional intelligence” that some, or perhaps most, managers exhibit.  Emotional intelligence is a fascinating concept that deserves a whole entry and then some, which isn’t what this entry is about.  I will highlight just a couple of points that resonate with me the most.

i was mesmerized by this show,,,

First of all, E.I. isn’t something new.  Philosophers, such as Socrates and Aristotle, all have discussed the general issue, though not necessarily with this particular term.  But grasping emotions, self-awareness, self-knowledge, infusing intelligence into life…are all part of attaining some form of wisdom.  It’s just that the 20th-21st century technology has driven us to equate this concept with brain function.  What we now know is that the emotional component of our brains can, and will at times, hijack our intellect and values, without our awareness.  So when we are under stress, or think/feel we are under stress, we can behave in ways that may lead to destroying the fragile trust built in relationships, or making decisions that are inconsistent with our values.  In the wake of these past few weeks of my life being turned upside down, this knowledge is particularly poignant.  That’s why members of the workforce need adequate time and space to work through their personal stress.

The second important aspect of this E.I. concept is that one’s emotional system is not easily nor quickly changed.  It usually requires at least one year, through steady awareness, experience, and relationships for permanent change to take place.  So, just because we happen to read an earth-shattering passage, experience a moment of Aha in a workshop, or have some other epiphany, we still are not likely to be transformed.  At least one year! To change our emotional state!  That’s a bit of a shock to me.  Actually, I am still processing this.  I have always felt that as far as basic emotions go, there is an inherent durability to them, especially compared to technologies.  Emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, loneliness, etc. are as old as human beings.  The field of psychology has helped provide us with a new set of more nuanced concepts to verbalize how we feel, but we still sometimes feel slighted by the limited choices our languages can offer.

…which is an art piece at exhibit, so i wasn’t allowed to rest my camera on the railing

I remember that the many doubts I felt when I was going through my dissertation phase were later shown to be much more deeply rooted in long-ago experiences than the usual graduate experience of choosing a topic, writing a proposal, gathering data, analyzing and writing up what became, in my case, 400-page document.  I went through a workshop; I had my Aha! moment, and my epiphany…all in one long weekend.  Had I just basked in that moment and never shared with anyone or done something about it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten my PhD.  Instead, I announced to an informal academic group to which I belonged, that I was going to defend my proposal in 3 months.  In listening to my journey and discovery, everyone rallied behind me.  I didn’t quite meet the 3-month mark; I was late by one month, and it was a small historical performance.  Organizations are all about relationships, so it was the organization of my dissertation; both academic and social relationships helped make my degree possible.  Perhaps I do get the meaning of how long it takes for emotional change to occur.

not great pictures, but i just wanted to capture the shifting shapes

Now, since I can afford the time, I am taking my time to process mom’s death, but less the death than processing the meaning her life, and the evolution of our relationship.  I don’t yet know what I will uncover and discover, but I am looking forward to her continuing teaching and guidance.

As for the episode of my wisdom teeth removal, what could my big boss have done differently that would have made him a better manager?  At least one possible way was for him to have said this first, “It must have been an awful experience for you to be out for three days!  What happened?”  Then, he might hear my slurred words through my chipmunk mouth and realized immediately I wasn’t quite ready to resume working yet.  Or, he might think I was on drugs, and he definitely had to see me in person to assess.  On the fifth hand, he could be a true leader-manager by saying, “is there anything we can do to help you?”

if i could just sit there and watch this…

Stay engaged and increase your emotional intelligence.  Till the next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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