On-the-Job Training for Emotional Competence
During the early stages of their careers, leaders tend to focus on developing their technical and analytical skills, paying little attention to their capacity to recognize and manage their own emotions and those of others. This can hurt them later in their careers. But emotional competence can be nurtured, and although formal programs are a good starting point, learning from everyday opportunities at work is most effective.
or leaders, success or failure often comes down to how they handle challenges such as encounters with difficult colleagues, conflicts within a team, setbacks in projects, downturns in the business cycle, or the aftermath of a merger. Effectively managing such stressful events requires emotional competence—the capacity to recognize and manage your own feelings and those of others. Emotional competence is a critical factor that separates high performers from also-rans in leadership positions ranging from first-line manager to CEO. For executives, insufficient development of emotional competence can be a major contributor to their careers going off track.
Yet during the first decade of their careers, leaders typically focus on developing technical and analytical skills while neglecting their skills in emotional awareness and management. As they assume more visible roles, this neglect becomes increasingly dangerous—for themselves and for their organizations. Especially in the aftermath of September 11, leaders find themselves in the challenging position of providing guidance and support to others while also coping with substantial levels of personal uncertainty and stress. In this environment, leaders’ resiliency, adaptability, and compassion—all largely dependent on their emotional compe-
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tence—are even more essential to individual and organizational survival and well-being. The good news is that emotional competence can be developed, particularly if leaders are motivated to do so. Leaders can learn to be more empathetic with their colleagues and customers and more effective in using critical social skills such as conflict management, negotiation, and teamwork. The even better news is that developing these emotional competencies doesn’t necessarily require being away from the workplace for extended periods to attend formal, structured programs. If certain conditions are in place, much can be learned on the job. What can people do to develop their emotional competence? Looking at the experiences of leaders,
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Kathy Kram, a professor of organizational behavior at the Boston University School of Management, was CCL’s H. Smith Richardson Jr. Visiting Fellow for 2001. She holds a Ph.D. degree from Yale University. Sharon Ting is coaching manager and co-manager of the Awareness Program for Executive Excellence (APEX) at CCL in Greensboro. She holds an M.B.A. degree from Wake Forest University.
Kerry Bunker is a senior associate and co-manager of APEX at CCL in Greensboro. He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of South Florida.
coaches, and facilitators, it’s clear that structured programs offer a powerful starting point for enhancing self-awareness and social awareness. Such programs offer an environment of anonymity and safety, which allows participants the psychological space to be vulnerable and to become more self-aware. In this context the value of candid assessment data and expert help in interpreting those data can be maximized. In contrast, efforts to develop competencies that involve self-regulation and a variety of new behaviors are more amenable to on-the-job learning because they require practicing and reflecting on the new behaviors. Such personal learning takes place in relationships at work, as leaders seize everyday opportunities to practice new behaviors...
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