Cultivating an Adaptable Workforce in a World of Accelerating Change

We live and work in a time of remarkable change.  It has been estimated that humankind’s scientific knowledge is doubling every five years.  I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s hard to fathom.  This implies that within 20 short years our database of knowledge will be sixteen times greater than it is today!  In roughly a single generation going forward, we will have sixty-four times the scientific knowledge we now have at our fingertips.  How can we, as human beings, successfully navigate through this unprecedented rate of change and the tsunami of information that is heading our way?

Success going forward will require an almost fluid adaptability.  Interestingly, this level of mindful responsiveness requires a strong sense of being grounded in one’s authentic self.  Ideas, opportunities, constraints, and challenges will move so quickly, and in such unpredictable ways, those that identify themselves only with their ego will very likely have a difficult time.  The ego attaches itself to things of material value, power, prestige, and the opinion of others.  Things that can shift quickly in a rapidly changing world.  When this shift occurs, the ego is left untethered, or worse, still attached to things that no longer matter or are no longer perceived to have value.  When this happens, a person whose sense of self is defined by their ego will find themselves feeling displaced, obsolete, and lacking worth.

So, with all the discussion about building adaptability in the workplace, how do we actually go about doing it?  The answer to cultivating adaptability lies in developing our Emotional Intelligence and cultivating an emotionally intelligent workforce.

The concept of Emotional Intelligence slowly evolved over the course of the twentieth century, culminating with the research of Dr. John Mayer, Dr. Peter Salovey, and Dr. Daniel Goleman in the 1990’s.  Salovey and Mayer first defined the term Emotional Intelligence in 1990 as, “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.”Their original model can be summarized as the a person’s ability to:

1.)  Perceive emotions, in self and others.

2.)  Use emotions to facilitate our tasks.

3.)  Understand emotions.

4.)  Manage emotions in self and others.

Dr. Goleman’s model** varies slightly and is defined by four main constructs as well:

1.)  Self-awareness.

2.)  Self-management.

3.)  Social awareness.

4.)  Relationship management.

The core of the concept is our ability to understand our own emotions and the emotional landscape that surrounds us, empowering us to choose how we wish to interact in social and professional settings.  By elevating our self-awareness we are better able to discern between our own emotions and the emotions of others and maintain healthy boundaries that protect us from emotional contagion.  It enables us to fully experience our emotions without appearing to be emotional, allowing us to remain calm and express empathy even in highly charged, rapidly changing situations.

Emotional Intelligence reflects a level of self-awareness that is indicative of being authentically connected with one’s true self.  Free from socially conditioned behavioral patterns, we are capable of tapping into our inner wisdom, a wisdom that resides within our bodies as much as it does in our heads.  Being connected with our authentic selves enables us to be connected with others around us.  In fact, research indicates more than 80% of success in life can be attributed to a person’s Emotional Intelligence with the remaining 20% associated with cognitive abilities.  In addition, emotionally intelligence organizations are fully engaged organizations.  This opens the door for tapping into the hidden workforce that lies just below the surface in many companies.  Engaged organizations are creative and adaptive organizations as well.

They key to adaptability, of staying grounded and present while everything is changing around us, lies in developing our competencies in Emotional Intelligence.  Thankfully, these are skills that can be learned.  Recent discoveries in neurobiology demonstrates the fact that our brains have plasticity.  This plasticity  enables our brains to rewire our responses to emotional stimuli.  In doing so, we develop a witness to ourselves and our environment.  It enables us to get off the dance floor and into the balcony, alleviating our ego and attachments that hobble our development and ability to creatively meet unanticipated, adaptive challenges.

*P. Salovey and J.D. Mayer, “Emotional Intelligence,” Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 3 (1990). 185-211.

**D. Goleman, “Working With Emotional Intelligence”, Bantam Books, New York, NY. 1998.

© 2011, Terry Murray

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Filed under Leadership Development, Organizational Culture

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