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positive outlook emotional intelligence

How a Positive Outlook Helps Mindful Leaders Thrive

 

In my previous article on Achievement Orientation I touched on the way mindfulness training helps to cultivate positive emotions, and increase the ability to focus. The 42 leaders that participated in my study provided many examples of this process helping them reach significant goals, as well as repeatedly overcoming extremely challenging situations during their careers. One critical element of these successes is the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency of Positive Outlook, which I explore in greater detail in this article.

Based on my research, there is a relationship between mindfulness and positivity, which influences leadership effectiveness via development of specific emotional intelligence competencies.

How Does Positive Outlook fit into Emotional Intelligence?

Positive Outlook is one of the competencies included in the Leadership Competency Model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. It falls under the domain of Emotional Self-Management, and is present in leaders with a stronger tendency to see the positive aspects of situations and people. A leader is identified as possessing the Positive Outlook Competency if they have:

  • A dominant belief that the future holds better potential outcomes
  • A tendency to focus on positive aspects of difficult circumstances
  • An inclination towards positive perceptions of others

Positive outlook, along with each of the other eleven competencies, has been empirically linked to increased leadership performance through more than 62,000 assessments conducted at a variety of global organizations.

Positive Outlook in the Workplace

The leaders I interviewed made a point of emphasizing the overarching value that a positive outlook provided for their career success. These observations occurred during in-depth descriptions of how mindfulness helped them recognize the influence their reactions and beliefs have on the way they approach situations and view others. These realizations were also reported as having a profound effect on leaders by bringing their attention to how much control they actually had over the quality of their daily experiences.

How Does Positive Outlook Contribute to Leader Effectiveness?

The development of positive outlook contributes to a number of critical leadership capabilities. Examples include a solution-oriented approach to interpersonal conflict, and consciously choosing to focus on strategies for success during periods of great adversity. This development was attributed by leaders to the way mindfulness enables honest analysis of how they could have handled past challenges more effectively. Leaders described incorporating this knowledge into real-time emotional self-management activity, which helped them stop behaviors that detracted from others’ willingness to support their objectives.

Many leaders described life-altering realizations about the power of positive outlook influencing dramatic changes early in their careers. This is exemplified by a CIO, who led departments for a major US city and University, when describing how he chose to view a potentially catastrophic situation earlier in his career: “The company actually went bankrupt, but it was a great way to get out of a situation, which actually propelled my career in a big way.”

Leaders also provided many examples of mindfulness contributing to an awareness of how they could develop a more positive outlook concerning their feelings about, and interactions with, others in the workplace. This realization is summarized by a senior manager at a large US hospital network, who stated: “I understand that the people there are often making the best decisions they know how to make, doing the best they can.”

How Can You Begin to Develop Positive Outlook?

As discussed in my article on Emotional Self-Awareness, mindfulness contributes to a heightened level of both emotional self-awareness and meta awareness (conscious awareness of what you are aware of). This helps you identify the relationship between events and your mood or attitude about them, and gain a better understanding of how you tend to view experiences. With this knowledge you can begin to identify whether or not your approach to situations or interpersonal relationships is more negative – and therefore less productive – than it could be.

Incorporating this personal insight, you can begin to increase your capacity for positive outlook by investing time in the following activities:

  • Reflect on your attitude and expectations relating to past events and interactions
  • Observe your emotional and physiological reactions to anticipated events
  • Refine your ability to observe your emotional states and reactions in real-time
  • Learn to identify the way your beliefs subconsciously influence experiences

These are some of the skills developed or enhanced by mindfulness training.

The information you obtain from these activities will play a crucial role in helping you identify opportunities for improving positive outlook. These results can materialize in a number of ways, including through greater Emotional Self-Control, and/or understanding the value of activities that leverage your new level of self-awareness.

For example, leaders reported setting aside time to focus on planning when they are in a positive mental state. They also described reserving time before important meetings to think through the best way to communicate critical details, and strategies to proactively resolve potential conflicts. Finally, leaders also described assuming a success-oriented approach to engaging in difficult conversations and activities once they began to view them as challenges instead of obstacles.

Give it a try, keep track of your results, and then continue to build upon them over time.

Recommended Reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now:

Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability,  Achievement Orientation, and Positive Outlook.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series.

positive emotions broaden and bridge

How Positivity Broadens and Builds New Skills

 

“Don’t worry, be happy” is such a cliché that many people roll their eyes when they hear something about the importance of thinking positively.

Barbara Fredrickson isn’t one of those people.

For over twenty years, Dr. Fredrickson has studied how positive emotions improve physical and emotional well-being, as well as performance at work. More Than Sound author Daniel Goleman cites Fredrickson in his introduction to Positive Outlook: A Primer, the fifth in the series focused on the twelve Emotional Intelligence Competencies. Research conducted by Fredrickson and her colleagues shows that people who experience and express positive emotions more frequently are more resilient, more resourceful, more socially connected, and more likely to function at optimal levels.

One of Fredrickson’s key contributions is her “broaden-and-build” theory which presents an understanding of the evolutionary value of positivity. Positive emotions widen a person’s outlook in small ways that, over time, reshape who they are. In a threatening situation (or one we perceive as threatening), our view of options literally narrow as we choose one response and react quickly. In situations that evoke positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment, or love, we can see a wider range of possible responses. Fredrickson describes this effect:

“…positive emotions broaden peoples’ momentary thought–action repertoires, widening the array of the thoughts and actions that come to mind. Joy, for instance, creates the urge to play, push the limits and be creative; urges evident not only in social and physical behavior, but also in intellectual and artistic behavior. Interest, a phenomenologically distinct positive emotion, creates the urge to explore, take in new information and experiences, and expand the self in the process…. These various thought–action tendencies—to play, to explore, or to savor and integrate—each represents ways that positive emotions broaden habitual modes of thinking or acting.”

This “broaden” part of the theory has been proven in empirical research conducted by many laboratories.

The “build” aspect looks at the cumulative impact of that “broader” thinking. Seeing a broader perspective allows us to discover and build personal resources. Fredrickson says it is a:

“…recipe for discovery: discovery of new knowledge, new alliances, and new skills. In short, broadened awareness led to the accrual of new resources that might later make the difference between surviving or succumbing to various threats. Resources built through positive emotions also increased the odds that our ancestors would experience subsequent positive emotions, with their attendant broaden-and-build benefits, thus creating an upward spiral toward improved odds for survival, health, and fulfillment. In sum, the broaden-and-build theory states that positive emotions have been useful and preserved over human evolution because having recurrent, yet unbidden, moments of expanded awareness proved useful for developing resources for survival. Little by little, micro-moments of positive emotional experience, although fleeting, reshape who people are by setting them on trajectories of growth and building their enduring resources for survival.”

Positive Outlook and Today’s Leadership

Fredrickson’s concept of “broaden-and-build” doesn’t relate just to long-ago ancestors surviving, it provides an important lesson for leaders today. Leaders and the people with whom they work experience the same broadening and building through positive emotions. In a work setting, people who regularly feel positive emotions are more able to think creatively, consider novel solutions to problems, and take advantage of opportunities that might not be immediately obvious.

Leaders who are strong in the Positive Outlook Competency see others positively and help their colleagues recognize the positive in what others might consider a setback. By continually evoking positive emotions in the people around them, leaders help build the capacity of their teams to be successful in their work.

Recommended Reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now:

Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability,  Achievement Orientation, and Positive Outlook.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series.

 

References:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780124072367000012

http://www.unc.edu/peplab/publications/Fredrickson%202013%20Updated%20Thinking.pdf

team norms

Team Norms and Emotional Intelligence

 

I’m a strong believer in the importance of what we expect of one another in a team. And I’m not alone, as much of my research has focused on finding the distinctions that define the best teams. What my colleagues and I have found is that norms – or shared expectations – are the universal elements that identify high-performing teams.

Every group has norms, whether they’re developed consciously or not. A great example is: Do we start on time or do we wait for latecomers? Is it okay to show up late? Norms vary from group to group, and depend on what’s agreed upon by all involved.

The important thing about norms is that they regulate all behavior in teams. They regulate at the systems level. Many team researchers make the mistake of thinking that changing behavior in the team is about changing individual behavior. Building the individual emotional intelligence of team members is fabulous and it helps. However, once you enter a team where the norms don’t support your emotionally intelligent behavior, you’re more likely to conform to those norms than act otherwise. If rudeness is a norm, cutting people off, showing up late, that will emerge.

The way to impact a group’s performance is to impact the group’s norms. I explored this topic with Daniel Goleman in Crucial Competence, as a way to complement the many facets of building emotional and social leadership.

My colleagues and I have studied the norms of high-performing teams and found that the best teams periodically step back and reflect on their process. They take time to say, “How are we doing? Are we being too nice? Are we arguing too much? Are people getting supported? What do we need to work on?” This is essentially the group equivalent of the first key competence in individual emotional intelligence, self-awareness.

Where do norms of high-performing teams come from?

We had a hypothesis that an emotionally intelligent leader is more likely to develop emotionally intelligent norms in their team. A graduate student of mine when I was in the faculty at Case Western, Elizabeth Stubbs Koman, had contacts in the military, and she wanted to test the team norms and the emotional intelligence of leaders. She found a wonderful sample of air crew teams and maintenance teams, 81 teams that included 422 people. She first studied the team leader’s emotional intelligence using the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory in a 360-degree survey. We got anonymous ratings on the leaders. Then, she administered our survey that measures the group emotional intelligence norms. She also had the outcome data for these teams, the military’s objective measures of performance.

What she found was exactly what we predicted:

The team leader’s emotional intelligence didn’t predict the performance of the team, BUT it did predict the emergence of the emotionally intelligent team norms.

And, the team norms then predicted the performance. The way the leader’s emotional intelligence mattered was in shaping the norms, dynamics, and reality of the team, which in turn, led to higher performance.

Consider how this applies to your team, whether you are a leader or not. Play your part in cultivating positive team norms, garnering agreement, and speaking up when norms become counterproductive. Over time you’ll find this creates efficiency and cohesion among all of the team members.

Recommended Reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman, Vanessa Druskat, and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now:

Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability,  Achievement Orientation, and Positive Outlook.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series, and Team Emotional Intelligence.

The Relationship Between Leader Mindfulness, Focus, and Results

 

In last month’s article on Adaptability I quoted an executive leader who credited mindfulness for contributing to her ability to respond to a significant and unanticipated problem when assuming a leadership role with a new company. She also shared details about mindfulness helping her time and again to excel when she was leading large-scale global manufacturing and supply chain operations. The other 41 leaders I interviewed also provided similar examples of how mindfulness was an invaluable tool on their path to professional success.

One particular result of mindfulness training that emerged from my research is the Emotional and Social Intelligence Competency of Achievement Orientation.

What is Achievement Orientation?

Achievement Orientation is one of the competencies included in the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. It falls under the domain of Emotional Self-Management and refers to an individual being able to set measurable self-improvement goals. A leader with strong Achievement Orientation will be:

  • Open to new challenges
  • Have a greater ability to anticipate obstacles
  • Willing to be held accountable for their actions

This competency, as is the case with the other 11 competencies, has been empirically linked to increased overall leadership performance.

What Does Achievement Orientation Look Like in the Workplace?

The manifestation of this competency is well illustrated by the following quote from a leader who has held general counsel positions for two well-known corporations: “I did all of my undergraduate work at night, while I was working full-time… I also got my law degree at night.” In other words, the results of Achievement Orientation look a lot like what most people also attribute to determination and focus. Other leaders shared similar examples, revealing the development of a strong ability to focus on completion of complex and large-scale goals.

Understanding the relationship between mindfulness and the development of Achievement Orientation was significant to my research, since I specifically investigated examples of positive workplace leadership outcomes. All of the leaders I interviewed provided in-depth descriptions illustrating this relationship, and reported the influence of mindfulness as having been significant. In these conversations, leaders described a process where mindfulness-enhanced development of the competencies of Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control, which in turn contributed to Adaptability and Achievement Orientation.

In some cases these positive developments occurred in response to successful careers that plateaued, or periods of declining effectiveness that leaders struggled to understand. In many examples, however, leaders described these developments occurring as a part of years of personal activity aimed at finding ways to specifically improve goal-oriented performance.

How Does Achievement Orientation Impact Leadership Effectiveness?

Examples of this activity included developing the ability to monitor in real-time whether or not thoughts and actions were directly contributing to goals. Leaders also described setting aside time to reflect on how their beliefs and biases may interfere with reaching their goals, as well as an honest assessment of their past behaviors in the same context.

Leader reports indicating the presence of Achievement Orientation often accompanied detailed descriptions of career advancement, development of new leadership capabilities, and workplace success. These examples also revealed a pattern of personally-driven, professional development activity spanning their career: “it’s been on an upward track for me…I grew every single year…won some awards,” and “I am constantly challenging myself to find new ways to culturally have a very positive impact.” In many cases, leaders also mentioned that they had invested more personal resources into this level of development than their employers did on their behalf.

In the context of ongoing development, Achievement Orientation helps leaders:

  • Focus on identifying ways to do things better
  • Learn how to initiate actions to improve personal performance
  • Cultivate new strategies for obtaining information
  • Become more successful in taking advantage of opportunities

How Can You Begin to Develop Achievement Orientation?

It may be helpful to view the concept of Achievement Orientation as it relates to the research of Dr. Angela Duckworth on Grit or Daniel Goleman’s writing on Focus. This work references the influence of positive emotions on your capacity to successfully pursue a dominant goal. Success is related to how many of your mental and emotional resources are directed towards activity contributing to goal attainment, including thoughts, emotional states and decisions. These resources can be intensely focused if you are not distracted by, for example, considering alternative goals or questioning your ability to succeed. Focus and Grit, like Achievement Orientation, also relate to planning and preparation activity, and your tendency towards solution-oriented responses to problems.

In the context of Achievement Orientation even your reaction to stress can impact quality and timeliness of success. For example, a stressor may be viewed positively as a challenge to be met by some people, while others react to it as a threat and focus on coping options instead. Therefore, a good way to start developing Achievement Orientation is to regularly monitor the degree to which your mental and emotional resources are aligning with – and contributing to -the attainment of your goals.

Recommended Reading:

Achievement Orientation

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, and Achievement Orientation, with new releases monthly throughout 2017.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series!

adaptability mindfulness leadership

Adaptability: Where Mindfulness Training Impacts Leadership

In my previous article, I mentioned a senior leader with a global accounting firm who credited mindfulness for helping improve her capacity for emotional self-control.

During our discussion, she also explained in detail how this change contributed to greater adaptability. These are both competencies of Emotional and Social Intelligence, and mindfulness training can help with their development.

In this case, emotional self-control increased the capacity for managing unexpected events, which relied in part on an enhanced awareness of how her personal bias, interpretations of past experiences, and subconscious reactions were interfering with the effectiveness of her responses.

The other 41 leaders I interviewed as part of my study also linked mindfulness to the development of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Competency of Adaptability. Adaptability falls under the domain of Emotional Self-Management and is exemplified by a leader being able to work effectively in rapidly changing environments and with diverse groups or individuals. I found additional evidence of this competency during my transcript analysis using the Emotional and Social Competency Indicator (ESCI) model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. Adaptability has been empirically linked to increased leadership performance and is typically present in leaders who can manage shifting priorities and are capable of adjusting their perceptions and beliefs.

Why Adaptability is important to leadership

In addition to being emphasized by a number of Emotional Intelligence researchers, Adaptability is linked to a variety of key leadership abilities including:

  • Improved ability to lead in challenging environments.
  • More effective and rapid responses to unexpected changes.
  • Effectiveness in multiple roles, functions, and/or different organizations.

Here’s an example of what this looks like. A senior video game producer shared with me how mindfulness contributed to her ability to successfully adapt to disruptive experiences during her career, “…there’s a calmness about it that allows for new innovation…You can still achieve the goal… you just have to be able to change your plans and your actions.”

During our conversation, she shared examples including needing to meet a major deadline following a significant reduction in budget, and managing employee disengagement and attrition following a merger. In these and other examples, she explained how adaptability increased her ability to successfully navigate unpleasant workplace events and interact more effectively with disruptive coworkers. She added that truly being adaptable required her to stay focused on key objectives in the face of unpredictable and sometimes highly volatile situations.

She also echoed what other leaders shared about adaptability; that it is a vital component of both planned and improvisational leadership behaviors.

For example, another participant noted the importance of being adaptable when she developed a plan to address a gap in employee development after assuming a C-level position, “…there was no talent program in place…so I worked with my counterpart in HR and we put something together that the team responded very favorably to.” Adaptability in the form of improvisational leadership behaviors was also described frequently. One leader shared how adaptability played a key role in resolving a significant crisis that threatened project success at a critical moment; “we had a run-in and she had a breakdown…I was able to work through that….and get her back on track…we ended up getting great results.”

Similarly, adaptability can be important in letting go of past accomplishments in order to address the challenges that come with new roles, or shifts in leadership identity.

How Developing Mindfulness can lead to increased Adaptability

Neuroimaging research, like what is summarized in the 2014 HBR article Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain, indicates that mindfulness alters regions of the brain and changes the manner in which neural networks connect with each other. These types of changes may also improve cognitive flexibility, which contributes to improved adaptability.

Similar to the process of athletic training, neuroplasticity is what accounts for the circuitry of our brains being shaped by our experience. In this context developing leadership behaviors such as adaptability is like mental conditioning. It is a conscious approach that allows us to:

  • Identify areas where we need improvement and implement a daily plan of action to address gaps.
  • Regularly assess the alignment of our beliefs and actions.
  • Deliberately refine our ability to identify and develop the best strategies for effectively engaging with different types of individuals in the workplace. As one participant described it, “…I need to flex my style just to be able to adapt to different characters.”

In addition to cultivating adaptability, mindfulness is also linked to the development of Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Management. Adaptability is enhanced by these two competencies, since greater emotional awareness enables you to more effectively manage your reactions to situational demands.

In my next article I will discuss the relationship between mindful leadership and the fourth competency in the Emotional Self-Management domain, Achievement Orientation.

Recommended Reading:

AdaptabilityOur new series of primers was created by bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman, along with fellow thought leaders in EI, research, and leadership development.

The primers focus on the competencies of Emotional and Social Intelligence in leadership. You can find the first 3 in the series available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, and Adaptability.

Leader Mindfulness

The Role of Leader Mindfulness in Emotional Self-Control

Leader Mindfulness

The Role of Leader Mindfulness in Emotional Self-Control

by Matthew Lippincott

In my last article, I shared how the head of strategy and business development for one of the largest organizations in the world used mindfulness to help develop greater Emotional Self-Awareness. In my conversation with her, she also explained how this improvement provided her with insight that she used to more effectively manage her feelings and behaviors. This was just one example from my research with 42 senior and executive leaders on the influence of mindfulness on their leadership careers at a total of 83 global organizations.

In my study, I collected extensive descriptions of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Competency of Emotional Self-Control. I also found evidence of this Competency in the  participants through transcript analysis utilizing the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis.

What is Emotional Self-Control?

Emotional Self-Control relates to your ability to control impulsive behavior and not give in to negative emotions or be overly reactive in stressful situations. It is also identified by examples of appropriate action and your ability to remain positive in workplace interactions. As is the case with the other eleven ESCI Competencies, Emotional Self-Control has also been empirically linked to increased leadership performance.

How Improved Emotional Self-Control Impacts Leadership

The leaders I interviewed all provided in-depth examples of mindfulness contributing to the development of Emotional Self-Control. For example, “…before [mindfulness] I would have jumped on a pretty extreme emotional personal roller coaster with her, and viewed everything very, very personally,” and “I’ve learned to rely on my mindfulness to…back off on things…in Corporate America, there are plenty of instances where you just need to let things go.”

Mindfulness is especially helpful with the development of Emotional Self-Control because of the heightened self-observation capability it enables.

This cultivates awareness of the sequence of internal events that occur as you process sensory input (sometimes referred to as stream of consciousness) such as reactions, associations, and judgments that ultimately make up your experiences.

More importantly, developing awareness of this process leads to a more functional understanding of the way your feelings influence the quality of your interactions with others.

In this same context, leaders described improved Emotional Self-Control as having a profoundly positive effect on leadership results, such as:

  • Significant improvement in team engagement
  • Reduction of emotionally influenced bias
  • Less interpersonal conflict
  • More effective management of problems and crises

Emotional Self-Control Improves Communication

The previous types of results begin to occur as you assume more responsibility for the outcome of your communications efforts. A behavioral health solution manager supporting over 60,000 employees for a major hospital network gave an example of this, saying: “Instead of just becoming reactive, maybe being judgmental, I’m more inclined to say to myself, well, are you really sure if you understand what her motive is? What do you think might be going on with this person?… And being more aware of that enables me to respond in a way that’s more effective.”

The interrelationship between mindful, Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control enables the development of an accurate and honest understanding of the way your behaviors are received by others. This is especially powerful in the context of how you would apply various leadership strategies, since many strategies link leader success to follower engagement. This includes whether others fully understand what you are trying to communicate, and their willingness to contribute to your success. From that standpoint, you will realize great value from continuously refining your ability to honestly assess if others align with your intentions, and making sure that your emotions are not interfering with this activity.

During our discussions, leaders shared the importance of being able to understand how their habits of thought, biases, and reactions influenced feelings that were potentially detrimental to their leadership effectiveness. More importantly, they described their transformation into more effective leaders by using this personal insight as a catalyst for change. For instance: “…those situations would arouse rage in me…but now I can see it coming up…and ignore it,” and “…you don’t want to cling to your values forever, if it’s not gonna help the situation… If you want to move forward you have to let go to do that”

Improving Critical Leadership Skills

Leaders described Emotional Self-Control as a real-time capability to observe and manage the way they react to what is happening in their environment. They credited this as contributing to improving their personal leadership capabilities, including:

  • Faster cognitive recovery from stressful experiences
  • Greater ability to accept unsatisfactory circumstances and move forward
  • Improved management of depression and anxiety
  • Increased workplace productivity

A story told by a senior leader at a well-known global accounting firm helps illustrate this process of development. Her initial mindfulness practice helped her recognize something she had been unaware of for years—the negative way in which others reacted to her in meetings. Once she had made the connection between these reactions and unsatisfactory outcomes, she began to actively observe her interaction with others.

Through careful reflection on these experiences she began to see the relationship between her emotional states and the efficacy of her communication. This realization helped her understand the importance of focusing on Emotional Self-Control in the context of cultivating stronger and more effective relationships in the workplace. Through dutiful practice she succeeded in changing her interpersonal behaviors and reported improvement in the quality of her interaction with others: “…people started remarking about it…said, ‘You know what, how come you don’t get angry at all?’”

The Takeaway

In this and many other similar examples, the leaders I interviewed reported that Emotional Self-Control minimized the interference of negative emotional reactions with leadership activities. This improvement then created the opportunity for leaders to engage with others in a more meaningful and effective way. Obtaining these results required ongoing refinement of Emotional Self-Control, which helped leaders with intentional cultivation of other Competencies as well.

In my next article, I will discuss the relationship between mindful leadership and another Competency, Adaptability.

Recommended Reading:

Interested in learning more about how to apply these concepts at work? Our newly released Primers provide a concise overview of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies of Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control, as well as an overview of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model itself.

The Primers are created by Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman, with several fellow thought leaders in the field of emotional intelligence, leadership development, and research, including Richard Boyatzis, Vanessa Druskat, Richard J. Davidson, and George Kohlrieser.

intentional change theory boyatzis

The Five Stages of Intentional Change Theory

intentional-change-theory-boyatzis

The Five Stages of Intentional Change Theory

by Richard Boyatzis

How do people make changes in their behavior?

What does it take to make lasting change?

These are questions my colleagues and I have studied for the last fifty years. Since 1967 we’ve used Intentional Change Theory (ICT) to understand what leads to lasting change. ICT is a multi-level theory that helps predict sustained desired change for dyads, teams, organizations, communities and countries.

The “change” one makes may not just be in behavior, it also may be in a person’s habits, competencies, dreams, or aspirations. It may be a change in perspective, how someone looks at events in their life or how they feel in certain situations. When I say “desired,” I mean that the change is something that the person would like to occur. By “sustained,” I mean that the change lasts for a relatively long time.

The basis of Intentional Change Theory is what we call “the five discoveries.” These are:

  1. The ideal self and a personal vision
  2. The real self and its comparison to the ideal self resulting in an assessment of one’s strengths and weaknesses, in a sense a personal balance sheet
  3. A learning agenda and plan
  4. Experimentation and practice with the new behavior, thoughts, feelings, or perceptions
  5. Trusting, or resonant, relationships that enable a person to experience and process each discovery in the process

People pass through these discoveries in a cycle that repeats as the person changes.

Let’s look at each of these discoveries.

1) Imagining Your Ideal Self and Creating a Personal Vision

Before making an intentional change, we need to discover who we want to be. What we call our “ideal self” is an image of the person we want to be. There are three components to developing the image of our ideal self:

  • An image of a desired future
  • Hope that one can attain it
  • Aspects of one’s core identity, which includes enduring strengths, on which to build for this desired future

Just like champion athletes develop and use an image of themselves performing at their peak in preparation for competition, there is power in focusing on a desired end. Our research shows that people develop a deep emotional commitment to making a change if they have created an image of their ideal self and use it in their change process. Hence, the output of the first discovery is a personal vision.

2) Comparing Your Ideal Self with Your Real Self

Once you have a sense of your ideal self, it’s time to look at how that ideal compares with your current “real” self. By “real,” I mean the person that other people see and with whom they interact. For many of us, our self-image is some mixture of awareness of our own internal state and the feedback we receive from others about who we are. It can be challenging to get a solid grasp of our actual strengths and weaknesses, either because we don’t want to look too closely or other people are reluctant to let us know what they see. To really consider changing a part of yourself, you must have a sense of both what you value about yourself and want to keep, and what aspects of yourself you want to change. Where your ideal self and real self are not consistent can be thought of as gaps or weaknesses. The output of this second discovery is a personal balance sheet.

3) Developing a Learning Agenda and Plan

Once you have a vision for the future and an accurate sense of your current self, it’s time to develop a plan for how to move toward your vision. In this stage, the output is on creating that learning plan. Such a plan would focus on development, and is most effective if it is coupled with a positive belief in one’s capability and hope of improvement. A learning plan would also include standards of performance set by the person who is pursuing change. Once the plan is in place, the next step is to try it out.

4) Practicing Desired Changes

The fourth discovery is to act on your learning plan and practice with desired changes. Depending on your goals, this often means experimenting with new behavior. After such practice, you have the opportunity to reflect on what happened, and experiment further. Sometimes practicing new behavior can happen in a course or a controlled learning environment, but often it happens in real world settings such as at work or at home. Whatever the situation, experimentation will be most effective in conditions where you feel safe. Such psychological safety means that you can try out your new behavior with less risk of embarrassment or serious consequences of failure.

5) Relationships That Help Us Learn

Our relationships with other people are an important part of our everyday environment. Crucial to our ability to change are the relationships and groups that are particularly important to us. They provide the context in which we can see our progress on our desired changes. Often, our relationships and groups can be sources of support for our change as well as for feedback. They also can help us from slipping back into our former ways of behaving.

Putting It All Together

There is a mechanism that allows movement from one discovery to another. Inside of us are two states, a Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) and Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA). Arousing the PEA allows a psycho-physiological state of being open to new ideas – this allows movement to the next discovery. In contrast, the NEA is a feeling of obligation. This stops the sustainability of any change attempted because you’re simply not motivated intrinsically.
In the Real Self, there should be an emphasis on your strengths, not on the development needs. This stimulates the PEA because it’s about building upon what you’re already good at and filling in the gaps, rather than dwelling on weaknesses.

You can handle only a few developmental or change goals at a time, so remember to make your learning plan something you are excited about trying. Approach it with openness and curiosity, then build upon what you learn gradually.

Richard Boyatzis is a distinguished University Professor in the Departments of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. He also serves as the Academic Assistant of the Department of People Management and Organization at ESADE.

Recommended Reading/Learning:

Our new Primers provide a concise overview of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies of Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control, both valuable in creating intentional change.

The Primers are created by Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman, with several fellow thought leaders in the field of EI, leadership development, and research, including Richard Boyatzis, Vanessa Druskat, Richard J. Davidson, and George Kohlrieser.

 

For even more in-depth information from Richard Boyatzis and Daniel Goleman, see our new video series, Foundations in Emotional Intelligence. This series explores the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies in theory, with examples for practice, and support from research.