Why it makes sense to keep a diary

Bron: Management Team (15/11/2017); Auteur: Katleen De Stobbeleir

Summertime... the perfect moment to delve into professional literature. This year I have been specifically looking for studies about skills that leaders need in the context of digital transformation. After all, if there is one topic keeping company leaders awake at night right now, this is it. A less altruistic motivation, on the other hand, is also the new, 100% online MBA programme at Vlerick Business School that is challenging me as a lecturer. Talk about a digital - and personal - transformation!
During my search, I came across the book Emotional Agility by Susan David that was awarded “Idea of the Year” by the Harvard Business Review a few years back. But what on earth does emotional agility have to do with digital transformation, I hear you ask? Quite a lot, as it turns out!

According to predictions, we will be able to automate most of human beings’ analytical capacities within 20 years. But digital tools are still not capable of feeling emotions. Is that a problem? Maybe emotions are just disruptors that we would do better to turn off? Wrong. The more we digitise, the greater the importance of emotional agility, argues Susan David in her book.

Emotions - even negative ones - protect us from poor decisions and strengthen our interpersonal relationships. When we are angry, emotions lead to greater just and ethical thinking. When we are sad, we are comforted, which strengthens our social relationships. And when we are afraid, emotions help us focus and be better prepared.

That is why Susan David advises us to treat our emotions as ‘data’. She even goes a step further: only leaders who think of their emotions as valuable ‘data’ will be capable of processing the enormous quantity of data in future.

That is quite a challenge, because in the world of western business, emotions in the workplace - even positive ones - are easily considered inappropriate. As a company leader, you need to be businesslike and rational at all times. However Susan David believes that that leads to two dysfunctional emotional patterns.

On the one hand, you have people who ‘bottle things up’. They have the tendency to rationalise. They pour their emotions into a bottle, as it were, and put a cork in the top. But the more you shake the bottle, the higher the pressure, until sooner or later the cork pops out and a whole wave of suppressed emotions spills out. On the other hand, you have the ‘worriers’. These leaders tend to magnify their own emotions, and feel guilty about the slightest emotion that they experience.

According to Susan David’s research, neither pattern is effective. In the face of complex data, those who bottle things up due to their overly rational focus on the task at hand risk making unethical decisions. The worriers, conversely, continually doubt their own decisions. And, let’s be clear, indecisiveness is particularly damaging in the super-fast digital world of hard data.

So what is the solution? Cultivate your emotional agility. Do so in three steps. Learn to recognise and acknowledge your own emotions. Then learn to accept those emotions. Finally, learn to communicate about these emotions as if they were ‘data’. For example: ‘I realise I’m feeling overwhelmed by this data. Can someone point out the essentials to me?’

It turns out that developing this skill will not just bring you benefits as a leader, but will benefit your organisation as well. After all, emotions are contagious. Businesses where leaders bottle things up and worry a lot are typically organisations where staff experience pressure about what they are supposed to feel, without attention to what it is they are really feeling. Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill believe that that leads to the emergence of a culture of fear that hinders the company’s general agility.

The good news is that you can develop emotional agility quite easily. The only thing you need to do is slow down. Because the faster you go, the less you feel. One of the most effective ways of slowing down turns out to be... keeping a journal of your emotions. In other words, there is nothing so powerful in the digital world as a good, old-fashioned diary!

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