Does Career Planning Feel Like Gymnastics to You?

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?”

Luke 14:28


Did you know that chameleons do not change their colour to match their surroundings? Or that tomato is not a vegetable?

How do you react when you find out something you have believed was not true for the best part of your life? Do you accept the new fact, be in denial, or remain indifferent?

While you might be indifferent to busted myths like the ones above, the fact I am about to share will have career-defining implications that you cannot afford to ignore.

“No emotions, Dunstan, no emotions.”

Those were the words of advice I received from my line manager about 13 years ago as a young financial controller in Kenya. I was fuming about the persistent budget overruns on the list of purchase orders I was reviewing at the time. The volume of my voice was up a few decibels while lamenting the need for stricter budgetary controls, given the significant cash pressures we were experiencing. Seeing that I was getting worked up, my manager advised that I should not let the work pressure get to me and act rationally. It is good advice not to make decisions when one is too happy, too sad or too angry.

So, I carried on my job for the next ten years, consciously ignoring and suppressing my emotions. My stress level dropped initially, as I constantly reminded myself to have “no emotions.” But then, I noticed I was not enjoying my work as I used to, and my performance was dipping. I also started questioning my commitment. Within the next year, I moved on to another job. The “no emotions” advice had now become my work mantra. Feeling unfulfilled, I left that job only after a year. But I still felt my performance had stalled; work felt mundane and unengaging.

But I blamed every possible external factor without questioning my approach because I believed I was technically competent and well experienced at my job. That was until I came across Daniel Goleman’s book – “Working with Emotional Intelligence. I realised I had taken the advice too literally. Being emotional at work is not wrong. Making that shift from “no emotions” to recognising and managing my emotions set me on a higher level of performance and job satisfaction.

“Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and those of the people around you.” – Mind Tools

If, like me, you think your technical experience, intellectual ability and educational qualification are all you need to advance your career, you would be as wrong as thinking that chameleons change their colour to match their environment.

“IQ takes second place to EQ in determining outstanding job performance,” according to Daniel Goleman. EQ is the “new yardstick” for measuring employees’ capacity to excel at work. In the October 1995 edition of Time magazine, Nancy Gibbs stated that “the ability to delay gratification is a master skill” and a sign of EQ. And the magazine’s cover quoted Gibbs saying that EQ “may be the best predictor of success in life, redefining what it means to be smart.”

“Emotional intelligence, more than any other factor, more than IQ or expertise, accounts for 85% to 90% of success at work. IQ is a threshold of competence. You need it, but it doesn’t make you a star. Emotional intelligence can.” – Warren G Bennis.

While science suggests that IQ is fixed, we can learn, develop and improve our EQ by internalising the five elements in Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Competency Framework: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. I find the following six strategies proposed by Mind Tools to be effective in developing EQ:

1. Reaction to others.

Observing how you react to others helps to improve empathy. Try not to judge others, avoid stereotyping, and be open to the needs and views of others.

2. Observe how your actions (and reactions) affect others. 

You shouting when you are angry, for example, may cause others to make mistakes or become withdrawn and disengaged.

3. Practice humility. 

Be self-confident but do not gloat or go after accomplishment for attention. Genuinely lookout for and celebrate the achievement of others. Humility will develop empathy and social skills.

4. Introspection and self-evaluation. 

Know thyself! Recognise your strengths and accept your weakness. Be honest with yourself. This strategy will improve your self-awareness.

5. Manage stress and negative emotions. 

Know your emotional triggers to manage how you react in stressful situations. Keep your emotions under control when things don’t go as you want or expect. This strategy will help you to self-regulate and be sociable.

6. Take responsibility for your actions. 

Accept your mistakes, admit when you are wrong. You will become a better team player and motivate you to learn and try new things.

The above strategies will ensure you develop the seven qualities of highly emotionally intelligent people, the essential traits of star performers. Star performers:
1) Have self-control
2)  Use appropriate language
3) Know their emotional triggers
4) Empathise with others
5) Are approachable; and
6) Resolve conflicts

Embrace the paradigm shift from head skills to heart skills to help you build meaningful, lasting relationships and advance your career.
Go on lead with your heart, become a star!

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