Emotional Agility in the Workplace

A recent article entitled Emotional Agility by Susan David and Christina Congleton appearing in the November Harvard Business Review (http://hbr.org/2013/11/emotional-agility/ar/1) discusses the importance of emotional agility both in the workplace and, in particular, for leader development. These authors define emotional agility as the “ability to manage one’s thoughts and feelings.” It is actually much more than this. Based on this article, I am not sure if they consider this personal management skill to be all of emotional agility or if they are using the term to mean what in Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) we refer to as “psychological flexibity.” If the latter, then there is much more to psychological flexibility than this article indicates.

Psychological flexibility is truly the ability to be present in the moment, aware of one’s internal and external experiences (what we refer to as “5-senses experiencing”), managing one’s thoughts and feelings in the moment and choosing values-based committed action that moves one towards what one is wanting to achieve. Not having the skills to be psychologically flexible leads one to being hooked by one’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations and memories. Behaviors are then more reactive and inclined to lead one to make in-the-moment decisions that lead away from one’s goals. From an ACT perspective, living in the present moment, we Accept our internal and external experiencing, make Choices, and take Action. The strength of ACT is its ability to anchor people in the here and now while being able to flexibly choose the appropriate value to move toward the chosen goal(s). The depths of one’s ability to be psychologically flexibile is most certainly tied to the level on one’s individual level of adult development.

This is an area that is infrequently mentioned in discussions of leadership theory and style. While there are many different theories and styles of leadership, few seem to understand that the various styles are not available to all leaders. Accessing what Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs (2007) refer to as the “post-heroic” styles of leadership in their seminal work Leadership Agility requires an advanced level of personal adult development and mastery of psychological flexibility.

As a coach specialized in ACT and working in the areas of executive and leader development, I work to bring leaders into the awareness their own internal experiencing, to reflect on the endless internal chatter that constantly flows through human minds and to be anchored in the present moment. There is good sense in being aware of one’s moment-by-moment emotional state, in knowing one’s values and in knowing what one is committed to for one’s organization and oneself over the long-term. ACT offers a mighty tool for self-management and the development of the self. – Donna C. Read, MA, Certified Coach Practitioner

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