Self-Assessment, part 1 – defining emotions

21 Mar

This is the first installment of a four-part series by John Sorrell. Self-Assessment is a topic John has considered as he studies for a Masters in Divinity through Bethel Seminary.

Know Thy Self.  We have heard it. Most have accepted it. Few practice it.

Very few people will argue with the fact that an emotionally intelligent person needs to “know thy self.”  Leaders around the world, both secular and Christ following, can attest to it.  We have built tests, surveys, and programs to help us in this endeavor.  Effective leaders, however, display a further characteristic of emotional health: regular self-assessment. It is one thing to find out whether your personality leans to “E” or “I,” a high “D” or high “S,” what color best describes you, or what your strengths are. These tools serve well in choosing direction and positions that are the right “fit.” They serve to make offices and business relationships run smoothly and work efficiently.  For anyone, specifically a leader, to be truly effective through both good times and bad, however, more is needed. Regular self assessment allows one to lead from a “fund of Emotional Maturity,” (a phrase borrowed from McCloskey’s “Narcissism and leadership”), and opens the door for personal development that benefits not only the individual but also the community as a whole. 

While personal assessment in general is positive and helpful, regular self-assessment is vital to an individual’s emotional health and longevity.  Looking at this issue on a personal level over the past year has changed many of my own paradigms. The resulting lifestyle changes, such as reflection and closer examination of both the recent and distant past, have brought a new form of emotional maturity to my life.

My investigation of self-assessment in the life of a leader focused on my own ministry context.  I have had the honor of working with TCKs (Third Culture Kids) in Beijing, China, for the past 8 years. My students come to Beijing literally from all over the world, typically because of a parent’s job. These TCKs include the children of diplomats, business executives, and missionaries. One of the amazing characteristics of TCKs is that they generally mature quicker than teens growing up in their home culture. I am learning, however, that TCKs who appear mature are not necessarily equally mature in every area of their lives. While TCKs may easily converse at a high intellectual level they are usually less developed in the area of emotional maturity.

I have seen the fruit that comes with understanding even a fraction of emotional maturity.  I see the need to relate this to my students, helping them to recognize their own emotional states. TCKs have the potential to become strong leaders upon returning to their home countries. They are student leaders today, but may well be world leaders in years to come.

The Ability to Define Emotions

Emotional Maturity is a topic rarely taught well.  Few people have a clear vocabulary with which to express the emotions they experience.  Although we may be able to express a current emotion in generic terms, we rarely have the vocabulary to define the emotion in detail – understanding where or why it is erupting.

Understanding emotions is a critical area of becoming emotionally mature. Without the correct vocabulary to explain emotions, a conflict or bad reaction rapidly becomes a guessing game and a downward spiral for all involved. Many leaders fall in this area repeatedly as they have not learned how to address their own emotions in a healthy way.  In place of a healthy response, many become “bottled up” in a way that leaves them ready to explode on small issues. Self-assessment starts when a leader has the vocabulary to define emotions and can begin to explain them.

I attended a full-day marriage seminar a few months ago. It was helpful and insightful, especially as my marriage is in its first year.  The most helpful area to my wife and I came at the end of the day as we completed the last exercise for the day. Under the subject of “The Reactive Cycle,” (from Dr. Greg & Erin Smalley’s workbook The Wholehearted Marriage Seminar) we found ourselves looking at an extensive, though not exhaustive, list of feelings and where each comes from. The list covered all the feelings and emotions my wife and I commonly experience during disagreements.

I can honestly say we do not clearly remember the solutions to conflict taught on that day. What helped us most was learning a vocabulary to clearly describe the hurts and anger each of us experience. Our communication has grown immensely as a result. When conflict inevitably arises there no longer needs to be a guessing game. Instead, we now have a way to explain what has hurt or offended us – clearly, and without judgment.

In a ministry context, defining emotions helps a leader to deal better with conflict that occurs with leaders above them and fellow workers in the ministry. It also helps us to more effectively counsel the youth we work with; it is also an essential skill to learn and pass on to them.

In part 2 we will look at two other elements of self-assessment: taking time to reflect, and confronting reality.


Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Leadership Development


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4 responses to “Self-Assessment, part 1 – defining emotions

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