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Self Assessment, part 4 – writing it down

This is the final installment in John’s series on Self Assessment for leaders . To read from the beginning, click here.

The power of self-assessment as a tool can be lost when one’s insights are not written down.  I started journaling consistently just after I got married. Until then the only journaling I had ever done detailed major trips I had taken. Now, however, the first thing that I do five days a week is answer in my journal 3 questions about the previous day. I cannot explain briefly all the changes in my life due to this journal. I vividly remember being insecure and anxious about, even angered by, the most trivial things. Through the discipline of journaling, however, all different types of circumstances have become opportunities to allow God to speak to me. It is my own personal (partial) version of the prayer of Examen. Since making this a regular habit my emotional resources have multiplied beyond what I could previously have imagined.

Leaders face a multitude of problems every day. Each day leaders react and respond to these issues in both good and bad ways. Having a vocabulary to define and describe emotions, time to reflect and allow God to speak into situations (two skills covered in part 1), along with the written record, allows a leader to learn from both successes and failures. Each circumstance faced then become a chance to reflect on feelings which naturally arise. These reflections, once written down, build the leader’s emotional maturity.

Albert Einstein reportedly worked to keep his mind clear of what he deemed to be unnecessary details, thereby leaving it free to focus on physics and formulas. One telling example of this is the fact that he never memorized even his own phone number. In our pride we want the prestige of memorizing many things, but in reality it is not what we remember that builds us up the most. Rather, it is the acts of exposing and processing our thoughts and feelings that will further emotional maturity the most.

Freedom to serve (a side effect)

As I continue to train the leaders of tomorrow, I want to equip them with a vocabulary that will help them develop greater emotional maturity. My goal is to provide them with a healthy way to process their emotions; to realize that “bad” emotions are not necessarily bad for them when they are understood. Leaders with deep emotional security no longer need external sources to provide the emotional energy they need. Using what they have to help others, emotionally mature leaders do not become narcissistic parasites, feeding on their followers. No longer focused on themselves, these leaders are able to better focus on the communities they lead.

TCKs enter college and adulthood with an “ace in the hole.” They have seen more of the world than most, and can usually adapt to most situations with relative ease. Watching students return to their home culture for college has been interesting for me personally. Upon their return, TCKs typically encounter one of two extreme reactions: they thrive, or they shrivel. It is hard to know which students will be the ones to thrive – the mystery of resilience remains.

Despite this mystery, it is clear that teaching TCKs to build greater emotional maturity through regular self-assessment will serve them well. TCKs typically return to their home countries over-prepared in academics, but emotionally struggling and left to learn on their own. Encouraging these youth in the methods and disciplines discussed in this paper will boost their chances to enter adulthood self-aware and ready to handle the difficult transitions ahead.

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Posted by on April 13, 2011 in Leadership Development, TCKs

 

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Self Assessment, part 3 – a biblical picture

This is part 3 in a 4 part series on self-assessment. Part 1 here, part 2 here.

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.” Psalm 77:11-12

Psalm 77 starts with a plea to God for an answer, or even comfort. When it is delayed, these verses show the psalmist reflecting on what he has seen the Lord do in the past. He is reminded by the clear testimony of the past that God is active, faithful to his promises, and powerful to handle any concern or worry placed in front of him.

As we look at the biblical side of self-assessment we must look at the whole story, beginning with what changed so long ago. We were created as human beings in God’s image. To be human is to have and express emotions. This ability is a gift.  The gift of emotion was altered along with our relationship with God when sin entered the picture in Genesis 3.  In Cain, we see our first example of an emotional reaction.

In “Cain and Abel: The Roots of Emotional Malfunctioning” Dr. McCloskey points out “Five emotional malfunctions” within this story (I’ll address two briefly, but all are valuable):

  1. We prefer to fake our reality
  2. Live in ignorance
  3. Overcome, letting emotions master us.
  4. Live in self-centered isolation
  5. We blame others for our problems and predicaments

Faking reality

This is a clear opposite of something I talked about in part 1 –  the need to confront reality. According to McCloskey, “we fake our reality” and become unwilling to “confront the truth about life.”

Living in ignorance

This centers on not being able to define or describe our emotions in a healthy way.  When Cain was confronted by God with his emotions he could not face them. Like Cain, we all become self-absorbed, focused on our own needs and unconcerned with the needs of others.

Our self-assessment must begin with our fallen nature.  Sin is reality, and while we have met Christ and are restored back into relationship, our flesh is still alive.  We are reminded many times in scripture (in both Ephesians and Colossians, for example) to take off the old self and put on the new self through Christ. This is possible with the Holy Spirit working in each of us, but we still face the reality that our own selfish nature often rises up to get what it wants.

Realizing our spiritual condition is the first point of Jesus’ 57 point sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7). “Blessed are the poor in spirit” means that those who realize their spiritual condition are blessed.  The kingdom of heaven goes to those who realize who they really are and also realize their need for help. We need God to speak into our lives

Self-assessment was practiced by many biblical characters.  Those who did not practice it usually ended up in dire straits of some sort. An OT character that immediately springs to my mind is Saul, a man we see become more narcissistic in every chapter of 1 Samuel. Saul focuses more on his own ambitions and desires than on those of the One who raised him to kingship. In clear opposition is David, who at Ziklag (1 Samuel 30) shows himself to be a humble self-assessor.

When David and his army return to find their home raided, their children and wives taken captive, it is a low moment for David.  David must deal with the reality he faces.  He has a chance to assess the choice he has made – in this case a bad one. Being authentic in this way allows him to escape the temptation to project his low emotional well-being onto others or outside circumstances.

Facing reality allows David to first accept blame where it is appropriate, but then also move toward a solution.  David finds strength in the Lord and navigates his way from what could have been the lowest point of his leadership to a valiant victory.  This ability to navigate from weakness to victory comes from a deeply set emotional maturity that I believe was, for David, rooted in self-assessment. David knew he would become king, but was not the king yet.  He knew all that God had done for him and all God had allowed him to do. By knowing his spiritual condition David was able to experience healthy emotions and be well self-assessed.

Click here to continue on to part 4 (the last installment in this series).

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2011 in Bible Resources, Leadership Development

 

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Self Assessment, part 2 – reflection and reality

In part 1 we discussed the importance of regular self-assessment and looked at Defining Emotions. In part 2, we will look at two more elements of self-assessment.

Taking Time to Reflect

Author Peter Scazzero shares a modern day way to practice St. Loyola’s prayer of examen. The goal of this practice is simply “increased awareness and attentiveness to the presence of God in your daily life.” The discipline is simple. At any time, usually at the end of the day, make yourself comfortable and become still. Next, mentally review the day just lived as if watching a DVD on fast-forward, allowing Jesus to stop or slow down any moment for reflection. Scazzero gives ideas of what to look for, such as moments in which you felt the presence of God, or felt you were moving away from God.

I have seen personally that this practice, when followed even a few times a week or month, has a profound effect on one’s emotional maturity.  A small amount of time spent reflecting on a recent day’s events equip one with the ability to learn from reactions or strong feelings. This ability, when coupled with the skills of identifying emotions felt, allows leaders to become more deeply self-aware.

Bob Pierce and Amanda Berry Smith are historical figures that illustrate two ends of this spectrum. Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, lived a life of influence most young men only dream of. Pierce was undoubtedly a man of passion, charisma, and, sadly, narcissism.While his passion and ministry grew to unforeseen heights, he lost his family and eventually his own mental health. Not willing to slow down his schedule, he worked himself to exhaustion and even in the midst of success, it is said that he became increasingly isolated and insecure and allowed no one into his emotional space.

I would assert that had Pierce given himself space for personal reflection it may well have saved him a sad departure from his own organization at the age of 49, shamed and living alone in Asia for nine months. Pierce’s story does not get much better, instead descending to greater depths. Time spent in reflection on decisions made, and on the deep-seated insecurity that plagued Pierce, may have saved him a lot of hurt in the long run. Even though this is an extreme example, my point is that even an occasional time of self-assessment will do any leader a great deal of good.

Amanda Berry Smith, on the other hand, has a very different story. She is a shining example of a person who can remain emotionally mature despite low emotional health. These are two different issues, well illustrated in Smith’s story. She endured repeated tragedy in the form of several miscarriages and the deaths of her young children. Such events will tear any mother apart emotionally, yet Smith remained strong and purposeful, holding on to a hope that extended beyond the limits of her own self. Smith met tragedy and hardship from every angle, yet through living a resilient life she serves as an inspiring example to emotional strength and maturity.

Confronting Reality

Admiral Stockdale was in captivity held by the Vietcong for 8 years. When asked about who “made it out,” and who did not, he replied that “the optimists” did not make it. Those who refused to confront the true reality of their situation, in all its difficulty, were less likely to endure the experience. In the same way, although it is sometimes “emotionally wrenching”, we must at some point confront reality. Leaders need to have a healthy outlook on not only their ethics and integrity, but also their decisions and the emotions they experience every day.

Bennis & Thomas, authors of the article “Crucibles of Leadership,” would agree. As they state, “The crucible required [a leader] to examine their values, question their assumptions, hone their judgment. And, invariably they emerged from the crucible stronger and more sure of themselves and their purpose – changed in some fundamental way.”  The growth they mention here does not come by constantly rushing to the next event or task but, instead, making time for clear reflection and self-assessment.

Defining emotions, personal reflection, and confronting reality are three skills which enable us as leaders to develop better self-assessment. The resulting emotional maturity makes us better leaders – better people all over. Passing these skills on to the youth we work with will also help them to grow. This is especially valid for TCKs; so often their emotional deficits are not recognized behind their many competencies.

Have you learned/do you practice these skills?
How would you go about teaching them to teens?

(Continue to part 3)

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Leadership Development

 

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Self-Assessment, part 1 – defining emotions

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.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Leadership Development

 

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