An age old debate that is particularly relevant to the development of experts concerns just how much a person can really change. Can someone naturally introverted reach beyond their reticence to engage with others? Can a person naturally wary of conflict and being withdrawn master the courage to engage in robust conversations? Can someone who feels strongly committed to accuracy and detail become equally comfortable with ambiguity and big picture? The field of emotional intelligence suggests that with self awareness and emotional mastery we can all stretch our mindsets and behaviours beyond their preferred set points. In coaching experts, I often turn to my “Freddie Mercury” metaphor – which goes like this. Freddie Mercury likely had a voice-box that was genetically capable of things that my voice-box will never be capable of. At the same time, I can likely increase my comfortable range with the aid of a voice coach and some disciplined practice.
The instinct to have a courageous conversation – to boldly assert an opinion (even to senior leaders), to hold someone to account, to establish one’s boundaries, etc – may never feel comfortable and natural for an introverted, less expressive and assertive expert. But, with tools to practice – like Susan Scott’s confrontation model which we introduce in the Mastering Expertship program as the OFFICER model, one can practice – and with feedback, steady practice and perceived incremental improvement, one can grow in confidence. And so it is with many other emotional competencies or forms of thinking. Creativity is also like a muscle that, given a process to experiment with, and then regular exercise develops strength and elasticity. And so it is with empathy – reading others, listening in a way that encourages trust and disclosure, asking emotionally intelligent questions.
In fact, it is our experience with working with such ideas with experts that their honed IQ – coupled with sound evidence, tools and frameworks and the opportunity to practice in a safe environment and receive constructive feedback – means that they can acquire emotional range very quickly. This often serves to round out their self concept, allowing them to have increased impact and derive far more satisfaction through increased influence.
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