By Karin Soweid, SIOP Blogger
I attended a seminar recently that vowed to ‘wow’ in terms of its unique approach to reframing, if not transforming, the time management discussion. The facilitator challenged all participants to consider the consequences of just being simply average. Would there be a Great Wall of China, the pyramids of Egypt, or bold female figures such as Joan of Arc or Amelia Earhart? These landmarks and famed individuals essentially serve as benchmarks for being better than average, even extraordinary.
What really became a compelling aspect of the seminar, however, was the visual representation, in statistical, figure format, about measuring productivity. In the industrial age of the manual worker, this was much easier to quantify, as a worker’s day-to-day consisted less of actual decision-making, knowledge gathering and communication and more of a one-to two-step process on an assembly line or other manufacturing context. This was the era of lean manufacturing and total quality management: consolidating roles into the simplest function for higher productivity. Simple. Measurable.
Enter today’s age of the knowledge worker, where individuals are no longer typically part of a manufacturing or assembly line process, but sitting face to face with a computer screen, a telephone, colleagues and clients either in real time or virtually. Workers confront the daily dilemma of more information, communication and decision making than in any other time in history. The variables for measuring actual productivity in the knowledge age are so fuzzy that researchers are no longer able to quantify worker’s productivity. Add to that, the measurement curve is only getting steeper as technology advances and organizational expectations increase. Chaotic. Fuzzy.
Enter my overactive moral compass, constantly in pursuit of human equity. It is nudging, poking, asking, “Who gets the chance to be extraordinary anymore when the requirements for just simply being ordinary are so demanding?”
The facilitator had it tantalizingly laid out in a five-step continuum. Desperate for prescriptive advice, these steps could offer a theoretical framework, but given the day-to-day uncertainties and upheavals of a reactive organizational environment, I couldn’t help but sarcastically reflect that yoga sessions, meditation rooms, massage therapists and leadership coaching might go a longer way for solving the angst and productivity issues plagued by the knowledge era.
This conversation attempts to keep pace in a world that has only become flatter (thank you Thomas Friedman) due to rapid globalization of markets and advancements in technology. The world, however, by most accounts, is still bumpy, unfair, containing potholes and landmines, unpaved roads and bridges that either need building or serious repair. This conversation requires context.
As a doctoral student in I-O psychology, I am obviously eager to uncover the psychological underpinnings for workplace success, given our flat yet unequal environments. With this premise, exploring productivity in diverse locations and workplaces such as Beirut and Boston would be an interesting experiment. My specific research interest, however, lies in the causal relationship between emotional intelligence and organizational leadership potential as it relates to women in the Middle East workforce. My research not only seeks to fill a gap, but also to challenge stereotypes about the value of emotions in the workplace. These stereotypes fuel inequality of opportunity in their suggestion that women are too emotional, resulting in unreliable patterns in behavior and performance in the workplace.
Dr. Nairouz Bader states that emotional intelligence is the element that now sets women apart in the Middle East as leaders. Women’s socialization in the region has created an abundance of empathy, high orientation for interpersonal relationships and skills and social responsibility, yielding high performance. She writes that high achieving women have stopped being the ‘impressive minority’ due to the bar being set so low for women’s performance and there is now a greater comfort level for women at the forefront who will pave the way for the future generation of women.
Isobel Coleman’s Paradise Beneath her Feet: How women are transforming the Middle East makes historical reference to the vital emotional and financial role Khadijah, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, played in Islam. She cites the Prophet Muhammad, in honor of his wife Khadijah as saying, “Khadijah believed in me while others rejected my call. She affirmed my truthfulness when people called me a liar. She spent her wealth to lighten the burden of my sorrow when others had forsaken me.” Khadijah was and continues to be a powerful representative of social and financial power for women in the region; a vital footprint to preserve in view of how Islam’s more recent interpretation in some countries has resulted in reversals in many of the fundamental rights women once had in terms of employment, ownership, inheritance and marriage.
Statistical measures of IQ in the industrial age to measurement of emotional intelligence in the knowledge era is a drastic yet necessary shift in order to account for the competencies required for effective communication, delegation and cooperation. Extraordinary emotion in the workplace is better understood from a performance review checklist as the higher than satisfactory ratings in communication, delegation, teamwork, etc. Practically speaking, as buried as today’s worker may be in their various organizational environments, we unbury (aka cope) ourselves with the help of emotions that guide our efficacy of actions and skills (i.e. tact, patience, listening skills or in contrast: anger, disappointment). It only seems natural to me that in this extraordinary time of collective courage and action for more just societies that understanding the very relevant role emotions play in the workforce would be an obvious extension of the movement.