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Why Emotional Intelligence Is Critical During Periods of Transition

Thursday, August 4, 2016
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When I think of what’s necessary for a government program manager or agency administrator to convince a new political appointee or transition team member of the value of their project or program, the influence begins and ends with the individual relationship between the person that owns the program and the person they are speaking to.

Here’s what I mean by that: The program itself is, of course, important. Steps need to be taken to ensure the transition team member understands the program’s scope and how it best aligns with the political goals of the new administration. There needs to be a mutual understanding of the value of the program, and if that understanding doesn’t occur, the program will not likely last. That’s just a cold hard fact.

That understanding can typically be found in what the values of the program are, which are probably going to be things like equity and equality and liberty – all of those traditional constitutional values that make our country great.

But that’s on the program side.

On the personal side, there is a dynamic that occurs between the program representative and the transition team member that happens on a very human level, where both parties resonate with each other, can trust each other, and even like each other. If this doesn’t happen, it doesn’t really matter how great the program is, because the person from the transition team will not be engaged personally, and they will likely not become emotionally invested in the program.

It’s up to the federal employee to be authentic and communicate clearly and succinctly who they are as a person, what matters to them, their agency, and their program. In order for the continued success of a program, the transition team member must be convinced that the program’s advocate is passionate, legitimate and honest.

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The only way to achieve this is to bring to the table very solid emotional intelligence. Two of the most important items in this toolbox are a healthy sense of self-awareness, as well as a finely tuned social awareness.

Self-awareness is the hallmark of what emotional intelligence is all about. If you don’t have self-awareness, then you don’t know how you’re presenting yourself and how you’re coming across to your audience. If I’m trying to convince a transition team member that what I’m saying is important, or that my program matters, I have to know how I look when I’m presenting that information. I need to ask myself what verbal, non-verbal and emotional cues I’m giving off that might influence my audience’s perception of me. It’s critically important that I’m authentic, but aware of myself.

The second tool is social awareness, which is basically self-awareness in reverse. A socially aware person will be able to pick up on the verbal, non-verbal, and emotional cues their audience is giving off, and react accordingly. Additionally, the truly socially aware will be able to recognize and understand what the interests and values of another person might happen to be.

In the specific context of presidential transition, this might mean doing some homework. Learn what the transition team member and administration as a whole’s values are.  What excites them? What interests them? The more I can align my program to their interests, the more likely my program is to stay.

Join Patrick Malone in Seattle for ATD's TalentNext: Creating a Competitive Advantage Through Workplace Culture.

About the Author

Patrick Malone is director of Key Executive Leadership Programs at American University in Washington, D.C. He is a frequent guest lecturer on leadership and organizational dynamics and has extensive experience working with government leaders. Patrick’s research, teaching, and scholarship include work in public sector leadership, executive problem solving, organizational analysis, ethics, and public administration and policy. He is a retired navy captain, having spent 22 years in a number of senior leadership and policy roles.

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