Manage Yourself to Manage Others

In my recent post “Designing Instruction”, I identified and discussed skills and competencies necessary for Instructional Designers to possess and/or develop in order to successfully operate as a professional in the field of Instructional Systems Design.  A skill area mentioned in brief in that discussion that deserves more attention is that of so-called “soft” skills.  “Soft skills” refer to personal qualities, habits, attitudes, and social graces that are desirable from colleagues, clients, and/or customers.  Examples of important soft skills are communication, teamwork, and problem-solving.

Achieving mastery of soft skills is not usually achieved through a training or educational program, as hard/technical skills are.  Rather, soft skills are developed, in part, through the practice of self-regulation.  Self-regulation is the ability to act in your long-term best interest; it is also the ability to calm yourself down when you’re upset and cheer yourself up when you’re down (Stosny, 2011).

Self-regulated individuals focus more on values rather than feelings.  Feelings, or emotions, often lead us to act in ways that are contrary to our best interest and/or personal and professional goals.  For example, if I have an unpleasant day and let my emotions lead me to consume an entire chocolate cake, I am acting in a way that is damaging to my health and contrary to my personal goal to lose weight.   Similarly, a supervisor with exhaustive operational knowledge and advanced education who screams at his employees every time they make an error will probably find it hard to advance beyond his current position, as he will likely not be well regarded by employees or management.

As instructional designers, self-regulation is key, as it enables us to work in an interpersonal environment.  This is particularly true when the instructional designer steps into the role of teacher/instructor, as is often the case.  The best-designed implementation will not succeed if the instructor lacks emotional intelligence, trustworthiness, and approachability, and is not able to remain calm under pressure.

However, as anyone who has spent any time in front of learners will tell you, maintaining self-regulation is difficult when faced with the myriad challenges related to regulation/management of others. The key to self-regulation and regulation of others in such a situation is clear communication of goals and expectations, supported by necessary reinforcement.  The instructor communicates his or her values-based expectations for the learning environment, and then reinforces expectations in a firm but self-regulated manner.  In my experience, instructors who are able to do this consistently are both effective as educators and are well-liked by their students.

Therefore, as a primary goal of instructional design is to progress a learner toward a preferred outcome, the designer must consider all aspects of implementation, including self-regulation and management of others.


Stosny, S. (2011, Oct 28). Self-regulation: To feel better, focus on what is most important. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

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