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The Vital Role of Resilience in Emergencies

**Update: all 12 Wild Boars, their coach, and the rescuers are now safe! A true effort, from those who cooked and fed the volunteers, to the schoolchildren who prayed, to the frogman who stayed with the team. A moment of gratitude and respect for Saman Gunan.

 

Much of the world has been riveted to the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach in Thailand. As the eighth “Wild Boar” is now in the hospital, it goes without notice how much mental fortitude, mindfulness, and emotional balance has played a role in the survival of the soccer team for two weeks in claustrophobic, frightening conditions, and in the innovative problem solving and collaborative action of an international team of planners and rescuers putting the young men’s lives over their own.

The boys look skinnier than usual, but seem to maintain their humanity and humor. They joked about getting fried BBQ and asking their teacher not to give them too much homework. How do these young boys and their coach, barely older than them at 25, have the fortitude to maintain their calm despite great uncertainty of their rescue?

First, let’s take a look at what happens to our brains and bodies in emergencies.

Our brains are designed to react quickly to threats for our survival. When we’re under sudden attack, stress-related hormones adrenaline and cortisol flood our bodies, our heart rate goes up, and our vision decreases up to 70%. All these physiological changes compromise our cognitive flexibility to come up with the wise or innovative solutions. Our fight/flight/freeze default take over our prefrontal cortex – our brain’s executive functioning area, and we have an amygdala hijack. Our ability to logically think is greatly reduced. We go into autopilot, reduce our capacity to consider wise or innovative solutions, or fail to make the choice that will actually get us out of trouble.

Have you ever been caught in a tight bind and made the wrong turn? You’re not alone. We hear unfortunate stories of people who have met their doom because of a sudden wrong decision in the heat of the moment. According to psychologist John Leach, 85% of people respond inappropriately in a crisis. In 2011, George Larson was one of 17 survivors out of 65 because he was one of the few with the wherewithal to get himself out of a burning plane before it exploded. In airplane crashes, it is common for passengers to scramble for their bags from the overhead lockers first. It’s easy for us to say now “that wouldn’t be me,” but in an emergency, even the “smartest” of us get stuck brains.

Daniel Goleman uses the analogy of a basement and balcony. In emergencies, whether catastrophes like tsunamis or getting stuck underground in a cave for weeks, we often go to the “basement,” our brain’s primitive threat response system. But if we are to respond with greater wisdom and flexibility, it is important to “go to the balcony,” and view the crisis from a broader perspective and get as much information as possible to  make a wiser decision of how to proceed. This requires our prefrontal cortex to stay in the game.

Let’s go back to the question: how does the young Thai soccer team have the fortitude to maintain their calm despite great uncertainty of their rescue?

Undoubtedly, there are many factors, and researchers will probably be eager to learn about their survival. A few early indicators suggest that mindfulness, meditation, compassion, cognitive flexibility, collaboration, and resilience have played a huge role. The boys’ soccer coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, is a novice monk. Reports indicate that he taught the boys how to meditate as they sat in dank darkness without any indicators of how they would get out. He taught them to refocus their minds away from hunger and fear, and to maintain emotional balance and build resilience during this harrowing ordeal.

Now as the first eight boys are safely in the hospital, divers continue these efforts, recognizing that the most difficult part is not the lack of the boys’ ability to swim or visibility – the divers are there to guide them. The most difficult part is for the boys – and divers – to maintain their mental focus and calm for each of the 11-hour trek through tight passageways underwater so that they do not get an amygdala hijack and panic. If that happens, then they are in real trouble.

There is also the mental fortitude and resilience required of the remaining boys and their coach as they watch their mates leave the cave, not knowing if their mates survived and not knowing if they too will be rescued. The team of rescuers are rescuing the mentally strongest last. There was a 10-hour gap between the rescue of the first and second group to replenish oxygen, and now another long gap until the next group. Ten hours is an eternity once you see your mates leave. Being left behind can pose additional threats to the body’s survival instinct, and so they will have to draw from even greater reservoirs of mindfulness and emotional balance.

Then there are the rescuers. These rescuers have clearly stepped up to the balcony rather than the basement. They have taken as much into account to make the decisions to begin rescues now rather than wait for more heavy rains. Additionally, their emotional balance has allowed them to put aside any personal differences to form an international coalition of 90 divers – 40 Thai and 50 non-Thai. There are 13 medical teams each with their own ambulance and helicopter, and 30 doctors await. There are the engineers who pumped out water. There are others ready to activate Plans C, D, and E, from Elon Musk’s submarine to Pairojana Toontong’s inflatable tube. There is Saman Gunan, the Thai Navy Seal who gave his life ensuring the treacherous path has oxygen. Their collective diversity of perspectives, languages, cultures, and experiences fuels the cognitive flexibility, trust, and clarity of when to act, and is indicative of how a sense of purpose can lead to greater connection and team performance. This team’s sense of empathic concern has moved a global movement from just sitting by and feeling badly for the boys to putting their own lives at risk. Watching the rescuers is to watch true leadership and teamwork in action.

Finally, the emotional balance the boys’ families are demonstrating is a lesson in compassion. While some are chiding the coach for being negligent, and Ekopol himself has already apologized to the families, the children’s families are focusing on how Ekapol has helped their children survive. He is said to be the weakest, having given his share of food to the boys. One mother said: “when [Ekapol] comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.”

As we write, we continue to send our collective thoughts for all to return safely.

Recommended Resources:

 

 

Interested in cultivating your own Emotional Balance? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

 

 

 

 

 

If you would like to learn more about the fundamentals of Emotional Intelligence, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Control (or Emotional Balance), Empathy, and Teamwork. The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

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What is Emotional Balance? (And How to Cultivate It)

Emotional Balance, also referred to as Emotional Self-Control, is a competency under the Self-Management domain. People with strengths in Emotional Balance find ways to manage their impulses and emotions, even in stressful situations. To begin cultivating your own Emotional Balance, the new Emotional Balance Learning Path is available here.

Developing Emotional Balance begins with a solid foundation of Self-Awareness, the heart of Emotional Intelligence. Self-Awareness enables us to recognize our emotions as they occur and the ways in which our emotions impact all aspects of our lives. Without Self-Awareness, we remain on autopilot and fall back on unquestioned behavioral responses and routines. In order to affect behavioral change, we must first become attuned to our emotions, and the ways in which they positively and negatively inform our lives.

Focus, a foundational skill for Emotional Intelligence, is intrinsic to a range of competencies, including Self-Awareness and Emotional Balance. In the workplace, leaders with strengths in Emotional Self-Awareness cultivate focused teams that are engaged and motivated. While there are several types of focus, including the ability to focus on others, which requires Empathy, and big picture focus, which is related to Organizational Awareness, inner focus is the most essential to the development of Emotional Balance.

Mindfulness or presence of mind, like inner focus, is condition of Emotional Balance. Mindfulness is that aspect of mind that acts as an inner rudder, alerting us to when we’ve deviated from our path in the moment. For example, if we are aware of a bad habit we have, like interrupting others, it is our presence of mind that catches us on the spot before we interrupt someone, sending us a subtle reminder or cue not to interrupt. Practices like meditation with focus, body scan, and self-reflection enable us to strengthen our concentration and awareness. By routinely tuning-in to our emotions and utilizing practices that familiarize ourselves with patterns in our reactions, we can cultivate Emotional Balance.

In this way, self-awareness, focus, and mindfulness serve as the three, interconnected skills that enable us to exercise Emotional Balance. While it may seem intimidating to develop each of these skills, their interdependence makes it easier to turn progress in one area into positive development across all three. Similarly, just as Self-Awareness and Emotional Balance are foundational to Emotional Intelligence, they can open doors to strengthening our Emotional Intelligence across the suite of twelve EI competencies.

Recommended Resources:

 

Ready to develop your competencies in Emotional Intelligence? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

 

 

 

 

Interested in helping others develop Emotional Balance? Our new Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification is now accepting applications. This in-depth program, akin to a professional degree, draws upon a range of evidence-based concepts and practices, including the Emotional & Social Intelligence framework. Coaches will gain meaningful new insights to impact their personal and professional lives while elevating their expertise.

 

 

 

 

If you would like to learn more about the fundamentals of Emotional Intelligence, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, and Empathy. The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

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How to Give Emotionally Intelligent Criticism

Whether you are a team leader or a member of a team, you will likely encounter situations in which you need to offer criticism or constructive feedback. While this can be difficult, giving feedback is a necessary part of leadership and being a member of a team. Teams that openly address counterproductive behavior create an environment that fosters continuous development, learning, and innovation. The ability to give effective, emotionally intelligent criticism is essential to high levels of team performance.

What Does It Mean to Offer Effective Criticism?

People who give effective criticism balance empathy and an understanding of the person they are giving feedback to with an objective and calm demeanor. They have developed trust through interpersonal understanding and compassion. They know team members’ strengths, weaknesses, and unique abilities. They know if someone would rather receive feedback one on one, or if they are fine with a group setting. They offer objective criticism and deliver it calmly, without divisive emotions.

While many of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies play a role in the ability to give effective criticism, Emotional Self-Control and Empathy are essential to giving effective criticism, particularly in relation to Teamwork.

How to Develop Emotional Self-Control

Developing Emotional Self-Control begins with recognizing your emotions as they occur. When you notice yourself experiencing a strong emotion, whether it be anger, frustration, or something else, make an effort to identify the source of the emotion.

Mindfulness meditation can help you become more aware of your emotional state, while journaling can offer a healthy way to release emotions and track your state of mind over time. In both of these practices, avoid self-judgement. Recognize your thoughts and feelings, but do not overly identify with them or give them too much power.

In addition to making you equipped to give effective criticism, Emotional Self-Control can also make you better able to receive feedback. By contextualizing feedback as information, instead of taking it as a personal criticism, you can internalize it from a context beyond yourself as an individual. As with giving criticism, this is a vital skill for both team leaders and team members. In order to cultivate a team that actively self-evaluates, everyone involved must be open to input and new ideas.

How to Develop Empathy

While Emotional Self-Control requires tuning into your own emotions, Empathy can be developed by tuning into the emotions of others. Nonverbal indicators of emotion, such as facial expressions and body language, can help us get a sense of how others are feeling. More actively, asking questions, and showing genuine interest in people’s responses, makes us better able to understand their emotions and to care more deeply for them. Active listening, which includes making eye-contact when someone is speaking, and nodding if you agree with them, demonstrates your engagement with that person’s thoughts and feelings.

Developing Empathy is also key to fostering mutual trust on a team. Team members that are compassionate toward one another, and care about each other’s abilities and preferences, create an environment of trust, in which people feel comfortable holding each other accountable.   

How to Balance Emotional-Self Control and Empathy to Cultivate an Accountable Team

In her studies of Team EI Norms, detailed in Teamwork: A Primer, Vanessa Druskat found that balanced levels of specific competencies most accurately predicted the emergence of certain Team EI Norms. In the case of the Team EI Norm “addressing counterproductive behavior,” Druskat and her team found that team leaders with strengths in Emotional Self-Control are most able to cultivate an environment in which team members hold each other accountable.

“High empathy seemed to get in the way of providing ‘tough’ feedback. The optimal leader profile was a leader who had high empathy and also a high level of self-control.”

Leaders with a balance of Emotional Self-Control and Empathy can manage their emotions and deliver difficult feedback in an impactful way, while also considering the emotions of the person they are critiquing.

An effective balance between these two competencies also strengthens the Teamwork Competency. High levels of Empathy, balanced with Emotional Self-Control, yield teams focused on relationship development and effective accountability. Compassionate teams, that care about each other and their contributions to the group, lay a solid foundation for the creation of open channels for honest feedback. In this way, effective, emotionally intelligent criticism becomes a vital aspect of the team’s process, as they hold each other accountable for their level of performance.

 

 

 

Recommended Resources:

Interested in coaching others in Emotional Intelligence? Our new Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification is now accepting applications. This in-depth program, akin to a professional degree, draws upon a range of evidence-based concepts and practices, including the Emotional & Social Intelligence framework. Coaches will gain meaningful new insights to impact their personal and professional lives while elevating their expertise.

 

 

 

 

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the 12 Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Control, Empathy, and Teamwork.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

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How to Build Self-Management to Change Deeply Ingrained Behaviors

Several years ago I decided that I had enough personal baggage getting in my way to merit going to therapy.  It was a wonderful and challenging experience, therapy.  I had some major epiphanies about where some of my “less functional” behaviors come from. One of these behaviors—being over-critical of and micro-managing my kids—was one that I felt real motivation to change.  Unfortunately, despite what felt like life-changing new awareness about my parenting behavior, I struggled to self-manage when they didn’t clear their breakfast dishes or borrowed my clothes without asking.

Therapy is just one path that leads to epiphanies about ourselves in our lives, and if we are present and aware we see these moments as real gifts. Unfortunately, those gifts often fade into the background of our lives once the sessions are over.  Therein lies the hard truth about self-awareness and self-management:  building new self-awareness (even rock-your-world self-awareness) does not in itself change our behavior.

It takes deliberate focus and supported skill building, informed by self-awareness, to shift ingrained, routinized, emotionally-laden behaviors.  

This is the work of self-management: building the intellectual, emotional, and behavioral muscles to modulate our thoughts, emotions, and reactions to the triggers that lead to ingrained behaviors.   This change doesn’t happen overnight after our big epiphanies.  To truly change our behavior we must self-manage in our trigger moments, over and over and over, until we replace old, ingrained habits with new, ingrained habits.  Self-management is a long-distance race.  And the race is winnable!

Five Ways to Develop Self-Management

1. Do the pre-requisite self-awareness work

My coaching colleague Michele Nevarez wisely says that, “we arrive at where we aim.”  Before we can effectively go after our self-limiting behaviors, we have to understand where it is we are actually aiming, or what we are really trying to self-manage.  This is because emotional self-management is more about managing what causes our behaviors than the behaviors themselves.  Doing self-awareness work means uncovering the triggers, emotions, and self-limiting thoughts that lead to our behaviors.  Our target is to self manage at the point of trigger; before the behavior itself.  We want to head off our emotional chain reaction that leads to the behavior.  Some of us who are naturally self-reflective can do this work independently if we ask the right questions.  Most of us will need the help of a thoughtful friend, coach, or therapist to bring these triggers, emotions, and thoughts to the surface.

2. Plan for it

Once we know what our trigger is, we can plan for it.  If I know that my adolescent son will yell at his sister every time she is remotely critical of his outfit, I can plan for how I react.  I can plan my response, verbatim.  I can plan a logical and fair series of interventions if they escalate.  I can even plan to leave the room and put on my headphones.  If I can be aware enough in the moment and remember to follow my plan, then that may sometimes be enough to shift a pattern of unproductive behavior.

3. Access your power

I believe that we all have the power inside of us to not only manage our triggers but become resonant leaders in our own right.  This power comes from our values and our deeply-held beliefs.  We can learn how to access this power in the micro moment of our triggers to block our self-limiting emotional chain reactions and create the space for a productive path.  Questions we can ask ourselves to discover that power include:

  • Why do I care about this behavior or situation?
  • What do I believe about what is right and true about this?

Once we identify our deeply held belief that connects to our triggering context, we can articulate a phrase or a mantra that we can access in the moment—such as “my kids will build character and social skills if I let them work this out on their own.”  It will help us to practice accessing our beliefs with a partner in a simulated moment of trigger to build this muscle.

self-management emotional intelligence

 

4. Cultivate your inner coach (the angel on your shoulder)

Remember the cartoons of our youth, in which a devil and an angel would appear on a character’s shoulder at a key decision-making moment?  With our ingrained habits, we have an oversized devil and undersized angel on our shoulders.  Cultivating our inner coach is essentially building up that angel.  What can this coach say to you at your moment of trigger to remind you how you plan to manage your emotions and story?  How can that coach help you remember why you care about this behavior, and what you aspire to become?  If you can answer these questions in meaningful ways to yourself, and practice, then your angel/coach will likely be there for you in that split second of need.

5. Create structures for reflection and support to sustain practice over time

Again, changing ingrained emotional reactions, stories, and behaviors is a long-distance race.  We have to practice over and over to rewire our brains, literally growing new neural highways and building new behavioral muscles.  If we do not build structures and supports around this practice, we will likely lose focus amidst the other urgent day-to-day demands of our work and our lives.  Coaches are great supports because we not only keep your eye on the ball, but help you to continue to build new awareness and self-management strategies over time.  Peer coaches or “change partners” can be effective if you both truly commit to a long-term relationship and stick to an effective system of reflection, revision, recommitment, and practice.  Those of us who are particularly reflective and disciplined can even do this work on our own, but even this group will need some external structures (like scheduled, sacred self-meetings) to make it happen.

With the right skill-building, supports, and self-discipline, we can build new awareness and change deeply ingrained self-limiting behaviors over time.  In other words, we can become more emotionally intelligent. I can think of no better reward for a long distance race.

Recommended Reading:

Our new series of primers focuses on the 12 Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, including Emotional Self-Awareness, Adaptability, Emotional Self-Control, Teamwork, and Inspirational Leadership.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies—including the author of this article, Matthew Taylor. See the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

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How Meditation Fuels Emotionally Intelligent Leaders

meditation and emotional intelligence

Not many of my readers know this, but long before I started writing about emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness, I studied meditation. I started back in my college days, and found daily meditation calmed my undergraduate jitters and helped me focus better. To get a scientific look at what I had experienced, I did my doctoral research in psychology at Harvard University on how meditation might help us be less reactive to stress.

Back then, there were but two scientific studies of meditation I could point to. Today, there are more than 6,000. This past year or so, working with my friend since grad school, Professor Richard J. Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we used rigorous standards to review all that research. We share the strongest findings in our book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. While 99 percent of the studies failed to meet these standards, about 60 – one percent – were first-rate. They make a convincing case for the positive, lasting effects of meditation.

Meditation and Emotional Intelligence

While continuing my interest in meditation, over the past 20+ years, of course, I’ve studied and written about emotional intelligence and its powerful role in high performance and leadership. My colleague, Richard Boyatzis of Case Western Reserve University, and I developed a model of emotional and social intelligence that centers around twelve learned and learnable competencies. Now when people ask me how to develop those competencies, my response often includes the power of meditation to strengthen emotional intelligence.

It’s not that meditation makes you expert in all twelve emotional intelligence competencies. Not at all. Exhibiting these at a high level takes specific learning, particular to each competence. But meditation has some general impacts that can help upgrade several of these leadership skills.

For example:

Emotional Self-Awareness supports development of all of the emotional intelligence competencies, simply because it allows us a way to monitor and evaluate what we do and how we think and feel. Mindfulness meditation cultivates emotional self-awareness, helping us develop the mental ability to pause and notice feelings and thoughts rather than immediately reacting. Seeing our thoughts as just thoughts, and feelings as just feelings gives us a platform for choosing more skillfully how we react, or to change for the better what we habitually do.

Emotional Self-Control means that you are in charge of your disruptive reactions, rather than your feelings controlling what you do. I’ve written extensively about the executive centers of our brain (the prefrontal cortex) and the fight-or-flight emotional centers (and their trigger, the amygdala). Research now shows that regular practice of mindfulness meditation builds the pathways between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex so that the calming, thoughtful influence of the prefrontal cortex can curb the knee-jerk reactions of the amygdala.

Empathy – tuning into and reading accurately how others feel – helps us manage our relationships. While emotional self-awareness helps you know yourself, empathy means being able to understand the thoughts and feelings of the people around you. My new book Altered Traits reviews several studies that show certain kinds of meditation enhance empathy – for example, just eight hours of a form of meditation known as loving-kindness or compassion meditation has been shown to strengthen our mental brain’s circuitry for empathy.

Conflict Management
Conflicts big and small are inevitable in work and in life. Being able to understand different perspectives and effectively work toward finding common ground is an essential skill for leaders at all levels of organizations. The building blocks of skillful conflict management include the other three competencies I mention above. Before we can manage conflict effectively, we need to recognize our own disruptive feelings and manage them. We also need to understand the feelings and perspectives of others. Just as mindfulness meditation supports development of the skills for knowing our own feelings and controlling them, those skills enhance our ability to manage conflict.

Emotional intelligence means being skilled at a variety of competencies. Meditation alone will not make you excel in these skill sets, but it can help. To become adept at the competencies, get a strong foundation by first learning to become aware, to focus, to interact with others in a constructive and meaningful way. These abilities are exactly what meditation helps to cultivate.

Recommended Reading:

Altered Traits audio coverAltered Traits is the newest book by bestselling author Daniel Goleman and neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson. Through thoughtful analysis of countless studies, the authors offer the truth about what meditation can really do for us, as well as exactly how to get the most out of it. At the heart of what Goleman and Davidson aim to impress upon readers and listeners is that beyond the pleasant states mental exercises can produce, the real payoffs are the lasting personality traits that can result.

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Engaging the Whole Person at Work

 

When we see ourselves and our co-workers only as tools to get the job done it is difficult to connect with one another as human beings. Connection is essential to building high performing and high functioning teams, not to mention to creating job fulfillment.

There is a story Max DePree shared in his book Leadership is An Art (1987), told by his father about visiting with the wife of the Millwright for the Herman Miller factory after her husband died. It was in the 1920’s and Max’s dad went to pay his respects to the Millwright’s wife. During his visit the Millwright’s wife asked his father if he’d mind if she read some poetry. He thought it would be appropriate and sat back to listen. As she read, the beauty of the poem resonated with him. He’d never heard this poetry before and asked who the poet was. She said it was her husband, the Millwright. The man who had been integral to the Herman Miller manufacturing processes, who provided the power for the machinery in his factory, dismantled machines and moved them around was a poet. This came as a surprise; he’d known the man but didn’t know he had this talent outside of work. It motivated him to see that leaders must, “endorse a concept of person”.

As I read this in the early ”˜90’s I realized that this lesson is bigger than the “concept of person” in a tops down view. It is about connection, learning about the people who work with you and sharing yourself with them. When you connect with the people who work with you, you discover other interests, talents, loves, and they in turn learn something about you.

Why does this matter? What difference does it make if you know the Millwright is a poet, the Accountant is a photographer, the HR Manager’s child is seriously ill or the Customer Service Specialist has just lost her mother?

Business is structured as a well-defined hierarchy that defines us by our titles and the roles we play within business, and our interactions are determined by these roles. The playing field is tilted in favor of the leadership, but should it be? By coming to understand more about ourselves and the people we work with, we can see that occasional missteps at work often result from a much larger context; a problem at home, the death of a beloved pet or some other distraction. They aren’t necessarily about lack of competence or skill, sloppiness or a bad attitude.

Without making excuses we understand that we all have days that are a challenge. “Endorsing the concept of person” builds team and team makes it possible to confront unexpected challenges in the day-to-day life of business, whether it’s shaky sales, disruption of production, strained cash flow, the loss of a well-liked co-worker or the acquisition of a new customer with compassion and understanding. We have jobs and roles within a company, but when we can connect not only through job and role but as fellow humans, we create an authentic engagement that fosters an environment in which human creativity and satisfaction grow and thrive. We form a sense of equality in an otherwise hierarchical unequal environment. The consistency with which we can cultivate these fleeting opportunities, over time builds a level of trust essential to a high functioning team. The challenge is that many believe that when a leader opens up they will be seen as weak or vulnerable. The opposite is true.

Here’s how this played out in my leadership experience

I worked with a smart and capable Engineering Manager who had a reputation as a tremendous problem solver, but he had started to become impatient with process and prone to angry tirades. He seemed to be seething inside. Many of his attacks were directed at individuals. My boss at the time wanted me to “get rid of him.” His behavior was undermining his position with the company and his credibility; people were starting to avoid him. What he lacked was Emotional Self-Control.

Instead of turning my feelings off and seeing him as the “problem” and firing him I sat down with him to talk about anger. Not only his, but mine. I shared some of my frustrations and how important it was to see them and be with them, but not project them out onto others. As we discussed the situation he began to explain what was behind his anger. He kept pointing at the things other people were doing, and I’d share more about my own anger and how my frustration was often rooted in not really understanding how to move the needle and effect change.

Finally I looked at him and said, “You know the anger has to stop. It doesn’t matter what provokes you, you can’t act out and mistreat other people on the team, no matter how frustrated you are. There are positive and constructive ways to address the issues that are frustrating you. You need to find them or ask for help. Do you understand?” He replied that he understood. We talked about the possibility of anger management counseling. He didn’t think he needed it. I told him that I valued him as a co-worker and friend but that if he had another angry outburst, I’d have to let him go, no second chances. As we continued to talk, I asked, “Do you want to stay here?” He said, “Yes. I like it here, I want to stay.” I followed with,  “Do you think you can do this?’ His response,  “Yes, I know I can.”

The problem was now entirely within his control. I knew some of the difficulties he was dealing with outside of the workplace, and understood that having control would likely result in a better outcome. Through our connection and sharing, he knew that I’d had similar challenges in my work life, and others had as well. It wasn’t having the feelings that were the problem it was what he did with them. At this point, he began to problem-solve for himself. He identified his triggers and ways he could address them.  He looked at me and said, “Thanks, I think I need to apologize to a few folks.” He kept his job, and worked better with others from that point on.

By being authentic and curious about his issues, sharing my own, and not taking the easy route of simply replacing him, we built a connection together that made it possible to discuss the issue not just as a boss and employee, but as two human beings. By “endorsing the concept of person”, we created a moment of equality and authentic connection that helped him move from being a victim to understanding the impact his behavior was having on the organization and the need for him to take responsibility. This is leading with emotional intelligence.

Recommended Reading:

Emotional Self-Control: A Primer

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now:

Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability,  Achievement Orientation, and Positive Outlook.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series!

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Culture Development: How to Cultivate People for Organizational Success

culture development

 

I love the cartoon in which a stalwart CEO sitting behind a desk says to his employee “I want a coherent new corporate culture that will take us into the third millennium and I want it by this afternoon.”

Indeed, culture is at the heart of competitive advantage, particularly when it comes to sustaining high performance. Yet, while business leaders recognize culture’s crucial role, research indicates that fewer than 10% of companies succeed in building a winning culture. 

Notably, there is often a blind spot when it comes to culture development.  Simply stated, it is nearly impossible to develop culture without developing ourselves, the people who make up the organizational culture. 

For precisely this reason, the new book, Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Culture is provocative reading.  In the book, Harvard researchers, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, deconstruct the cultural assumptions, norms, and behaviors of three highly successful companies who have charted a new and disruptive path to organizational success. Bridgewater, Next Jump, and Decurion provide examples of positive deviance when it comes to people and culture development.

These organizations see culture development as integral to their business success. Everyone, not just leaders or high potentials, in these organizations is engaged in personal developmental practices, such as minding the gaps between where they are currently and where they aim to be relative to any number of Emotional Intelligence Competencies, including Emotional Self-Control.

Kegan and Lahey are co-founders of Minds at Work, which helps individuals, teams, and organizations make personal and collective change. We spoke with a member of the Minds at Work leadership team, Co-Director,  Deborah Helsing. She shared the following illuminating stories of deliberately developmental organizations (DDO’s) and how they embed Emotional Intelligence skill building into their organizational cultures:

Bridgewater

At Bridgewater, an institutional fund management company, people talk openly and honestly about the pain that can be triggered by really looking at our own internal barriers and the root causes for why things happen at work. They refer to an equation to remind themselves and each other why they do this every day:  Pain + Reflection = Progress.

They even have an app that is standard issue on their company-provided iPads, “the Pain Button.”  This tool allows employees to record and share experiences of negative emotions at work””especially times when one’s ego defenses are activated by specific interactions with others. Open sharing of these experiences then triggers follow-up conversations among the parties as they seek to explore the truth of the situation and identify what individuals might do to directly address the underlying personal causes. This practice is aimed at helping people “get to the other side,” a Bridgewater term for working through ego defenses, neutralizing the sting of having your mindset questioned, and coming to actively manage forms of emotional self-protection that will otherwise be barriers to personal growth. 

Next Jump

Next Jump, an e-commerce company, upholds the belief system behind its culture with the equation: Better Me + Better You = Better US. By broadening the notion of a “learning organization,” Everyone Culture makes the case that any workplace can be a site of deep personal development (especially Emotional Intelligence).

The onboarding process at Next Jump gives new employees a very intense introduction to the organizational culture. Because that culture differs so markedly from that of other organizations, Next Jump has found that helping people adapt as soon as they start work is the easiest time to accelerate their growth. 

For their first three weeks, all new employees including those who come with years of experience and success, and who are moving into senior leadership positions attend what Next Jump calls “Personal Leadership Boot Camp,” or PLBC for short.  The program starts with participants learning to identify their character weaknesses, what Next Jump calls their “backhands.” The metaphor comes from tennis.  Everyone has strengths (our forehand), but in order to be a great tennis player, you cannot  rely solely on your forehand.  You must also work on your backhand, the areas where you feel less comfortable, less natural, or less skillful.

Another practice at Next Jump is The Situational Workshop (SW), which leaders of the company believe is among the most effective things they do.  Every week for two hours, five people meet: two different pairs of Talking Partners come together with a more experienced colleague acting as a mentor-coach. Charlie Kim, founder of Next Jump, identifies what he thinks makes this kind of weekly workshop structure powerful:

At this weekly workshop, each of the four of you describe some challenge you’ve met at work in the week and what you’ve done to meet it, or not. You might not be sure if how you handled the situation was optimal or not. The mentor-coach is there to encourage you to reach a higher level of self-awareness, so that you might identify new options for responding to similar future challenges and so avoid reacting in the same old way…. Over time, you see people growing immensely from these weekly sessions. 

As Charlie explains about the SW’s purpose, the focus is “on the training of judgment, rather than on technical training.” As a result, the discourse and pace of a SW can be a bit surprising to a first-time observer. People are identifying “problems of practice,” snags they run into, but the coach’s response is rarely direct problem-solving. All Next Jump’s practices are geared to help people change from the inside out. Solving problems too quickly, without the benefit of uncovering underlying assumptions means You won’t change. If you don’t change, you are most likely going to be reproducing new versions of the same problem you think you’ve already solved.

What it takes

Many workplaces attempt to foster the growth of their employees, but few are deliberately organized to put employee growth at the very center of their mission like these organizations do. Kegan and Lahey describe three dimensions of DDO’s that reinforce one another. Edge, home, and groove. These refer to taking risks in working on a skill that involves self-management (edge), for example, while having the benefit of trustworthy communities (home) and regular practices and routines to establish new habits (groove). These three dimensions’ closely mirror Boyatzis’ Intentional Change Theory, which emphasizes the importance of experimentation and practice within a safe community.

The takeaway here is that wherever you are in your work life you can begin to make meaningful progress toward your own development. For example, find a peer who has a similar intention to strengthen the Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control competencies. Be willing to be vulnerable with one another about the real challenges inherent in change, and look at our own shadows. Commit to weekly or bi-weekly check-ins to build the muscles of EI over time. This small yet powerful step can yield profound results.

If you are a manager or supervisor, you could create your own DDO team. Make time in team meetings to engage in EI skill building. Foster a team culture of non-judgement and psychological safety allowing people to bring their full selves, including growing edges out into the open within the team. Provide meaningful, positive feedback and celebrate small increments of change.

Recommended reading:

Developing Emotional Intelligence competencies is one of the best ways to facilitate culture development in your organization.

Our new series of primers was created by bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman, along with fellow thought leaders in EI, research, and leadership development.

You can find the first 3 in the series available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, and Adaptability.