How to Develop Emotional Intelligence

by:Abhijit Bhaduri

Dr Annie McKee is Senior Fellow and Director, Penn CLO Executive Doctoral Programme. She is a bestselling business book author and advisor to top leaders. Her book “Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion” is found on many a leader’s bookshelf.

Dr McKee’s and her colleagues studies on 300 leaders from 15 companies show that careers get derailed due to deficits in 3 areas: difficulty in handling change, not being able to work well in a team and poor personal relations. 70% of all change initiatives do not succeed due to people issues—inability to lead, ineffective teams, etc.

Research shows that, IQ determines what job you can get and hold, while EI predicts how well you will do in that career – whether you have the motivation and social abilities to be a star performer or leader. Successful people have higher self-awareness and know what will motivate or demotivate them. They also are able to avoid bursts of emotions. Better social awareness makes them more tuned to the political undercurrents in an organization.

Abhijit: What is emotional intelligence? Is it the same as someone having greater empathy? 

Annie McKee: Emotional Intelligence (EI) is an umbrella term that encompasses competencies related to self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Empathy is a social awareness competency. But what is empathy? Simply put, it is the ability to accurately read and understand the needs, motivations, beliefs and desires of others.  Clearly, in today’s multi-cultural organizations, this skill is a must-have for success at all levels.


Abhijit:  Are people with greater EI more successful?

Annie McKee: “Great leaders move people.” People who have developed EI are able to touch people’s hearts and minds. They inspire others powerfully and positively while engaging them in the quest for shared goals. But, EI isn’t just about individual behavior–it’s about creating resonance in the team or organizational climate. Research tells us that when the climate is marked by hope, enthusiasm and appropriate challenges, results soar. New sales managers who scored high on a test of optimism sold 37% more in their first two years than pessimists.

Abhijit:  The popular belief is that leaders need to take decisions by thinking through logic. When we add emotions to the mix, can we still be effective?

Annie McKee: Human beings are amazingly complex creatures—as are the environments in which we live and work. The problems we face in our world today are huge Therefore, it seems unwise to us to relegate decision making to only one aspect of our humanity—our logical minds. However magnificent our cognitive capabilities, there are other “intelligences” that can help us gather, filter and use data to make decisions. Emotions, for example, are often extremely helpful. Case in point: When the brain’s hemispheres have been surgically separated, interrupting the flow of emotional impulses, people have trouble making even the simplest decisions, such as what color clothing to wear.  Intuition improves decision making. Contrary to popular thinking, intuition isn’t magical—it is a complex process that brings knowledge, experience, cognition and emotion together to help us understand new problems.

Abhijit: What are early signs we can see in people who have greater EI?

Annie McKee: People whose EI competencies are finely honed can be easily spotted.  First, you can literally feel that they care about you and others. They understand that emotions are contagious and they deliberately share their inner feelings in a way that is supportive and compassionate.  This is true even when the emotions they feel the need to share are not particularly positive (e.g. anger, which, as with all emotions, has its place occasionally). That’s because being emotionally intelligent doesn’t always mean being nice.  Emotionally intelligent people use their own and others’ emotions in the service of strengthening relationships.

Second, emotionally intelligent leaders are curious and interested in people. They listen beyond people’s words for facts, feelings, motivations, hopes and dreams.  And they are willing to act on what they discover about people to help individuals and groups achieve goals and realize dreams. Finally, emotionally intelligent leaders are strong without being overbearing, positive and caring without being silly or sappy.

Abhijit: How can we develop these competencies?

Annie McKee: EI competencies are complicated. That’s because they include aspects of deep-seated beliefs, experiences, emotional and other memories, culture, gender and habits that have developed over a person’s entire lifetime. Take emotional self management, for example. This competency has a cultural component that is linked to things like what emotions can be expressed, with whom, when and how. Similarly, self-management has a gender component (e.g., how men and women manage their emotions tends to be different).

Given this complexity, how, then, can people learn and develop EI? The answer is that it starts with a dream—a very personal dream. Say you want to develop emotional self-management. You focus your thinking on the unpleasant outbursts you tend to have when stressed. You start to justify why you blow up, how fruitless it would be to change, and the like. You’re done before you start. If, on the other hand, you imagine a key relationship and what it will be like in the future—happier, less volatile and the like, you become inspired and energized. You’re ready to get down to the hard work of change.

Most people fail to develop complex competencies because they take the opposite approach—they start with what today looks like. This is depressing and demoralizing and people tend to give up before they change.

Abhijit: Do women have “better” EI than men?

Annie McKee: People often say things like “Empathy comes naturally to women.” Or, “Women are just better at building relationships than men.” It is in part true that there are some competencies that women tend to learn earlier and more deliberately in life (e.g. empathy) and some where this is true for men (e.g. emotional self-management). However, when it comes to leadership, there are no measurable differences between women’s and men’s EI. Men do, however, get more credit for demonstrating EI than women do.


Read: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters More Than IQ

Join me on Twitter @abhijitbhaduri

First published in my Times of India blog


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Is Stress the New Drug?

Ah, a relaxing night at home after a long day at work – running 75 mph at the office, putting out fires, deeming yourself a “Task Master.” Now would be the perfect opportunity to sit and think of absolutely nothing. Nothing? And then it hits…

But isn’t there laundry to be done…

dishes to be put away…

house to clean…

emails to be read…

My brain craves the busyness. Where can I get my next fix? Stress feels like a drug, and I think I may be addicted. I keep trying to pile more and more on my plate…why?!

There are a multitude of magazine articles about stress, how to beat stress, what causes stress, etc. There’s a good reason for that…women have been adding more and more responsibilities to their laundry (yes, pun intended) list of to-dos. Why is that? According to Valerie Burton it’s because “busyness is often based in fear—that you won’t keep up, of what others will think, of failure.” And when you feel like a failure, you continually pile on more “stuff” to do in order to feel important. Then people need you, right? While that may be true, you need you, too. But don’t just add “you” onto your already existing busy schedule—make a change; otherwise you run the risk of burning out. If you’re burnt out you’re no good to yourself, or anyone for that matter.

So what can you do?

Give yourself a break. Put everything into perspective. Yes, the dishes need to be done; yes, the laundry is piling up, but can it wait one more day, one more hour? Your health is much more important. Taking the time to really unwind is (and should be, needs to be) priority. After all, what good is a pissed off, upset, over sensitive, [insert your usual emotion here] you?

Here are some things to try when you’re feeling like you may overdose on stress:

  1. 20 minutes per day for mindful meditation.  You can also try taking moments of mindfulness per Annie McKee’s suggestion.
  2. Listen for the wake-up calls! Sometimes you’re not going to be able to calm yourself down and you may just be stuck in sacrifice syndrome.  It happens, you’re human! Listen to your friends and family when they say you are too busy and you looked stress. You may not want to hear it, but you need to hear it. Your body will give you signs too and since you only get one of them, take care of it.
  3. Keep track of your time so you can properly assess whether or not time is the issue. Don’t tell yourself you’re behind schedule and busy unless you have a realistic understanding of what your schedule really entails. (a.k.a. keep yourself in check.)
  4. Once you know your schedule, add “worry” to it. I know that seems crazy, but according to a journal article in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, exposing yourself to worry is actually beneficial. Why not face your fear? It works for people who are scared of heights.
  5. This last one works well for me, but be aware of procrastination. Watch a mindless TV show. It’s a counter-productive tool, but hey, sometimes we just need to veg.
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What I Learned About Organizational Culture at Summer Camp

By: Bill Palmer

Often, individuals in my clients organizations tell me feel that they are prisoners or hostages of their corporate culture.  My experience at summer camp tells me that we can instead be architects of culture. And yet, even the best architects may not design out a cultural shadow side.

Summer camp was, for me, after an initial bout of tearful homesickness, a wonderful place I went from the age of nine until fifteen.  Berkshire Hills Camp (which no longer exists), tucked away in the northwest corner of Connecticut on the shores of one of the Twin Lakes, was distinctive for its inclusive, warm and supportive culture.

Sports were important, but kids who weren’t good athletes were accepted and appreciated for other attributes.  Brawn was appreciated, but so were brains.  People were not, for the most part, teased or humiliated with regard to their physical appearance.  Appropriate affection among campers and counselors was common.  Strong discipline and order were enforced, but with a velvety  and compassionate touch. Values and ethics were taught and observed, but not to the point of orthodoxy or rigidity.  In many ways, Berkshire Hills Camp was an ideal experience for children of the 1950s and 1960s who attended.

Even today, Berkshire Hills Camp alumni remember the experience not only fondly but almost reverentially.  “Summer camp saved my life’ said one former camper I interviewed.  “It was an emotional oasis in the desert of the dysfunctional family I grew up in,” he added.  The Facebook page created by former campers is awash with fond recollections based on their belief that the camp’s culture was rich, inclusive, warm, loving, fair, fun and exciting.

As a fellow alumnus of BHC, I agreed with their perception. .  As an Executive Coach  and OD consultant, I too often hear clients speak of their organization’s culture with disgust, resentment and resignation to the status quo.

Was BHC truly a warm, loving, inclusive and high-functioning culture, or is this nostalgia?

If it was as described, why?

 I asked dozens of former campers to explain why they thought the camp had such a culture.  Here’s a sampling of their responses:

“For me it was like an alternate universe. The moment I got on that bus I entered a secret world with special people that were a part of my sweet summers.”

 “There were fabulous athletes, not so great athletes, singers, dancers, swimmers. Some of us participated in everything, and some just observed. We didn’t look at others weaknesses, but were encouraged to play on everyone’s strengths.”

 “It worked because it felt like family. That feeling started at the top and we all felt the love. I remember once being treated cruelly… I ended up crying {in one of the counselor’s} cabin with her consoling me. There was a great deal of nurturing.”

The Head Counselor during the time I was there was known as “Uncle George.” He played a key role in molding and maintaining the camp culture, as did the camp’s owner, known as “Aunt Elsie.”

The consensus answer to the first question—was it really that way? —was yes. When prodded to consider the idea that their recall of the camp might have been smoothed by time and mismanaged by memory, former campers felt strongly that the place was special, even magical.  While conceding it was not Paradise, many former campers recalled conceptualizing as children that this was an unusual and worthy environment.

The answer to the question “why” was harder to tease out.  There was something of the “fish in water” dynamic here:   The fish knows the water so well that it cannot distinguish it from the fabric of its experience.  (At least that’s the story some of us make up about fish).  In a sense, fellow BHC alumni could tell me about the temperature of the water, its degree of clarity, whether the current went this way or that, but had very little to say about why things were the way they were.

The culture was much as they remember it.  Here’s why:

A positive culture interdepends upon a variety of factors working together and simultaneously.  Any of the cultural traits listed below would not work as well in the absence of any of the others.

Wise Leadership–Uncle Georgewas a wise and thoughtful man unafraid to use his theatrical skills and sense to command respect and instill discipline. He had a booming voice, and he yelled a lot. I asked him recently how much of the yelling was theatrics and how much of it reflected real anger.  “It was 99% theatrical,” said George.  (George has a background in theater and acting, as well as education).  So, one key to the culture was a leader who understood his real and symbolic authority and used them both judiciously.  With Uncle George, punishment was administered firmly and with compassion  (“I coached the counselors to put their arm around a kid when they were disciplining him or her”). And, to win Uncle George’s praise was meaningful.

The wise and compassionate exercise of both formal and informal authority and leadership is requisite.  Uncle George was forceful and kind, strict and compassionate.  He required that counselors manage camper behavior in accordance with these values, and counselors cascaded these values to opinion leading and influential campers.

A Payoff for Cooperative Behavior–Campers lived together in very basic bunks, in very close quarters, and there was much to be gained by getting along.  Counselors lived in bunks with campers and were not much older than they—some were as young as 16 and not many were older than 21.  There was a cadre of adult counselors, in their 40s and 50s who mentored and monitored camp counselors and camperswho were known as “Aunts” and Uncles.”  The titles communicated authority as well as a familial tone.  Campers who were opinion leaders or known to be influential with other campers were coached by their counselors to be inclusive, and to use their informal authority to help counselors manage behavior.

Shared Core values–BHC had a spiritual/religious basis.  There was no requirement that a camper be Jewish, and as the years went by, more and more non-Jewish campers attended.  The camp’s observance of Jewish meal time and Sabbath rituals gave a sort of spiritual structure to the culture.  This was important not because it was Jewish, but because it provided a general framework of values and behaviors.

A Safe and Variable but Not Capricious Environment–Days were programmed with activities on a timed basis, and there was a set schedule for breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc. There were also rest periods and “free play.”  The predictability of the schedule was broken up by “special days” on which the schedule was ditched in favor of a special event or activity that included the whole camp.  So, life was predictable but not boring.  There were things to enjoy in the moment as well as things to look forward to.  This was great because predictability and playcan feel as though the environment and schedule that never changes are soul draining.  The environment and schedule that constantly and capriciously change can be spirit-killers in camps and in organizations.

The Shadow Side—The owner of the camp, Aunt Elsie, was an overweight woman who ran not only the business of the camp but also the camp kitchen, seven days a week.  Her physical appearance was the subject of much verbal abuse.  Aunt Elsie had the misfortune to share a first name with the symbol of the Borden Milk Company, Elsie the Cow.   So, behind her back she was referred to as “The Moo.” If she were nearby and campers thought they could do it without being identified, they would make the lowing sound of a cow.  At meals, on occasion, a camp song that had been rewritten to include the phrase “the big fat moo” was sung by campers and counselors alike.  There is no way Aunt Elsie could have avoided hearing this.  And it must have hurt.

Almost all of the campers I contacted said that either this never actually took place, or if it did they were unaware.  A few recalled that it happened and regretted it.  To my knowledge, Aunt Elsie never mentioned the abuse to campers and no campers were ever disciplined or punished for it.  Former campers I interviewed could not recall anyone being disciplined or punished for such behavior, nor could they recall being counseled to eliminate such behavior.  In effect, the camp permitted this behavior by turning a blind eye to it.

The camp’s wonderful culture was its strength and also its weakness.  The authority figures were benevolent and wise, for most part.  So, perhaps, verbally abusing Aunt Elsie was a kind of safety valve for resentment of authority and a safe target for   a group of children and adolescents who were successfully forbidden from verbally abusing their peers.   It is the rare system that has fully integrated its alienated pieces, and this proves true in the case of BHC.

No culture, system, group or individual is exempt from its shadow side.  The Berkshire Hills Camp culture architects were very, very good at what they did.  The fact of a shadow side in their work represents not failure on their part but a challenge call to all who believe that we can shape our culture and our organizations.

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Is Emotional Intelligence Training the Answer for Bullies and the Bullied?

A recent article appeared in the Huffington Post about a teenage girl who was being bullied because of the size of her ears. For many years she was called “Dumbo” by classmates.   And after years of this abuse, her mother reached out to Little Baby Face Foundation, an organization that grants wishes to children for corrective surgery at no cost for those born with facial deformities.  The foundation granted the teenage girl’s wish to have corrective surgery to pin her ears back.  By this time, the girl’s self-confidence was very low, and everyone involved believed that fixing her ears—as well as her nose and chin—would be the answer.

I understand what her mother, the foundation and the doctors were trying to accomplish, but I have to wonder—was it necessary?  Even before her surgery, she was by no stretch of the imagination an ugly child (as no child is), and in this particular case, she had much time to grow into her features.  It seems like an extreme measure and an absurd solution for bullying.  What lesson did the bullies learn? That they were right to be cruel to her until she “fixed” herself? What lesson did this teach her? That she was truly flawed?  Wasn’t there a better way to handle this situation? The Japanese language offers a famous expression that would seem to crystallize the philosophy societies hold that perpetuate bullying:

The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.


This is essentially what happened to the girl who decided she had no choice other than to surgically “recreate” herself if she was going to survive the bullying. The lesson she learned is that she should do whatever it takes not to stick out—not to be different.

Bullying has always been an issue, and it’s even worse today as kids have new ways to torment one another. Social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, now allow people to engage in “cyberbullying”.  And, as the sad story above shows, kids are taking extreme measures to escape all kinds of bullying.  Some kids go further than plastic surgery to try to “fix” themselves: they hurt themselves or others, even going so far as kill the bully, or kill themselves.

Suicide rates among kids and teens are on the rise across the globe.  In fact, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among young people in the US, resulting in about 4400 deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Bullying is not the reason for all of these suicides, of course, but there has been an overwhelming number of recent stories that directly point to suicide as a result of being bullied. To name a few: a 7yr old boy in Detroit hung himself at home which his mother believes was in part due to him being bullied at school; Tyler Clementi, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate at Rutgers University filmed him via webcam having a relationship with another man and tweeted about it; Phoebe Prince, age 15, was dubbed the “new girl” after moving from Ireland to a school in Massachusetts and was mercilessly tormented by classmates in school and via social networks.

People are naturally and deeply empathic, but often we don’t act on this ability. Despite what we believe about our bloodthirsty nature, the vast majority of people—especially children—care about one another.  Sometimes, though, kids fall into the habit of bullying for many reasons.  Bullying at home, peer pressure, attention seeking, and low self-esteem are just a few. So what can we do to stop bullying?  Taking care of these deep reasons for bullying, through EI training, just might help. Through developing skills in self-awareness, self-management, awareness of others, and relationship management, kids can become more confident in themselves and more empathetic towards others.

A study featured in the Journal of American Science showed the positive effects of EI training in second year high school female students.  The study, which was conducted at a school in Tehran, Iran, involved 2 groups (30 students in each group) who attended a 90 minute training session on EI skills.  The objective of the study was to evaluate the effect of EI training on reducing the aggression of second year female students.  The overall result was that the training significantly reduced aggression among the students receiving the training.

Back to bullying: by reducing aggression in students, kids may feel less desire to act out aggressively through bullying others.  And EI training can help both bullies and their victims get in touch with who they are in a positive way, helping them to build confidence and the inner strength to stand up to this kind of aggression. Thus Emotional Intelligence training shows promise not only for the kids who become bullies, but also to those being bullied.

By developing EI competencies related to self-awareness, self-management and empathy, kids can learn how to manage their emotions and act less impulsively.  Through social management and relationship management, they can learn to take the proper steps to become aware of their behaviors, better understand why somebody would act as they do, appreciate why they may feel the way they do, and have compassion for the person(s).  This gives children the time to think about their next actions; making it especially important to help them realize that drastic solutions, such as plastic surgery and suicide, are not the best solutions.

EI training will not only benefit the children, but also the school systems and parents.  Schools bear the expense of bullying already in terms of expensive security measures, underperformance, and lawsuits. The investment in prevention, rather than punishment, could help to reduce many of these costs.  EI training can also create a safer environment which allows kids to focus more on learning and less on how they will be treated by their peers.  Parents benefit when their child has high self-esteem, can create healthy relationships, and can work towards creating a successful life full of happiness, value, and confidence.

Children are our future—that is not just a cliché.  Good grades aren’t all that is important for children to learn. Empathy, self-awareness, and relationship-building skills are critical to a meaningful life—physically, mentally and emotionally. We must keep our children safe by teaching them and helping them grow into the best people they can be and these skills can and need to be learned at home as well as at school.

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Balance Yourself, Not Work and Life

Featured in the Huffingpost on February 19, 2012

I love my work. I mean I really LOVE my work. Do you? Are you creative and compelled to excel? Do you find happiness in relationships with your work-friends and colleagues? Do you like being part of something bigger than yourself? Me too. Work is fun and meaningful and I am completely dedicated to writing, leading my team and advising leaders whom I respect.

And then there’s life — so much more important than work. It’s true, right? Work doesn’t even run a close second to the beautiful little children in your life, or even the teenagers who get on your last nerve. Work pales in comparison to your love for your partner or relationships with family and friends. I even include my dogs and cats in the more-important-than-work list. I love Tula, Keiki, Pika, Tiko and Tiger (also known as Mikey). And then there’s spirituality, learning, dedication to making our world a better place — all these make life worth living.

Some of us are lucky — we love our work and we have full, rewarding lives. It’s a wonderful thing. But we are busy. No breaks, no boundaries — texts from kids, tweets pouring in, emails all night… It never stops. Most of us have no idea how to manage it all.

There is no such thing as work-life balance. But we keep trying to live up to that impossible standard until finally we lose it. Or I should say, we lose ourselves.

We lose ourselves to the “sacrifice syndrome” — a condition that is more than burnout. It’s a way of life. Maybe it’s familiar: You’ve been behaving in ways that don’t fit with who you are. You snap at loved ones, make bad decisions, rarely smile, miss out on life. Or you move at the speed of light like super-man-woman-mom-dad. Maybe you take pride in your super-humanness, but deep down you know you’re in trouble. You self-medicate: two 16-ounce cups of coffee? Really? How many martinis or glasses of wine? Stress-eating? You are completely worn out, you feel trapped and you see no way out.

The sacrifice syndrome doesn’t strike out of the blue. It starts with an insidious form of chronic, intense stress that comes along with lots of responsibilities. We call it “power stress.” Leaders are especially susceptible because of the 24-7 nature of our jobs, too many toxic work environments, unhealthy competition and out-of-control achievement drives. This kind of stress is brutal.

Stress arouses the sympathetic nervous system and triggers the release of powerful substances like epinephrine, norepinephrine and corticosteroids.[1] Blood pressure goes up and large muscles prepare for movement or battle.[2] The immune system is compromised and the brain shuts down non-essential neural circuits, so we don’t take in as much information.[3][4] We become less creative and old habits of thinking prevail. All of this has direct impact on our performance. We feel anxious, nervous or even depressed. This has direct impact on, well, everything.

Stress isn’t all bad — a certain dose contributes to focus, excitement and readiness for hard work and play. But we’re not wired to deal with “power stress” and when we are bombarded day in and day out for years, stress is dangerous.

It’s an epidemic. A Google search on stress resulted in 73,000 new or updated websites containing news articles, blogs magazines, programs or advice on stress in life. The Grant Thornton International Business Report survey of business leaders found that the net increase in work-related stress increased 28 percent globally in 2011 (less than 2010′s 45 percent increase, but still). A research study picked up in several South African news outlets reported a loss of R3bn — or more than $300 million, U.S. — due to the effects of stress on workers. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported that for the first time in the organization’s history, stress was the most common cause of employee absence.

This epidemic won’t go away until we learn how to interrupt the sacrifice syndrome. Our companies can’t do it for us, neither can doctors, counselors or loved ones. We need to heal, and healing starts with learning how to balance sacrifice with renewal.

Managing the “cycle of sacrifice and renewal” begins with prioritizing well-being. You can start by cultivating practices that allow you to re-engage with yourself, focus optimistically on the future and connect compassionately with other people. You can start with mindfulness — tuning in to yourself, your environment and others.

Mindfulness is the first step toward renewal. And no, you don’t have to meditate for two hours a day, or attend a yoga class before work (nice, but impossible). You can start small. Find a few minutes every day — and I do mean every day — to be quiet, to breathe, to take in nature. Breathe and focus on gratitude, love and hope.

Like mindfulness, hope is a powerful antidote to stress. A vision of a better future, optimism and the belief we can make it happen helps to calm our nervous system. Think about your dreams. Help someone else achieve theirs. Pick up trash on the way to work. Talk to a child about what he or she wants to be. Actions like these, done mindfully and often will make a difference.

These actions tap into hope and your desire to help others. You can renew yourself by slowing down long enough to get in touch with your most primal and powerful nature — your concern for others and your desire to connect with them and lend a hand. That’s compassion. It’s as simple as asking someone how they are in the morning and waiting long enough to hear the answer. Find someone to mentor, and give them your time. Stop managing performance and start coaching.

Learning to live mindfully and to focus on hope and compassion will help you to ward off stress and balance yourself. It might not be easy, at first, because it is truly a new way to live. You’ll need to change old habits and resist the urge to pursue an impossible goal — work-life balance.

Remember — there really is no way to balance all that we do, until and unless we balance ourselves. You’ll find yourself having more energy, your relationships will be stronger and you will be happier.


[1] Dickerson, S. S. and M. E. Kemeny (2004). “Acute Stressors and Cortisol Responses: A Theoretical Integration and Synthesis of Laboratory Research.” Psychological Bulletin 130(3): 355-391. [link]

[2] Roozendaal, B., B. S. McEwen, et al. (2009). “Stress, memory and the amygdala.” Nat Rev Neurosci 10(6): 423-433. [link]

[3] Segerstrom, S. C. and G. E. Miller (2004). “Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry.” Psychological Bulletin 130(4): 601-630. [link]

[4] Roozendaal, B., B. S. McEwen, et al. (2009). “Stress, memory and the amygdala.” Nat Rev Neurosci 10(6): 423-433. [link]


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What Real Leadership Looks Like Today–My Parents, The Bible and Gay Marriage

This was written by an executive at a company with whom Teleos works. It exmplifies leadership in today’s world, both the story of Rhonda’s parents, and the courage it takes for her and her family to go public with this personal journey for civil rights for all people.

By Rhonda Medina

My mom and dad were born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1937. They were born into the typical African American family of that day. Their parents were unskilled workers who were devoted to Jesus and their children. They withstood the daily indignities of segregation and took their cues, for everything in life, from the Bible and from the charismatic preachers whose churches populated every street corner of the inner city the way that liquor stores seem to today.  Their religion was rather rigid – a strict interpretation of the Bible that dictated that only men could be ministers, women could not wear pants to church and homosexuals were an abomination. Through all of this they thought: “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”

By the time I came along, it was the 1960s and the world had changed. My parents had moved from the cocoon of the midwest and the constraints of their community. They must have found it all very confusing because they were civil rights activists and, as such, found themselves in the foxholes with people very foreign to them. In this new world, some whites linked arms with them in brotherhood; some women dared to step out in front of men; and some boys kissed other boys. Through all of this, my parents clutched their Bibles and thought: “As long as they keep it in the closet and don’t force it on us, we’re ok.”

In their later years, they would see a nephew and a niece grow up. Never having the proper boyfriend or girlfriend and acting just a bit different. The niece got a buzz cut; the nephew moved to California with his “friends”. Nothing was said. There were whispers in the house when the nephew returned to Indiana after several years in California. He was skinny and he was sick. It was 1992 and my aunt nursed him until he died. And no one talked about what had happened to take this once strapping young boy. And through it all, my parents kept praying to Jesus and said: “God doesn’t make mistakes. To each his own.”

The world kept changing and my parents got older. One summer they visited Provincetown because they couldn’t get a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. They didn’t know anything about it and they must have been a sight: two old Black people holding hands and looking for the blue plate special. But the locals loved my fiesty mom and my dad called me and said “Everyone is so friendly here, there are rainbows everywhere!” Indiana just didn’t get it. Another year, a group of my friends visited from New York and mom seemed to barely notice that there were no girls to sit with the group of boys by the pool but she sheepishly told me “I like your friends”. Later reports of kids getting bullied and celebrities coming out dominated the news and when a group of ministers grabbed the national spotlight and stood up for DOMA, my parents said: “They should get back to preaching and mind their own business!”

Yesterday our President made the most important moral stand of his term and the first thought of many was how would the conservative Black church react – the same church that was so easily manipulated during the Prop 8 debate. Would this erode his support with the powerful and important Black ministers? Our President’s comments were met with elation and venom by different segments of the population. As we discussed the events of the day, my husband wondered how my dad, the old deacon, would feel. We soon got our answer. This morning my mom came to our house, as she has every weekday for the past 15 years, to take care of our children while my husband and I work in the city but something was different. Mom was ebullient as she chattered on the phone with my dad. Soon it became clear that their opinions may have changed over the years but their faith had not. They were still holding onto their Bibles as they said, without qualification: “How bout our President! We are so proud of him!”

My parents believe in equality for all people. Not just equality in the areas that they don’t care about but equality in areas that may make them a little uncomfortable. My parents did not evolve overnight, it came in small steps over time; fueled by people they met and struggles they shared. They did not change because one of their daughters came out – we are both married to men who are rivaled in their magnificence only by our dad – but their willingness to change has made it safe if any of our children want to come out. My parents no longer want the LGBT community to keep quiet but they want them to live out loud. They are 75 and they are my heroes because they live their Christianity with compassion and authenticity.

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Musings from an Employed “Emerging Adult”

There used to be 4 life stages. Now there are 6… at least according to New York Times columnist, David Brooks. In 2007, during my junior year of college, the article, The Odyssey Years, came out.

The article’s theory on life stages struck me as interesting at the time, but now, five years later, it is starting to fully make sense; I’m now immersed in the workforce and have spent a few years navigating post-college life and watching my peers do the same.

In the article, Brooks asserts that where the human life span used to be comprised of four segments: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age, the average Western human now goes through 6 stages of life: childhood adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, late adulthood, and old age. The third life stage he mentions, Odyssey, is gradually becoming more widely recognized as a standard rite of passage. Also dubbed, “Emerging Adulthood,”, it generally begins with entrance to college (or the age 18) and ends in the early to mid-thirties.

From what I’ve read, and personally observed as a 26-year-old passing through Odyssey, there seems to be 4 major things that define this life stage:

-Delayed marriage and child bearing


-Financial Instability

-Deferred commitment to a career or organization

While the effects this new phenomenon is having on society have been acutely observed by many social commentators, what has not be so thoroughly explored are the effects this life stage is having and will have on organizations. One obvious implication is that people my age entering the workforce generally have no intention of committing more than several years to their first post college employers.

And, who can blame them?

Most of my peers can’t conceive of committing to a partner or city residence any time soon, so how could they possibly dig their feet in and limit themselves to climb only one organizational ladder?

So, the challenge then falls to top executives and business owners as to how to view these post-adolescent, pre-adult 20-somethings drifting through their organizations.How do organizations capitalize on young professionals today so that they glean the most value from emerging adults while not ending up behind from lost time and money in the ever revolving door of young people looking for a different adventure or opportunity? And, how do they plan for what their organizations will look like in 10-15 years when their aren’t 30- 40 year old employees with 5 plus years of in house experience under their belt to step into middle management positions?

Despite these obstacles, in some ways, Emerging Adulthood might be happening at a most optimal time, as it is evolving in tandem with a crippled economy full of businesses that cannot offer lucrative salaries and job security. Perhaps, there is a clever way for both parties to get what they want without either having to sacrifice what they are not poised to offer.

The following are some insights into the psyche of Emerging Adults and ideas for how to view and leverage this population.

1. Tap Emerging Adults for contributions that will last beyond their shelf life at your company. Allow young professionals to openly participate in brainstorming sessions and encourage them to share ideas they may have for the company. You won’t lose anything and you may walk away with some viable suggestions. Plus, Millennials, who currently make up the Odyssey population, LOVE feeling like they are being valued for their intellectual capital.

2. Use the Odyssey population at your workplace to share their social media knowledge and skills up the organization. Higher level employees may have missed on boarding with this trend, but most of your 20-something employees will be fluent on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc., and will be able to inform others and suggest how it could be used to benefit your company.

3. View your entry level employees as future good will ambassadors and network connections for your company. Often, Emerging Adults feel bad leaving a company that has invested time and money into them. So if they have had a good experience, they will talk highly of your company and be happy to connect you to one or several of the other organizations they will likely cycle through in the future.

In short, the best way to manage this new kind of employee is to value what they know; it’s likely different than what their bosses know and could pay off in many ways down the line. Invest your care and concern in them while they’re with you because likely, they’ll go on to do bigger and bigger things,so  pay if forward!

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Three Things New Leaders Must Remember

It’s nearly spring in the U.S., and the nation’s professional baseball teams are already busy preparing for the season to start. It’s a time of relaxed joy and performance pressure for them – an interesting paradox. I always wonder which new player will ascend to a leadership role on the team.

There’s a similar paradox in business. Promotion from a functional role to a leadership role is viewed as an achievement and a departure to strange unknown world.

Why don’t all new, eager leaders succeed? A quick Google search for “reasons managers fail” returned 54,800,000 links to articles, books, videos, blogs, slide shows, podcasts, and so on.

However, the advice is all over the map, ranging from prescriptive (e.g., “meet with your people regularly”) to esoteric (e.g., “embody your vision”), and it is often contradictory, confusing, or just plain unhelpful. I can imagine the anxiety of a new leader looking for advice only to find blog after blog and article after article listing the five, eight, ten, or even TWENTY reasons managers fail.

Time out! Something seems very wrong viewing the world of leadership in this way. Imagine if we sent our kids to little league baseball practice having told them all the reasons preventing young baseball players from making it in the major leagues. That would be cruel, counterproductive, and a huge waste of energy, right?

Let’s focus on the positive and then a few basics. First, keep in mind why you as a new leader would read this blog – because you’re a new leader! You got the job! Clearly, you’re already quite good at what you do, and others have recognized it.  So, focus on the joyful achievement of this opportunity. Yes, it will be exhausting, and it can also be personally rewarding.

Now, a few basics you must remember before you start searching Google for your plan:

1. Your Voice Is Louder

When I became president of a small business many years ago, I noticed that each time the team got together to celebrate someone’s birthday, there would be NO singing. It was weird, but I thought it was how the culture evolved. After about a year, I asked our office manager if we were going to sing at the next party. “No!” she said. “You said you don’t like it when people sing to you.” She had implemented a no-singing rule for our office celebrations and had been reminding people all along that, “Paul doesn’t like it when we sing.” Wow! I didn’t even remember saying that, and I couldn’t believe she took it so seriously!

When you move from a functional role to a leadership role, you will get more attention. Mostly, that’s good. You want attention so people know to look to you for direction. However, because of the concept of power dynamics, you’re role as leader means what you say has much more impact than you realize. Just remember, your suggestion will sound like a directive, and one off-hand comment can become policy.  Be aware that what you say has significant impact.

2. You’re Bigger than Yourself

Prior to taking the helm of a non-profit organization, I had been harboring some resentment about my salary. However, when I took the top role, I became aware of the financial reality of the organization – and the salaries of everyone in the company. What a wake up call that was! I could no longer justify my poor attitude, and I had to change. I went to the Trustees and asked them to freeze my salary (and give raises to others).  Although I led the organization, I wasn’t the highest paid person – and none of the employees knew about it.

As a manager, you will begin to feel greater responsibility for the emotional and financial well-being of others. This comes from greater social awareness. You will begin to realize that you are no longer “one of the guys/gals.” You are not only working for your own success, but you’re working for the success of the people around you. You have the opportunity and responsibility as a new leader to create an environment where people will thrive.

3. You’re Still You

When I was much younger, a co-worker was promoted to a management role. The Monday after he was promoted, he came to work with a new suit, a new haircut, new glasses, and a new leather briefcase! He walked right past all of us, giving only a nod as he went to his new office.

Don’t be that person. Seriously. Trading in your personality for your imagined leadership persona will come across as inauthentic. It will create a huge rift in your relationships, and it will send a signal that you are leaving them behind. Instead, take up your authority without giving up your identity. Focus on building and maintaining relationships (especially the relationships you’ve already got). You’ll be happier, and you will find yourself with more resources at your disposal to get things done.

If you keep these three things in mind in the spring, you will find yourself leading a great team that’s poised for the playoffs in October!

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The Leadership Paradox: Show Your Strength by Leaning on Your Team

I was working with a senior leader of a technology company last week and he told me about a recent interaction he had with his boss during an executive team meeting. The leader I coach is pretty savvy. He’s thoughtful about how he leads, surrounding himself with people who fill in his knowledge, skills and temperament gaps so that as an entity, his team is robust and as near to complete as he can envision.

Likewise, his team describes him as someone who “wouldn’t ask us to do anything he wouldn’t do or hasn’t done himself. With the exception of something he doesn’t know how to do—then he either asks us to teach him or lets us run with it.” The story he told me about his own boss really got under his skin. Essentially, unlike his own practice of forming a team of complementary abilities, his boss flies solo. He ran a meeting that was intended to be inspirational, but it appears he lacks the knack for the emotional side of leadership.

Rather than soliciting support, input or expertise from those on his team who do have that knack, he simply forged ahead and failed to connect even a little bit with his team—his talk was information-heavy, connection vapid. This left my coachee scratching his head, and feeling let down—even somewhat de-motivated—by his boss.

While it may seem obvious, it never ceases to astound just how many senior leaders (men and women, by the way—this is not gendered at the executive level) don’t ask for help. And this covers the gamut—they don’t ask for input into communications which can result in a big miss with the intended audience. They fail to create conditions where their team feels comfortable enough to give them real feedback, so they live in a false reality or a bubble we refer to as CEO Disease. And finally, these leaders blithely carry on repeating old patterns, never asking for help with their own development.

While at first blush it may seem that asking for help equates to admitting to a weakness, it is overwhelmingly experienced by others as a demonstration of confidence to solicit input, advice and guidance—at any level of seniority. Further, lifelong learners are proven to be the most adaptable and successful leaders over time, changing and growing as the world changes around them.

While not wanting to be exposed may be one reason leaders stop reaching out, there are many other reasons why the social life of a leader becomes one way communication, including chronic stress from tremendous responsibility which, over time, takes a toll and causes the brain to literally become myopic. This myopia is a protective response to overstimulation—but it is a false security, as the input and support from others is paradoxically exactly what the leader needs to counter the effects of the wear and tear—and isolation—of leading.

Advice to leaders: Lean into your people—it’s not only the best leadership behavior to model, it is the best way for you to ensure you won’t go stale, trying to apply old solutions and thinking to new challenges. People bring diversity of thought, use it as the life blood for the future that is guaranteed to be more than any single mind can navigate with elegance and the full range of possibilities.

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Komen Crisis: How to Kill a Movement

When I stood in the radiologist office and heard the news of my breast cancer, I wasn’t concerned about anyone else’s potential right to life. I was concerned about my own, actual, life. If I didn’t have health insurance at the time I wouldn’t have had that screening. I was young and without risk factors. Without early detection, I would be dead today—that is not hyperbole, it’s a fact.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure® has spent years and millions of dollars building a unified and powerful social movement, a “Komen Community,” fighting against breast cancer. The Komen Foundation itself is a powerful force for positive change. Literally, millions of women and men walk, run, raise and give money in a pink branded, “Race for the Cure.”

They do this because they want to find a cure for breast cancer, because they have a personal relationship with the disease, and because they want to be part of that pink-clad cadre of people actively doing “the right thing.” It is a movement built on the values of compassion—“we care,” inclusivity—“everyone can help and receive” and commonality—“breast cancer doesn’t discriminate.”

When you attend a rally, race or banquet, you see faces of every color and memorials of women who have the disease, or who died, being honored by their family and friends. It is an emotional afternoon, evening or three-day walk with these women never far from the minds of the participants. I don’t know about in the executive suite or boardroom, but on the streets, Komen stands for the 99%, not the 1%. Here in lies the betrayal and, hence, the outrage about recent decisions made by the CEO and her team.

Alignment to the Mission? No.

Komen’s promise is to provide access to preventive breast care to women who need it the most, and to work tirelessly to “end breast cancer forever.”  On January 31, 2012, Komen announced its decision to change its funding guidelines for allocation of funds generated by the community. As a result, no further funding would be given to:

1) Planned Parenthood programs to provide subsidized access to mammograms for poor women;

2) Institutions that do research on stem cells.

All hell broke loose with the news and the organization found itself on its proverbial back high heel. Denying poor women access to clinical breast exams and mammograms at Planned Parenthood was widely interpreted as a strategic move pushed by politically conservative people—most notably recently-hired Senior Vice President for Public Policy, Karen Handel– a defeated Republican candidate for Governor in Georgia who set her sights on punishing an old enemy in the anti-abortion movement. A second, related decision was also announced, albeit more quietly, to not fund stem cell research. The impact of this new policy is to cut off a promising stream of exploratory research that may actually find the cure we are all racing for.

Planned Parenthood and stem cell research are red flag issues for the political right, anyone with a television knows this.

When a leader of an organization makes decisions directly out of step with the organization’s espoused values, that they loudly and consistently promote, you have trouble—big trouble in this case. The irony here is that the pink-clad Komen Krusaders who are mad, are mad because they have been listening to and inspired by Komen: the shared values and the pink community. Other organizations would kill for this kind of engagement and attention. But what did Komen do? They made the two big mistakes so many other leaders of successful companies and organizations have done through the years: the Komen for the Cure leadership took their supporters for granted and are now having trouble admitting they did anything wrong.

Lack of Attunement Breeds Crisis of Confidence

Komen’s supporters are now thrown into disarray by a leadership team that got it wrong—and then wrong again.

  • How can an organization that is all about inclusivity—it is a fund-raising organization after all—decide to exclude a major vehicle for preventive screening services for poor women?
  • How can Komen raise literally millions and millions of dollars for research and then make politically-based decisions about stem cell research, effectively not-funding one of the most promising areas of innovative research?

The Krusaders can understand the need to make discernments based on quality of research or likelihood of finding meaningful contribution to finding a cure, but to say “stem cell” into today’s environment is to wave a red flag at a bull in a bullfight. It’s politics. For a CEO to pretend otherwise is not a reassuring expression of social awareness and to do so with a former gubernatorial candidate, who ran on a platform of getting rid of Planned Parenthood on your staff, and in charge of the decision, stretches the disingenuousness of your surprise at our reaction even farther. Who do you think the Krusaders are? We can read, we do have opinions, and you ask us for our time and money. Remember, the Komen Krusaders volunteer for you, they don’t pull a paycheck from you.

CEO Disease Is Now CEO Dis-ease

Komen is a story of a great organization that, despite having been built on the enthusiasm and concern of literally huhdreds of million dedicated volunteers, allowed a handful of highly compensated executives to make policy that, while defensible and logical in the boardroom, is utterly indefensible and counterproductive in the eyes of millions of others. The CEO Nancy G. Brinker may be suffering from CEO disease—a term Teleos has coined for instances when a CEO thinks she is attuned to the organization but is, in reality, badly out of sync and unaware of that fact.

Often such a CEO surrounds herself with like-minded people who agree with her and shield her from the bigger picture, which includes diverse perspectives. You may jump to a cynical conclusion that she doesn’t care what others think, but from her videos it seems she does, and in our experience CEOs usually do—to a point. So this is likely not a situation of heartless lack of concern, at least by her. She allowed herself to get isolated and insulated—never a good move for a leader.

So, where was everyone else at the top of the organization? Where was her team of executives, and where was the Board of Directors? It is clear not only from the actual decision, but from the next days after the crisis emerged, that they are missing in action. Crisis communications experts can and will debrief how the organization handled the next days.  It has already started.

A Movement Is More than an Organization

This crisis erupted as a result of serious disagreement about “what is the right thing to do” by powerful, emotionally engaged groups (employees, volunteers, the Board, the Executives, grant recipients, etc.) Conflict by definition is emotional. To try and mollify or obfuscate the emotions and complexity of the situation, is a mistake. Movements are powerful because of the shared emotions and beliefs of the people within them. Leadership is judged by the degree of perceived alignment between espoused values and action.

Traditional organizations can often rely on their hierarchy, structure and processes to manage through difficult times (frequently losing the hearts and minds of their employees along the way).

Whether organization or movement, or as with Komen, organization and movement, trouble occurs when the leader or leadership team is out of sync with the values, emotional reality, dreams and pains of the people who do the work—under-attend to the emotional reality of these different, powerful, constituencies at your own risk.

You don’t want to end up with an organization and no movement—that is the situation with many of our struggling, large organizations that are having trouble engaging their employees. Top down simplistic responses to upset—“get back to work, “we will get through this,” “you matter,” “it was a policy decision,” don’t work in today’s world of internet-driven communication, decentralized and disaggregated organizations, and instant news.

Leadership miscues and missteps erode faith in an organization. No faith? Dispirited action. Leadership behavior and decisions do matter, and in today’s world, are increasingly apparent. This begs the need for proactive empathy and transparency, and raises the bar for the need for communication and personal emotional intelligence on the part of leaders.

If you are awake, aware and attuned to your own values first, and then to what is happening with all the groups around you and not just listening to one or two constituencies, you will be able to make decisions you can passionately and authentically explain.

We are hearing more and more often that the rank and file workers, or in this case passionate volunteer, are suspicious of the motives of executive leaders, and feel disengaged at work. Komen is playing with its essential life-fire—its volunteer army—it can’t afford to lose their commitment and loyalty. The fact that they are huge, socially oriented mission-driven organization/movement makes the potential risk here even more stark, but the message is true for all organizations.

People want to believe in the goodness of their leaders, in the alignment of a leader’s values and the work of the organization, and they want their feelings to count—or they will walk away.

From Apolitical to Now Political

To act surprised that people might construe these recent announcements as having a political element, is to insult the very women who are the heart and soul of the organization. Komen leadership’s stated surprise at the response is particularly dissonant in this situation because Komen is an organization built on emotion, relationship, and caring. Nancy G. Brinker, the founder and CEO of the foundation, assures us in her straight talk video that this decision was not in response to political pressure. She herself then appears to have hurt feelings that anyone could question Komen. This makes me wonder if she is out of touch.

Her appeal to logic—that these decisions were not political, but rather a result of a standard leadership review of policy—misses the emotional point entirely and feels disingenuous. Any decision that cuts off access to care for poor women will be experienced as heartless by a volunteer army built on the basis of compassion. Anticipating and understanding the emotional impact of a decision on your followers is essential.

So What’s Next?

First, if I were coaching Nancy G. Brinker, I would suggest she consider a forthright explanation of what happened with this decision. Tell the whole story about how and why she chose to let her team make this policy change. Empathize with the Krusaders—find out why they got upset. Don’t blame them for a lingering emotional reaction. Admit that a mistake was made. Assure them that you believe that politics and breast cancer should NEVER mix, and that you will be more careful of this line in the future.

Second, take your team on a retreat and have an open debate about this issue. Work hard to make sure everyone tells you everything they think. Do an after-action review like the military does and figure out what mistakes were made along the way. Then have your team fan out and hold dialogue sessions with the affiliates. Have them listen and learn. Avoid defensiveness. Only then will the organization truly move on. Then, and only then, you may recapture the hearts and minds of your Krusaders. In the meantime, my network and I will send our money to the other local breast cancer organizations. I will be watching to see what you do.

See more blogs by Teleos founder, Fran Johnston.

News Flash: Good Guy Wins!

Beyond the Pink: Wake Up Calls and What I Learned from Cancer







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