Season 1, Episode 2

Can a leopard change its spots?

Marie [00:00:00] Can you teach an old dog new tricks, Cary Cherniss says, under the right conditions, yes. Cary is emeritus professor of Applied Psychology at Rutgers University. He is also co-chair of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organisations, along with his colleague and friend, Daniel Goleman. Cary’s latest book is called Leading with Feeling and he joins us today from the United States. Together with me, Marie el Daghl and Genos International CEO Dr. Ben Palmer, we discuss whether an established leader known for negative behaviours can ever truly develop emotional intelligence. Welcome to Emotional Intelligence at Work brought to you by Genos International.

Marie [00:00:49] Hi, Ben, great to be back.

Ben [00:00:51] Yes, Marie, it’s fantastic to be here with you and with Cary tonight, who I’ve admired for many years and followed his work and indeed enjoyed interact with him at the consortium.

Cary [00:01:01] Thank you, yes. It’s always been good to have Ben come over and join us for our meeting. I’m always amazed at how sharp he is after all that jet lag and time change.

Marie [00:01:16] I’m the EI outsider. I’m the newbie, although I have been reading your book or shall I say I have read your book and we’re very excited to chat to you about whether you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Cary [00:01:28] That is a big question, well, when it comes to emotional intelligence, it is possible to do that. But it’s not easy and it’s not automatic. It depends a lot on, first of all, how motivated the person is. The person really needs to want to develop their emotional intelligence. They have to believe that emotions are really important. They aren’t just noise and they have to recognise that they would be more effective and happier if they could develop some aspects of their own emotional intelligence.

Marie [00:02:07] So recently, an Australian federal minister was ordered by our prime minister to undertake empathy training as a result of some very public bad behaviour. And it got me thinking, is being forced to take EI training. I know empathy is a part of the EI being forced to take it; does it create a good environment for change?

Cary [00:02:29] Well, it’s interesting. You know, usually it’s not a good environment but I’m reminded of an incident that I was involved in several years ago. I was sitting in on an emotional intelligence training programme at a large corporation here in the U.S. and I noticed there was one guy in particular who was really trying hard. He was having a hard time in a role play or something but he was really engaged. He was really committed to doing it. And I talked to him during one of the breaks and I asked him why are you taking the programme? And what he said really surprised me. He said, well, I have been accused of sexual harassment more than once. And my boss told me that I have to take this training. And if I don’t then I’m going to be fired. And, you know, I have a wife. I have children. I really got to get this right. You know, when these incidents have occurred, I wasn’t even aware that I was, you know, being offensive. And that was an example, first of all, how someone who lacks some basic emotional intelligence skills really needs to develop those in order to avoid situations like sexual harassment. But also, it was an example of how someone who wouldn’t normally be motivated to do it got motivated not because there was a carrot hanging over him but because there was stick. He realised he had to do this but normally it does work better if the motivation comes from more positive sources. But the person really has to be committed. They really have to be willing to do some hard work if the training is going to work.

Ben [00:04:27] I would agree. I think that forcing someone to go into the training is perhaps not necessarily the best method. But I think a very mature conversation with someone that says, you know, look, the job you’re in requires good levels of empathy, self-awareness, the capacity to create a positive work environment for others, how well do you think you’re doing at that? Would you like some professional assistance in that kind of area? Because ultimately, I think if you can have that kind of mature conversation, this is boss to their direct report, sort of, if you like, saying here’s an investment we’re willing to make in you if you’re willing to really give this a go. I found that kind of environment does work well for the individual who perhaps has the EI capacity, Cary, but doesn’t have the motivation quite yet, if that makes sense.

Cary [00:05:18] You’re right, yes.

Marie [00:05:20] So what factors would determine whether an established leader, who has entrenched negative behaviours can improve through development?

Cary [00:05:28] One of the leaders that we interviewed for our work was a senior executive who had been very successful. He was very effective, very smart, very competent, a lot of experience in the job. And he had actually been recruited by this company from another company because he really stood out but the culture was very different in the new company. He was used to a command and control. You know, if people aren’t doing the job, yell at them until they do and now is not working well in this new environment. And the CEO asked his VP for Human Resources to work with this guy to see if he could bring them around. So he became essentially his coach but this guy who we will call Manny, Manny wasn’t going to have any of it. I mean; he’d been successful for 30 years. He knew he was good. The problem was everybody else. And in fact, the first time this guy went into his office, he said, Manny, he literally threw him out the door. But this VP for Human Resources had a lot of emotional intelligence and he persevered. And, you know, he would chat with Manny whenever he could. He would, you know, [00:05:59]pray [0.0s] to Manny whenever Manny showed some sparks of empathy and compassion but what really turned it around like they were talking one day. And Manny said, you know, I don’t think this is working for me. I’m really looking forward to moving back to the Midwest, which is where he has just come from. And it’s not just a job. I’m having all kinds of problems with the mortgage on our new house. And so the VP for Human Resources said, well, you know, let me check and see if we can help you out with that. So he went to some of his people and they looked into it and they were able to help Manny out with this very tangible sort of need that he had that wasn’t even directly related to the job and that was what really get it. You know, from then on, Manny really was open to what this VP for Human Resources was trying to do. And the for VP for Human Resources was trying to continue using that kind of approach that Ben was just modeling so well. But now Manny was really open to it because this guy really went, you know, the next level to help him with something that was really concrete and tangible.

Ben [00:08:08] The other thing I would say in terms of motivating people to work on their emotional intelligence is a lot of people who, let’s say, are quite average or low in emotional intelligence aren’t just average and low at work. They’re average and low socially, romantically, with their kids and so there’s another kind of leverage there, if you like, of motivations. Just to say this can help you in many aspects of your life as well. I don’t know about you, Cary, but I get tickled pink when the leader sort of comes and says, oh, you the teams performing better, which is great. But I really developed my relationship with my 17 year old son or daughter or whatever that really where I think the reward of doing this kind of work comes from.

Cary [00:08:52] Absolutely and I’ve seen that happen a lot in training programmes. I’ve got people come up to me afterwards and say, you know, I’m not sure yet how much it’ll help me on the job. But, boy, I’ve been using it with my teenage son and it is really working well with him.

Marie [00:09:10] How long would it take, if at all, for someone like this to truly gain and then effectively exercise EI?

Cary [00:09:17] Well, you know, it certainly takes longer than one three-hour session. It just can be useful in introducing the topic. But people are not going to start changing based on that. Even an intensive weekend or week long retreat is usually not enough. But looking at the research on the effectiveness of different training programme, we now know that programmes that are as short as five or six weeks, you know, 18 hours spread across several weeks can really start to show change again in people who are very motivated and who are working in organisations where the culture really supports the use of these skills. So it does take a while. It takes a lot of motivation and persistence but in the right conditions, it can happen, you know, within a couple of months or so.

Ben [00:10:18] Yes, I would echo that, I think of all the stuff we’ve done, I find, you know, six to eight, two hour sessions, one a week, not layering too many concepts upon concepts, really teaching side self-awareness, first, self-management, empathy, capacity to positively influence others. I think if you work in that sort of systematic developmental way across the competencies, you can see really good effects in six, seven, eight weeks. I think the latest [00:09:57]meta-analytic [0.0s] research, Cary, the research of research, if you like, suggest that on average, good programmes are improving emotional intelligence by about 17 percentile points. Does that ring a bell to you? I don’t know if you’ve seen that study. It was on human resource management?

Cary [00:11:02] No, please send that to me, Ben, if you get a chance. But again, I think these programmes, particularly the effective ones, can be really useful. So It’s good to have the data. Better analysis  are very good for that

Marie [00:11:21] In the case that a leader is going through EI training, how likely is it that the team will accept the change in their leader or manager rather than be cynical of it?

Cary [00:11:31] It’s a really good question because that often occurs, I’m sure and Manny’s case, the example I gave a couple of minutes ago, it took people a while to really believe that this was real. A couple of things, first of all, it’s important in doing the coaching and the training that you really kind of inoculate people so that they’re prepared for scepticism and pessimism from their team. People are not going to believe it to begin with. But that’s okay because if you’re able to persist and you continue, you consistently use these new skills, more and more people will come around and believe, well, you know, this really is working. So those are the two things I think that are important to prepare people for that ahead of time and then give them support, provide them with support because they’re not going to get it very much from their team necessarily to begin with. They need support from the coach or from, you know, the people that are going through the training with until the people they work with really start responding positively.

Ben [00:12:46] Yes, it really rings a bell for me. I think, Cary, in my experience, I say to people who are in systematic programmes, tell the staff what you’ve been learning, ask them to help you in that development rather than hide it under the bush. I think it really relates to number eight of your nine steps in the book, leading with feelings. In fact, seek out others for help in managing emotions and help others develop their EI. I think leaders, who are in programmes, shouldn’t be shy of saying, hey, I’m learning how to do this and I’d really like you to support me in achieving that. I think that can work to remove some of that cynicism too. Marie, to Cary’s point to it’s the consistency that really develops trust around it.

Marie [00:13:27] Yes that’s a great insight, actually. Is there anything formally an organisation could do to set the expectation with the team that change is coming or would you just let it happen organically?

Cary [00:13:39] Yes, the organisation really plays an important role. We’re starting to look now at organisations that seem to be, “emotionally intelligent.” And what we’re finding is that the people are more ready to accept emotional intelligence, social intelligence training and working with people who were getting that training, if it’s being done throughout the organisation and particularly if it starts at the top. The organisations that we’re identifying that are really modelled on this, in just about every case they start at the very top, the CEO and the top leadership team, they go through the training first and then it sort of goes from, you know, from that to the mid-level managers. And then finally, you know, to the shop floor or the, you know, the call centre floor, wherever. By the time it gets to that level, people really believe it’s real that leaders can change and show that that’s something that organisations can do. The other thing that these emotionally intelligent organisations are doing is that they don’t rely just on training, even extensive training, to find ways of infusing emotional intelligence and sort of other venues. A good example of that is in the annual performance review, where in many of these organisations, those conversations that bosses have with their subordinates, it’s really structured for them to spend a few minutes talking about emotional intelligence and discussing how the person is doing on those skills and what they would like their goals to be for the next year in terms of developing or maintaining those skills that really creates the groundwork for emotional intelligence training and coaching to be accepted.

Ben [00:15:47] Yes, I think leaders who really link any development initiative to strategy and things like that again and really make a good business case and things like that make it serious for the business that works very well. Of course, unlike when I first started working in this area 20 years ago, Cary, you know, you didn’t have the World Economic Forum saying emotional intelligence is one of the top 10 job skills. You didn’t have the world of artificial intelligence and machine learning now taking over a lot of the thinking aspects of jobs. And so those sorts of things, now that they have come into the fore, I think people get the need for emotional intelligence in business now much better than what they did a while back. The other remark that I wanted to make in terms of what we’re talking about now, one of the EI consortium meetings that we went to and you’ll remember this, where we had David Dunning there. People who are listening may be quite familiar with the famous Dunning-Kruger effect. One of the takeaways of that for me, I think, is it really painted the importance of assessments in programmes, because not many people, to David’s point, like to think of themselves as not being emotionally intelligent and the reality of the situation. This is a fairly normal, bell shaped distribution of levels of emotional intelligence out there in the workplace. And I think assessments at the beginning of programmes help people truly reflect properly on what they’re doing well and what areas for development there are. And I think they fit nicely into that performance plan that you’re talking about and help someone personalise learning for themselves, be able to say, well, actually, my self-awareness is not too bad, but I’m being a bit too much of a John McEnroe in the office, for example, my emotional management skills, I have got work on that sort of thing.

Marie [00:17:30] What happens when someone says, no, I don’t want to change? I mean, in your book, Cary, you mentioned Eric Schmidt and how he was hired to effectively be a peacemaker and be the softer side to the Google founders. Is this approach the best approach to bringing EI into leadership in some cases?

Cary [00:17:48] Yes, in some cases, definitely, I think that very often it’s easier to change roles and responsibilities than to, you know, keep trying to change the individual to do something right. Another example from the book that you might remember is the president of this wholesale food distributor company. He would go out every year and meet with their most important customers to see how things are going and, you know, renegotiate the contract and always went very well, except for this one executive at another company. And this guy really knew how to press the buttons of the head of the wholesale distributor, and no matter what he tried to do; this was a guy who, like all the leaders in our book, was very emotionally intelligent. But once you got in the room with this customer, this difficult customer, you know, it just all went out the door and he would always come back kicking himself because he ended up with a really bad contract as far as his company was concerned. So he was talking to his mentor and another executive, an older executive that you talk with periodically and said he was going to have to go out and meet with this customer again. And the mentor said, well, why do you have to be the one to go out and do it? Why don’t you send one of your people to see how things are going and negotiate the new contract and maybe that’ll work better. And so that’s what he did. And sure enough, it was amazing. You know, this guy had been trying everything he could think of to handle this difficult customer better when all he had to do was have one of his executives go out and do it and work much better. So I think that’s another example of how very often just, you know, changing the role, giving the role to someone else who has the emotional intelligence skills perhaps that are better than in that situation makes a lot more sense than really trying to change individual. An example that many of the listeners can relate to, even if they’re not in a work situation. Here’s what happens when your young child gets to that toddler stage and wants to go to everything in the living room that is within reach that’s valuable. And the really smart parents learn very quickly that rather than jumping up and down every minute to keep the kid from breaking and Aunt Martha’s dish, you just put it out of reach and, you know, problem solved. So, you know, these examples are sort of corporate leadership analogues to the working with toddlers.

Ben [00:20:46] The Google of Australia is this company called Atlassian. You might have heard them. A very famous Australian company. And apparently just the other day in one of our newspapers here, there’s a bit of a write up of their chiefs of staff, a person named Amy Glancey. And apparently Amy acts a little bit of a sounding board for the two founders of the company helping to smooth the little ripples out, I think is one of the comments that was made in the paper. Cary, this conversation reminds me of some of the work of [00:20:25]Nicola Shoot, [0.4s] I think, who did some work on the success of relationships and looking at whether two couples that the both of them are emotionally intelligent, whether one and was in one wasn’t, whether both were unemotionally intelligent, how successful in terms of the longevity of the relationship? And anyway, as I remember the findings of this research, [00:20:45]Nicola [0.0s] was saying in her article that she found that the people were both people in the relationship were unemotionally intelligent, had the shortest term relationships, typically followed by people where one was and one wasn’t, except where the person who didn’t have emotional intelligence was willing to accept that and leaned on the partner for advice and input in situations that really called for it. And I think it’s a nice analogy to what we’re talking about here.

Marie [00:22:03] Your book outlines nine strategies of emotionally intelligent leaders, which makes it sound achievable or dare I say, easy. What are the top three most common obstacles or challenges that leaders might face the first time they use them?

Cary [00:22:17] The first one is it may not work. In fact, it probably is not going to work in every situation but that’s you know, if people expect that to be the case, then hopefully they won’t become discouraged and give up on everything. And also recognising that emotional intelligence is not a panacea. You can be very emotionally intelligent and still not reach your end result all the time. But, you know, it’s sort of like in baseball excuse me for not using a cricket example but there’s probably something analogous to it in baseball. The batters go up and even the best batters of all time, more often than not, will not get on base. I mean, if you have a batting average of 300 or better, you’re one of the top batters in the league. So, you know, think about that as being sort of indicative of life in general and certainly indicative of emotional intelligence. You can be an emotional intelligent star and still a lot of the time strikeout or not get to first base to recognise that, don’t think it’s going to be a failure. A second obstacle, I think that people encounter in terms of when these failures occur is that it’s very difficult to I mean, this strategy is one thing we found and that we tried to do in the book was to articulate strategies that are very clear, very simple to understand. And, you know, within a few minutes, people can start using them. People need to be aware that, you know, it takes time to get to the point where you can use these strategies naturally without even thinking about them and even when you’re using them a lot, when you’re in a stressful situation, it may all go out the door. It’s sort of like when you’re on a weight loss programme and it’s your birthday and you go out and you sort of cave in and have a hot fudge sundae, you know, just sort of an analogous situation. At that point, there’s a temptation to say, oh, you know, I fell off the wagon and to gave up on the diet. So that’s another obstacle, you know, not being able to use the strategies when you’re in a really difficult situation. And the third obstacle, which we’ve already talked about, is being in an organisation that doesn’t reward the use of these strategies. We talked in the book and I think the last chapter and ultimate chapter, what people can do when they’re faced with that situation. Sometimes they can work with other people to change the organisation, to make it more supportive. In other situations, you may have to think about going to a different setting or maybe even a different part of the organisation or [00:24:38]where it’s rewarded more. [0.1s]

Ben [00:25:28] One of the big obstacles I think that really relates to that one that I’ve come across is organisations can be very supportive, they can be linked, the EI initiative to strategy, they can say, you know, we want to be an emotionally intelligent organisation and so on. But one of the things they often fail to do is actually provide the time for leaders to be emotionally intelligent or practice the development of it. I still find in workplaces today that leaders are meant to be leading a team and yet seem to be so piled up with task themselves that they’re just in a task-oriented frame and context all the time. And if there’s anything I’ve learnt in terms of developing emotional intelligence is that it takes time and you’ve got to be given time to have one-on-ones with your staff to put yourself in their shoes, to draw on your fourth strategy, to sit back and think about how your own behaviour is influencing others emotions and creating certain emotional dynamics within the tea, reframing how you think about the situation, your sixth strategy. All those strategies are fantastic and you can get very habitual with the way you can almost drive the car without thinking about it. But like learning to drive a car, you do need that time to really hone your skill and practise it in and get to that place where you can do it on autopilot.

Cary [00:26:52] Yes that’s a good analogy.

Marie [00:26:54] I’d like to end on a question about one of your nine strategies. You talk about measuring the emotional climate of the team. What exactly does that mean and how is it done?

Cary [00:27:04] Yes, this was really interesting. One of the basics in fact, the foundational ability of emotional intelligence is being able to accurately perceive one’s own emotions and the emotions of other people. And what we were finding with these outstanding leaders that we interviewed in the study was that they were monitoring the emotional climate in meetings, both, you know, team meetings and also one-on-one, not necessarily continuously but very often. So when they walk into a meeting, they would immediately sort of take a measure of the emotional climate and adjust what was happening immediately. And then they would use that information to intervene in ways that could be very helpful. A really good example of that was the CEO of a company that had been going through some really difficult times and her weekly meetings with her top management team were almost always filled with more bad news. And then one week it turned out that the numbers were really positive for the first time. So the COO gave the report and everybody sort of nodded and a couple of people, smiled, but they immediately went on to the next item on the agenda. And she recognised this as an opportunity, potentially missed opportunity to improve the emotional climate of the team. So she said, wait, time out. Let’s talk for a minute. Go back and think about what Jim just presented in terms of the numbers. This is fantastic news. And she was very exuberant and enthusiastic. And of course, another thing that we know from the research is that emotions are contagious and particularly when leaders express an emotion. So she was very excited, positive, and she said, let’s find a couple of minutes to talk about why, you know, what we’re doing right now. And it completely turned around the climate in that particular meeting. And that’s really an example of what we mean by monitoring the emotional climate and jumping in when you see either a problem or sometimes an opportunity.

Ben [00:29:32] Cary, the emotional climate has become a very interesting topic here in Australia. There’s a very famous study that was done looking at a financial performance of organisations and their emotional climate, looking at organisations that performed really well financially, how often their staff felt certain emotions versus organisations that performed poorly. And I think it also speaks to one of the misnomers, I think about emotional intelligence. I think a lot of people sometimes sit back and think, are you guys with all this psychobabble around emotional intelligence trying to create utopia? But people come in and they feel positive and valued and cared for and so on. And I think with emotional climate and emotional intelligence, the answer to that is no, that’s not what we’re doing at all. We’re trying to help people intelligently respond to their emotions. And there’s a kernel of truth in it that if you look at that paper on emotional climate and financial performance, it shows that even in high performing organisations, people still feel the full range of emotions from anger to joy, from sadness to happiness and so on. But on average, they feel more pleasant emotions than unpleasant. So in terms of your emotional culture, one of the things that I encourage leaders to do is to step back and say, on average, are your people feeling valued, cared for, consulted, informed, understood, do they feel empowered. Equally importantly, are they at times feeling annoyed, frustrated, stressed, worried, all emotions are important, it’s monitoring your climate and knowing what it is that’s so important.

Cary [00:31:03] Exactly.

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