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emotional intelligenceThere is much–albeit not enough–talk in the business world today about emotional intelligence (EI) and its importance in understanding what makes leaders transcend to the next level. There is less discussion of EI as it pertains to matters of love—couples, parenting, friendship. From what I know as a psychologist who is interested in neurobiology, I do not think of EI independent of thinking about the brain. Daniel Siegel, M.D., is one of the cutting-edge leaders in this new area of study called “Interpersonal Neurobiology.” Dr. Siegel, in an article for the Psychiatric Annals in April of 2006, wrote the following (I recommend reading it slowly):

An interpersonal neurobiology view of well-being holds that the complex, nonlinear system of the mind achieves states of self-organization by balancing the two opposing processes of differentiation and linkage. When separated areas of the brain are allowed to specialize in their function and then become linked together, the system is integrated. Integration brings with it a special state or functioning of the whole, which has the acronym of FACES: Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent, Energized and Stable. This coherent flow is bounded on one side by chaos and on the other by rigidity. In this manner we can envision a flow or river of well-being, with the two banks being chaos on the one side, rigidity on the other.

The focal point in this paragraph is on the idea of a “complex non-linear mind” that is “integrated.”  Integration comes about when the special functions of the brain work well (differentiation) but are also connected and communicative (linkage). As a result we get FACES.  When we consider these five functions of an integrated mind, also think of a leader, partner, parent, friend—who has all these functions working together as well:

  • Flexible … the ability to bend without breaking
  • Adaptive … ability to adjust to different conditions
  • Coherent … clear, logical, and forming a whole
  • Energized … having vitality and enthusiasm
  • Stable …  firmly established, not easily upset, not likely to give way

This is how Siegel describes a mentally healthy brain-mind. It is a mind that “flows” optimally between chaos (disorganization) on one side and rigidity (over-organization) on the other. What I find compelling is that these five (FACES) brain-mind functions aptly describe an emotionally intelligent leader (partner, parent, friend) as well. Emotionally intelligent people apparently have healthy, integrated brain-minds.

Who would not like to be married to (or have as a parent or friend) a person who is Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent, Energetic yet Stable–in other words, emotionally intelligent? Likewise, who wants people in their organization–not the least of which a leader—who possesses the opposite attributes of being inflexible if not rigid, unable to adapt, incoherent (confused, unclear and illogical), depressed, unmotivated or unstable? Having someone like this to follow (be married to, parented by and/or friends with) would be at best unpleasant and at worst damaging.

We can’t choose everyone in our life, of course. We get to pick our partners and friends. (Unfortunately we do not get to pick our parents.) We don’t always get to choose our workmates, but organizations can choose employees and leaders. So if emotionally intelligent leaders have healthy or integrated brain-minds and these integrated brain-minds make for transcendent leaders, how do we get a few of these brains into our organization?

I often argue that it is easier to hire a star employee rather than develop one. That is why I spend a good bit of time in my consulting practice helping organizations hire best-fit (emotionally intelligent) people. It is relatively easy to find someone who has the right education, training and even experience–especially in this current “buyers” market. It is much harder to find someone who is Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent, Energized and Stable . . . someone who has a healthy brain-mind, someone who is emotionally intelligent.

But it is not possible to hire an entirely new company full of integrated emotionally intelligent people. We have to work with the employees (and owners) that we have. This begs an important question: Can we retrain the brain?  Fortunately the answer is YES, however it is a qualified yes. It is not easy, and not everyone is willing or capable of retraining his or her brain. Siegel and other neurobiologist agree that the brain is “elastic.”  What they mean by that is that—although difficult—we can recondition the brain: build new and better brain-mind integration. How does one do this?

The better question might be “where do we do this?” We do it in the Middle Prefrontal Cortex. It is the at the crossroads between the emotional limbic system and the thinking cortex and it has to do with things like emotional balance, empathy, insight, fear extinction, intuition and morality. One key way to effect and eventually develop this part of the brain-mind is through awareness. When we raise people’s awareness we increase the proper functioning of this important region of the brain.

There are different ways to raise awareness in a business environment: the use of assessments, targeted workshops and especially one-on-one coaching.  But there are other ways to affect this region of the brain-mind. Stay tuned, I will discuss them further in part two of this article. For now, I hope you are encouraged to understand that we really can increase emotional intelligence and thereby improve relationships with everyone who crosses our life path.

Please let us know your experiences with emotionally intelligent (or lack thereof) bosses or leaders, as it pertains to FACES. And remember, EI is intelligence you can live with.

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EnvyOne of my friends is now in Europe, all his expenses paid by his employer. (Oh yeah, did I tell you that he went with his wife and they are paying all her expenses too?) Another friend just released a book which is well on its way to becoming a national best seller (see Back to Normal: Why Ordinary Childhood Behavior Is Mistaken for ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and Autism Spectrum Disorder, by Dr. Enrico Gnaulati). I have two friends who just retired in their 50’s and will never have to worry about money again. So do you think I am happy for them? To be honest, the envious part of mind wants an all-expense paid trip to Europe with my family. I want to have a bestseller so I can retire and never have to worry about money again.

What do you envy? Do you envy your friend who can eat anything she wants and is still as skinny as a rail? How about the guy at work who used to report to you who was just promoted again? Or how about your friend who is (apparently) happily married and expecting her first baby and you have not had a good date in months (okay years)? Do you envy those people who have the Midas touch—everything they do turns to gold?  We can envy anyone who has more (money, looks, happiness) than us; we can envy anyone who has less (body fat, bad luck, marital troubles) than us. The list of things that we can be envious about is as long as things in the world that we can possess or acquire or experience—but don’t. And the list is long.

Envy Happens! Envy is a basic human emotion—a state of mind to be exact. It is reflected in some of our earliest literature, for instance religious texts. In the well-known Judeo-Christian story of Adam and Eve, the author of Genesis writes that eating of the forbidden fruit would make the couple like God. Embedded in this narrative is a story of envy. They envied God and who would not?—Which of us would not want to be described as all powerful; all knowing? But what really seemed to piss them off was that they needed God. According to British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, we are prone to envy anyone on whom we depend. Why? Because we are not all powerful and all knowing and we do in fact need others.

Envy unchecked is very destructive. Envy hates.  Envy wants to hurt if not destroy the envied. This is also seen in the Genesis story of Cain and Abel. If you remember the story, Cain envied his brother Abel and as a result murdered him. Sometimes the expression of envy is huge; many wars have been started because one group wants what another group has. However, more often the expression of envy is more “civilized” showing up as resentment, backbiting and passive aggressive behaviors.  And when we envy, there are often serious feelings of inferiority lurking in the shadows of our self-concept.

The opposite of envy is gratitude. Envy wants what others have, what others do and what others experience. Gratitude “wants” what we, in fact, have, do and experience. (You heard the expression: Do you have what you want or want what you have?) Gratitude accepts and appreciates—the “AA” of a healthy mindset. We are most centered when we accept who we are and what we have. However, it is not easy to be content when there is so much feedback out there showing us what we lack. It takes a mature mind to transcend an attitude of scarcity to have an attitude of gratitude. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with wanting to have more. But if you cannot be grateful with the good you currently possess—and yes there is good in our lives—then you can never be truly happy even if you possess the envied things. (We all know of celebrities who apparently have everything most people would ever want but live seemingly unhappy lives.)

I have struggled with envy my whole life. I grew up in a very poor family and often heard my father talk about all the rich people who had it easy. I still struggle with being content with what I have and where I am in life. However, as I have worked through issues in my own personal therapy and lately in my mindfulness practices, I find myself more content and yes—even at times grateful—for my life as it is now. I want more and will get it. But gratitude is not about the future; gratitude is about the NOW. So I choose to be happy for my friends who are retired at 50, traveling in Europe, and a successful author. I am truly glad for them, as I am glad for all the good things in my life. And I hope that you find that quiet, sober place in your mind and heart that appreciates what you have NOW this Thanksgiving and for the other 364 days of the year.

If you have a moment, please share with us what you find yourself envying and/or what you are personally grateful for.  Happy Thanksgiving!

HonoringDifferencesI just finished facilitating a workshop for a consulting firm on the topic of “Honoring Differences & Emotional Intelligence.” All the participants took the ITI– Interpersonal Triangle Inventory, which is an inventory that I developed based on the Interpersonal Triangle model that I introduced in my previous post (See “Emotional Intelligence (EI) in Three-D: Scarecrow, Tin Man & Lion.”)  Based on their scores they were sorted into one of four relationship styles represented by the following colors (the first three are sorted into the three primary colors thus representing the three primary ways we relationally move or connect; the fourth is a hybrid):

  • Red: Moving Against—Lion. These types of relators tend to be more aggressive, directive, take-charge, determined, quick to make decisions, and are opinionated.
  • Blue: Moving Toward—Tin Man. These types of relators tend to be people oriented, empathic, supportive and caring, willing to defer to the needs of others.
  • Yellow: Moving Away—Scarecrows. These types of relators are more measured and careful, want to be accurate and true to the facts.
  • Purple (Blends of Red Lion & Blue Tin Man). People in this hybrid are enthusiastic and readily engage and influence others. They like liking and like being liked. I have a Purple relationship style in most of my relationships.

I’d like to share with you what we learned through the workshop experience (in no particular order):

  • People have different relationship styles. Some are more quick and determined (like the Red Lions) others are people centered (like the Blue Tin Man) and others are more careful and precise (like Yellow Scarecrow). Then there are Purple people like me who want to engage and influence others. One style is not necessarily better than the others all the time (even thought I would follow a Red in an emergency, a Yellow when I want objective facts and a Blue when I want to be understood).
  • Each style has its positive or negative expressions. Each style, in its positive expression, can enhance communication and bring about positive outcomes. However in its negative manifestation, each style can break down communication and be destructive. Often the negative expressions are directly related to their positive expression. Elias Porter—the person who developed the SDI (the Strength Deployment Inventory)—suggested that our weaknesses are nothing more than overdone strengths. Think about it. A quick Red response overdone makes them rushed or impetuous. A Blue’s deference to others can easily become a form of self-denial; and a Yellow’s carefulness is only a couple clicks away from being overly cautious and hesitant.
  • We have different styles in different situations. For example, my relationship style is different at home than when I am speaking or consulting. At home I am more Orange (Red and Yellow) and at work I am more Purple (Red and Blue). And when I get around Red alphas, I have to fight the temptation to become overly Blue (submissive). Different settings and interactions with different people often bring out different elements of how we interact. A person at work might be one way with a boss (e.g. Blue) and then another way with a subordinate (e.g. Red). I am always amused by CEOs who run large organizations who, when they come home, become totally subservient to their spouse.
  • If we don’t honor differences in someone else, we will end up reacting to them. Evolution formed a brain that is suspicious, if not hostile, to those who differ from us. If we don’t leverage our differences for good we will likely get entangled in some sort of estrangement. I worked with a board of directors who had a good number of Red relators. They looked down on the “weaker” Blue relaters seeing them as “soft” simply because they were not as decisive and opinionated as they were. It was unfortunate that the Reds did not honor their Blue brethren because they did not take advantage of their sympathy for client relations and their ability to collaborate. This can happen at home as well. We can write off our “quiet” (Yellow) spouse as disinterested rather than slow and thoughtful. And we’ve all heard of the rough and tough father who reacts to his “weaker” (artistic) son not realizing what a precious gift the son brings to the world.

I’d love to hear back from you: What relationship style do you tend toward  . . .  at home? Are you more Red, more Blue or more Yellow (or like me, a hybrid)? Is your relationship style different at work? If so, how?  Do you ever “overdo” one of these relational styles to a fault? (If you are not sure, ask your spouse, children, or your employees.) Do you ever find yourself reacting to your partner for having a different relational style than yourself?  Please share your experience with us.

Ultimately, be yourself, accept who you are and be positive in your difference. And remember, emotional intelligence is intelligence you can live with.