Tag Archives: emotional self-awareness


Influence: A Cornerstone for Effective Leadership


Influence is one of the competencies in the Emotional and Social Intelligence (ESI) model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. Not surprisingly, it has been empirically linked to increased leadership performance, but understanding exactly how to wield this capability is far less obvious.

Leaders who have developed the Influence competency are effective at using multiple approaches to produce outcomes, such as:

  • Appealing to the self-interest of others
  • Cultivating alliances with key people
  • Engaging in discussion that leads to support
  • Building consensus

Influential leaders also possess a stronger ability to capture the attention of others, and both anticipate and adapt to responses or objections.

How Influence Contributes to Leadership Effectiveness

Influence interrelates with empathy and other ESI competencies, and also requires strength in the ESI domains of self-awareness, self-management and social awareness. To be effective, a leader needs the capabilities and insights provided by these strengths, since without them they will struggle with identifying how to be of service to others. They will also be ineffective at determining whether or not their attempts at communication are being received as intended.

Successful leaders realize that influence is critical to their effectiveness. For example, those who have studied leadership know that influence forms the basis for an academic definition for leadership recognized by many scholars: “Leadership is the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives” (Gary Yukl, Leadership in Organizations (5th ed.) (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002), 8.).

The leaders I interviewed in my 2016 study – on leadership, mindfulness, and emotional intelligence – linked influence to developing the ability to accurately identify the needs and motivations of others. An example includes the HR head for a leading global manufacturing firm who developed a working understanding of how influence relates to workplace results, saying “…when you really relate to another person, you’re able to gather a lot more information about how to influence the situation, or influence the outcome,” and “…you can connect with them on different levels and therefore influence them better.”

Effective leaders also realize that subordinates and peers are more productive and loyal when they act out of their own choice rather than being ordered or pressured. As a result, they focus on developing their ability to identify opportunities for mutually beneficial working arrangements, which also excludes behavior that may be perceived as self-serving, or manipulative. On the contrary, discussion of the way in which mindfulness contributed to influence indicated participants’ realization that sincere interest in fulfilling others’ needs was an effective basis for becoming more influential.

How to Become More Influential

Keep in mind that coworkers are typically worried about being left in bad situations by those they depend on. This means that the trust-based aspect of influence must be developed over time. It is built upon a foundation of quality interpersonal interactions, and consistent delivery of mutual value. Therefore, authentic, timely, and highly professional follow-through on commitments are a cornerstone of the Influence competency.

When considering ways to strengthen your ability to influence others it’s also important to focus on the point that leadership effectiveness requires the participation of others. From that standpoint it helps to monitor your interpersonal interactions to ensure that you are demonstrating professional competence and integrity. This includes understanding the individual and organizational values that others base their judgements upon, which I explore in my article How to Tune In to the Unspoken Rules of an Organization.

With this as a starting point there are some simple questions you can consistently ask yourself to help you stay focused on becoming influential:

  • Why might others think you are insincere and how can this be addressed?
  • Do you always follow-up on your commitments and fulfill your promises completely?
  • What skills, experiences and attributes can you demonstrate that are important to others?
  • How can you regularly evaluate your answers to the above through impartial feedback?

You should also spend time reflecting on past outcomes that were unsatisfactory. You can use the previous questions to learn from these experiences and identify opportunities to become more influential should similar circumstances arise in the future.

If you are intent on improving your ability to influence others, you must remain aware of the fact that influence often only exists when others have confidence in you. The cooperative nature of this equation makes the quality of interpersonal relationships even more significant. For this reason, developing influence will be aided by additional attention to empathy, emotional self-control, organizational awareness, conflict management, and adaptability.

Recommended Reading:

In Influence: A Primer, Daniel Goleman, Peter Senge and colleagues introduce Emotional Intelligence and dive deep into the Influence competency. In a relatively short read, the authors illustrate the valuable skills needed to guide others in realizing the value of your ideas and point of view – not for the sake of exerting blind command, but to collaborate towards a positive vision with empathy and awareness.

Leader’s Perspective: What Separates The Best from the Rest in Leadership


What inspires us to be better leaders? Was it a particular boss, a powerful article or a significant experience? For me, the answer is relatively simple. Taking time to reflect on people I have worked for and with as well as countless other experiences as both a manager and a parent, I can single out the most important lesson I have learned about leadership.

I was ten years old and my paternal grandfather shared a lesson with me from his time in the U.S. Marine Corps. What he shared was simple, easy to understand and has stuck with me throughout my career in leadership. The lesson was that to lead a group of people, one only needed to know four things. He said that if I got these four things right, whoever I was leading would “follow me into the jaws of Hell!” This painted a vivid picture for a ten-year-old and is probably why I’ve not only remembered it all these years, but have put them to practice and have come to know first hand that he was right.

My Grandfather’s 4 leadership musts:

  1. Make sure my team has dry socks
  2. Make sure they have full bellies
  3. Treat them with Respect
  4. Above all, treat them as Equals

This may be sound advice for a team of Marines on the move, but for business?

Dry socks and full bellies

Let’s break it down. Ensuring your team has “dry socks” and “full bellies” is an easy concept to translate to the world of business. Let’s assume dry socks and full bellies are surrogates for basic needs, safety, comfort, etc. This may take different forms in different business environments, but essentially we are making sure people get paid sufficiently, have a decent environment to work in, etc. It is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in practical terms. In my experience most businesses are able to address these basic human needs, but by themselves these aren’t enough.


The third item the Colonel instructed was “treat them with respect”. What does this mean? In many hierarchical structures it is often those at the top of the hierarchy who demand “respect” from those at the bottom. They may develop a sort of begrudging politeness and respect for their position but not the depth of respect that is the hallmark of good leadership.

What we are talking about here is the difference between “treating someone with respect” due to their position in the hierarchy and “having respect for someone” because they are fellow humans.

On the surface this sounds self evident, but in my experience fewer leaders/managers are able to embrace this step than the first two. Why is that? I don’t believe that it is because these managers don’t care about their employees. I think they care, but maybe about the wrong things. Often they see the team as “their” employees, and co-workers are often seen as tools to get the jobs done. Ironically, most managers have been the employee at some point and quickly upon assuming the mantle of management they forget what it was like to be in the shoes they just vacated. Additionally, some managers try to keep a distance from their employees knowing that they may have to discipline them in the future. They may also worry that these employees might one day decide to leave the organization and move on in search of brighter pastures.

The mantra becomes “don’t get too close, keep it professional” and is achieved by maintaining your distance by not connecting. I don’t think that’s what the old Marine was getting at. He’d lost plenty of soldiers to combat, reassignment, the end of their enlistment, or post-war reductions in force. I think he was getting at this essential idea—treating your team with respect requires two conditions to be present: self-awareness and connection.

Developing self-awareness of what motivates you, what triggers you, and a clear sense of your emotional and physical boundaries is critical. If you know what’s yours, you won’t be inclined to take on another’s baggage. If you are self-aware, you are likely cognizant of personal work you need to do and similarly are accepting if not comfortable with some of your vulnerabilities or shortcomings. This makes it possible for you to lead with confidence, identifying the qualities you need on your team and allowing those with skills you may not have to step up and participate fully. You don’t need to have all the answers—as long as you are aware of this and don’t see it as a flaw, but rather the way it is.

When you are able to know and respect yourself, you can respect others as individuals. This is an essential quality in good managers and leaders alike. It’s not something you are born with but something you have to work to develop. It necessitates stepping away from the ego-centered label of who you are and where you fit in the hierarchy and into the reality of who you are. As Steve Miller sang, “The question to everyone’s answer is usually asked from within.”

Equality, Even In Hierarchy

In the context of the qualities of leadership outlined by the Colonel, connection is just what it sounds like: knowing the people you work with and letting them know you. Caring about them as more than simply tools to accomplish the task, but as whole people with hopes and dreams, imperfections, joys and sorrows. You need to have enough confidence to show them who you are, sharing that you are more than just the boss, you are a human being who also has hopes and dreams, even imperfections.

In a business hierarchy this can be a challenge. As you open up and show your vulnerability, your caring, and your humanity, you will start to notice little things. You learn about people’s lives, and yes, this makes it all the more difficult if one day you have to lay them off or fire them. This is the whole point of connection! People matter and when you have to let someone go, it makes sense that you would feel some loss. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let them go, but in feeling that grief you know that they are important to you as people, not just as tools. When you find yourself grieving the person, not necessarily the job they were doing, you have arrived at the fourth stage. You experience equality with them, not in the hierarchical sense but in the true sense of being equal as a human being. This in no way undermines the authority of the hierarchy, but it cements a personal connection that can be every bit as valuable in terms of your leadership as your position in the organizational structure.

When you show up with self-awareness and connect, people will gladly follow your leadership. It may not happen immediately: your very position in the hierarchy makes you someone to fear. You have the power to hire and fire. You can misuse your authority. I think the last piece of this is something the Colonel didn’t specifically state, but is implicit in treating our teams with respect and as equals, and that is trust.

Your job won’t make you trustworthy. There is no mantle of trust that will be conferred upon you based on your position in the hierarchy.

This is something you have to earn through your own self-awareness and willingness to connect authentically with your team. You are going to have to show your team and prove to them that you are self-aware, willing to connect and can be trusted. When this happens, you will have formed a team that will have your back, as you have theirs. A team that is not only capable of, but a team that will perform great things and in so doing with metaphorically “follow you into the jaws of Hell”.

Recommended Reading:

Learn more about the intersection between leadership and emotional intelligence in our new Primer series, featuring Daniel Goleman, Richard Davidson, Peter Senge, and other thoughtful contributors. Primers available are:

Coaching Leaders to Value and Manage Their Organizational Webs


DeLea is like a spider, aware of even the most subtle vibrations across her web.   She is able to predict how emotional energy will travel across her organizational web of stakeholders when she makes a leadership decision.

When one of her senior managers denies her proposal to implement a progressive reading practice in her school, she positively engages her powerful allies across her web to build support for the new practice.  Meanwhile, she re-engages her manager at the level of values and beliefs that she knows they both hold dear.  As a result, the no turns into an enthusiastic yes in weeks.  On her own team, DeLea meets individually with key influencers about the new practice to hear their point of view and subtly appeal to what they value.  When it comes time to formally make her pitch to her team, many strong voices in the room voice their enthusiastic support.   Weeks later when DeLea hears secondhand about a veteran teacher voicing frustration about the practice in the staff lounge, she knows exactly which teachers, support staff, and parents to engage to head off a potential setback. She also engages the teacher in question with the just-right blend of affirmation and high-candor feedback to begin shifting his resistance.

Isabel, a leader at another school, is like a fly caught in a web.  She skillfully builds the schedule and transition protocols for her school’s extended day program makeover.  However, it never occurs to her to question how people will feel about the new program.  She never asks anyone for feedback or shares any details about the plan until unveiling it in a Friday staff meeting. On Monday she is surprised to hear gossip about how she treats people and how arrogant she is to just ”take over” the extended day program.   Hurt and disoriented, Isabel just didn’t see this coming, and she feels like she’s been ambushed.   Isabel has a new appreciation for those who say that leadership is a lonely path.

What separates DeLea and Isabel is organizational awareness. 

DeLea values her team’s emotional energy.  She reads people, trusts her gut, and actively seeks information about people’s beliefs before she acts.   Isabel doesn’t value her team’s emotional energy and so does none of the things that DeLea does to guide her actions.

How do you teach Isabel to be like DeLea?

The first step is to build Isabel’s awareness that the web exists, and that her success depends on her understanding how it works.  Expect resistance!  Leaders who aren’t aware of the web and don’t value it tend to believe that small interactions don’t matter, and that people won’t find out about what they say behind closed doors.

Some take a values stand against caring about the web.  They won’t stoop to paying attention to gossip.  People should just be adults and get over their own emotional reactions.   These leaders need help seeing the impact of the web on their ability to meet their goals.  Coaches can help leaders to unpack their webs by digging deep into a current or past challenge.  Isabel and I drew a web of relationships on a big piece of butcher paper on her wall.  We named the key players and interest groups on her team, and how they connected to each other.  We thought about each person or group individually in terms of what they valued, their relationships, and their power to either support or challenge progress toward Isabel’s goal.  As we worked, Isabel began to see how her actions created dissonance for her people, and how their reactions were actually consistent with what they valued. Isabel’s biggest a-ha: their actions are predictable!  Her resistance melted away as she began to see the power in predicting her team’s reactions and proactively engaging to avoid being ambushed.

Isabel and I then applied the web to moving forward towards her goal.  We began by identifying her supporters.  She was unpleasantly surprised to realize how few she had.  From there we identified which people or groups were most likely to become supporters with some effective engagement from Isabel.

The key to getting that engagement was Isabel’s ability to figure out what these people valued, and what they needed from her. 

One person valued his standing on the team.  He needed an apology, and to be consulted on the new model.   Another group worried about the impact of the new approach on families.  They needed Isabel to affirm this worry and collaborate with them to find a solution.  Isabel had no idea what several people or groups needed, and realized that she needed to go find out.

Next, we focused on the people in the web who were actively resisting the new system.  I supported Isabel to build some empathy for these people—to see the noble story they were likely telling themselves that justified their actions.  Then I helped her understand the tactics these folks were using to influence other stakeholders across the web.  Again, Isabel had to figure out what these people needed from her to move from resistance to motivation, or at least compliance.

As she brainstormed, Isabel was building new appreciation for the range of influencing strategies she needed to embrace to get her organizational web behind her initiative.

By the time we were done, Isabel had created a complex visual representation of her stakeholders and their values, power, and relationships.  While this was all done in the context of her after-school system, Isabel realized that she could apply most of this map—reactively or proactively—to other leadership challenges.  We continued to use this map, or create new ones, over time as Isabel continued to build her organizational awareness.   Happily, she is no longer the fly caught in her web, and is on her way to becoming the spider.

Recommended reading:

Organizational awareness primerOur new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman, George Pitagorsky, and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Organizational Awareness: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers so far include:

Honesty Under Pressure: When to Ask For Help As a Leader


As leaders or managers we often find ourselves in a reactive frame of mind when we are under a great deal of pressure from self or external sources. Remaining in this reactive state can cloud the mind, diminish creativity, or isolate you from your team, and it is not conducive to an effective response to the situation. Developing a degree of self-awareness so you can notice your tendency to move towards a reactive posture in the moment – and consciously choosing to shift to a more interactive mindset – is essential in a leader.

In my early 40’s, I was involved in an interaction that served as a transformative experience in my development as both a manager and leader. The experience involved shifting from a reactive to an interactive mindset.

I was working as a CFO for a small company that manufactured ski-tuning machines in Waitsfield, VT. We were in the process of negotiating the sale to a much larger company. As is often the case in situations like this, I was negotiating the sale, but was going to lose my job as the acquirer already had a CFO. I was under a great deal of pressure both in negotiating the deal and in figuring out what I was going to do next. My wife, Patty, worked as a house manager in a respite house for people on hospice. She worked the 4pm to midnight shift.  Most days we had transitional childcare to cover any gaps in my being able to get home to take care of our two children and and Patty having to leave for work. Transitional childcare wasn’t always an option, and on this day, with the sale looming and pressures building, I had to get home early because the sitter was only able to stay for a short while.

When I got home I paid the sitter and tried to get the kids gathered, focused, and out to the car to get one of them to an appointment. I was running late. Trying to get them out of the house with whatever stuff they needed wasn’t working. I was getting frustrated. I’m normally a fairly soft-spoken person, not inclined to lose my temper unless pushed, but on this day and in this moment I felt pushed beyond my limit.

I can remember the moment as vividly as if it were this morning. Kids churning in the kitchen, leading me to yell in anger, and then it happened. My son stood in front of me, my daughter just behind him and he said, “Poppy it’s not okay for you to talk to us like that!”  It was as simple as that.

In my childhood, a response like his would have gotten me a slap across the face and an admonition not to “talk back” to my parents. For reasons I will never understand, I experienced what I can only call a moment of grace, of emotional self-awareness, a moment between hearing and reacting in which I realized he was right. I said, “You’re right. It’s not okay for me to talk to you like that.” I sat down on the floor and shared with them some of the pressures I was under, and in sharing I was careful not to ask them to take care of me. I just wanted them to understand that there was a lot going on and I needed their cooperation. It wasn’t about them, but in their frenzied state they aggravated my stress. What happened next was also a surprise. They both looked at me and he asked, “Why didn’t you tell us?” They jumped to their feet, ran upstairs, gathered their gear and were out the door and in the car in minutes.

I’ve thought about this often over the years. In our roles as leaders of organizations we are often under significant and unshared pressures from a variety of sources. As with my kids, it is important to be clear with those around us that it isn’t their job to take care of us. That’s our job. But we can share with our teams when we need help, or support. This is as important in a leader as in a co-worker.

Two aspects of this have always stood out to me in this illustration. One, the courage it took to speak up, and second, the importance of self-awareness. There are appropriate times to acknowledge a non-productive situation, and shift to an interactive posture.

While our management positions give us power and authority, they will never make us leaders. 

The choice to listen and hear the opinions of others while under pressure and being able to have an open and interactive mind, sharing the pressures you are facing with your team, empowers them to participate in solutions.

Recommended reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Empathy: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers so far include:

Leadership Isn’t Just For the Higher Ups


Anyone can be a leader, given the right motivation, support, and environment.

AJ is one of a large staff of ultrasound techs in a busy city hospital. When the other techs have a question about how to do an unusual exam, they ask AJ rather than approach their often-cranky supervisor.

Everyone in the firm knows Lisa, even the people who aren’t on her team. Officially, she’s an engineer who does technical background work related to the high-end buildings the company designs. Unofficially, Lisa is known for creating a positive climate through her upbeat energy and open-hearted concern for her coworkers.

Sean works as part of a virtual team of investment analysts across the United States, one of several US-based groups employed by a global bank. Highly engaged in his work, Sean has made a point of getting to know members of other teams as well as to learn about who’s who at company headquarters.

What do this ultrasound tech, engineer, and investment analyst in common? Each is a leader, even though their official position does not include a managerial role. Others in their companies look to them for some form of leadership, whether it is technical expertise, emotional support, or knowledge about organizational dynamics.

Regardless of job title, anyone can be a leader in an organization.

Of course, some people have titles and responsibilities that position them as someone who is in charge. Yet, in most organizations, there are also people who take on leadership roles in any position. They are actively engaged in their work and influential in their interactions with others. They take initiative in sharing their insights into how things get done.

Sometimes, like with AJ, leadership shows up as task expertise. Often, it takes the form of someone exercising emotional or social skills. As Daniel Goleman writes in his collection, What Makes a Leader, emotional and social intelligence are key competencies that distinguish high-performing leaders from their more average peers. Lisa and Sean each demonstrate several of the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Competencies.

In her interactions with others in her company, Lisa shows skill at Positive Outlook and Empathy. Through her listening attentively and expressing her positive views, Lisa influences the work of others and acts as an informal leader in her company.

Sean clearly demonstrates the Organizational Awareness and Achievement Orientation competencies. His drive to achieve translated into him taking the initiative to build relationships outside of his team. Although not the formal leader of his team, Sean’s connections with members of other teams and awareness of the top tiers of the company mean that he can provide important information to his team.

Who are the Leaders in Your Organization?

When you hear that question, do you immediately visualize the organizational chart and the CEO, division heads, managers, and team leaders?

Or do others with less obvious leader-type jobs show up on your personal list of the leaders in your organization?

What leadership qualities do you see in those “not-in-a-formal-leader-position” leaders?

How are you a leader in your organization?

Ask yourself these questions, and ask your co-workers. Listen to your own answer and pay attention to what your co-workers say. Everyone can take on a leadership role, regardless of formal job description. Listening well to others and taking the initiative are both key steps to leadership, whatever form it may take.

What’s your next step?

Recommended Reading:

emotional intelligence mattersWhat Makes a Leader includes Daniel Goleman’s bestselling Harvard Business Review article of that title, along with many other influential writings on the topic of leadership with emotional intelligence.

A great read for any aspiring or rising leaders!

team norms

Team Norms and Emotional Intelligence


I’m a strong believer in the importance of what we expect of one another in a team. And I’m not alone, as much of my research has focused on finding the distinctions that define the best teams. What my colleagues and I have found is that norms – or shared expectations – are the universal elements that identify high-performing teams.

Every group has norms, whether they’re developed consciously or not. A great example is: Do we start on time or do we wait for latecomers? Is it okay to show up late? Norms vary from group to group, and depend on what’s agreed upon by all involved.

The important thing about norms is that they regulate all behavior in teams. They regulate at the systems level. Many team researchers make the mistake of thinking that changing behavior in the team is about changing individual behavior. Building the individual emotional intelligence of team members is fabulous and it helps. However, once you enter a team where the norms don’t support your emotionally intelligent behavior, you’re more likely to conform to those norms than act otherwise. If rudeness is a norm, cutting people off, showing up late, that will emerge.

The way to impact a group’s performance is to impact the group’s norms. I explored this topic with Daniel Goleman in Crucial Competence, as a way to complement the many facets of building emotional and social leadership.

My colleagues and I have studied the norms of high-performing teams and found that the best teams periodically step back and reflect on their process. They take time to say, “How are we doing? Are we being too nice? Are we arguing too much? Are people getting supported? What do we need to work on?” This is essentially the group equivalent of the first key competence in individual emotional intelligence, self-awareness.

Where do norms of high-performing teams come from?

We had a hypothesis that an emotionally intelligent leader is more likely to develop emotionally intelligent norms in their team. A graduate student of mine when I was in the faculty at Case Western, Elizabeth Stubbs Koman, had contacts in the military, and she wanted to test the team norms and the emotional intelligence of leaders. She found a wonderful sample of air crew teams and maintenance teams, 81 teams that included 422 people. She first studied the team leader’s emotional intelligence using the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory in a 360-degree survey. We got anonymous ratings on the leaders. Then, she administered our survey that measures the group emotional intelligence norms. She also had the outcome data for these teams, the military’s objective measures of performance.

What she found was exactly what we predicted:

The team leader’s emotional intelligence didn’t predict the performance of the team, BUT it did predict the emergence of the emotionally intelligent team norms.

And, the team norms then predicted the performance. The way the leader’s emotional intelligence mattered was in shaping the norms, dynamics, and reality of the team, which in turn, led to higher performance.

Consider how this applies to your team, whether you are a leader or not. Play your part in cultivating positive team norms, garnering agreement, and speaking up when norms become counterproductive. Over time you’ll find this creates efficiency and cohesion among all of the team members.

Recommended Reading:

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

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

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series, and Team Emotional Intelligence.

culture development

Culture Development: How to Cultivate People for Organizational Success


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Next Jump

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

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

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

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

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

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

What it takes

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

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

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

Recommended reading:

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

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

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