Sometimes It's What's Not There That's Most Interesting

“When you forget to put the bay leaf in, the pot roast doesn’t taste as good.”-Norma Smith

There are times when what is missing is just as important as what goes in.

If you are ever in Lake Wales Florida and have an evening to spare, you need to stop in and pay a visit to my mother-in-law. There are two things I can guarantee will happen if you ever decide to do this. First, you will hear stories, lots of them, about how the sharing of one's faith is much more than talking. It is about actually doing something to help someone, like dig a well, buying a goat, or even teaching a child. Faith talk is cheap, Faith action is much more impactful. The second thing you will get is a wonderful meal. The woman can cook, and my favorite thing by far is the pot roast. In fact, if you call her in advance and tell her you are coming, drop a hint about the pot roast. You will be so glad you did.  

Now, if you promise not to tell anyone, I will share a secret with you…the secret of a good pot roast. 

It's the bay leaf or bay laurel as it is known in cooking circles. As they simmer the leaf, it gives off a complex-tea like aroma that adds a subtle flavor somewhere between oregano and thyme.  

I can recall one time the family got together and pot roast was on the menu. Norma asked me to put take the beef from the roaster and put it in the serving dish. As I was doing this she said, “Make sure you take the Bay Leaf out and throw it away." Being a curious type I asked, "have you ever forgotten the bay leaf?” 

If you leave the Bay Leaf out the the roast just isn’t as good….

That story came to my mind as I read  an article in the Wall Street Journal on graduate school admissions. 

This summer, NYU’s Stern School of Business started asking for endorsements from a pal or co-worker who can comment on the applicant’s social skills or emotional intelligence.

I found this so interesting because for years now the leadership literature has bee calling out the fact that while intellect is important, it is emotional intelligence that mediates performance. You have to be smart enough to be in the role, but after that it is your emotional and social skills that matter to the organization you work with.

In addition to the two recommendations Stern requires students to submit, the school now has applicants ask a friend or colleague to write a 250-word statement highlighting their traits like empathy and self-awareness. Interestingly, for their next incoming class, Wharton will ask recommenders to do something similar in describing a candidate, asking them to pick six traits—such as conscientiousness or humility—from a list of 20 that best describe the person.

What Goes In and What's Left Out

One of the workshops we've been asked to facilitate more often is “Interviewing for Emotional Intelligence." Organizations, in addition to academic institutions, are realizing the importance of emotional intelligence to overall success.

Often times it isn’t what the person is saying in an interview that matters, but what is left out.

Consider the individual contributor who is interviewing for their first manager (leadership) position…

Interviewer: “Tell me about a time when you were successful in leading a team.”

Hopeful Candidate goes on to tell the interviewer about a time when they convened a meeting for a major problem and then assigned everyone a role, kept the group on task, and the got this impactful result that saved the company millions of dollars.

What becomes evident as our Hopeful Candidate is sharing is the imbalance he/she has between self-confidence and empathy. The entire answer to the question was about what Hopeful Candidate was able to accomplish and nothing about how Hopeful Candidate went about building mutual trust in relationships or tried to understand how the team was feeling. There was nothing said about how well Hopeful Candidate was able to articulate others perspectives and behave in a way that was respectful to others feelings. 

You see, Hopeful Candidate had the “beef” of the interview question answered and was in the pot ready to cook. What was left out was the bay leaf, the flavor, how Hopeful Candidate was able to get things done with other people. 

So, if you find yourself cooking a pot roast or interviewing for a new role, don’t forget to add the flavor that shows you have the emotional, social, and intellectual ability to be wildly successful in the role.

Now, who's ready for lunch?