Have You Ever Made this Emotionally UNINTELLIGENT Response?

Last week I wrote an open letter to a “friend” in Clarksville Tennessee. If you missed that post you can see it by clicking here.  In that post, I wrote about a guy I came across recently who totally lacked self-awareness.

I have a confession to make. 

In less than a week, I became like that same guy. Not at all proud of it.  But it did happen. Here is the story:

My wife and I were flying home from a wonderful Memorial Day weekend in Columbus Ohio. We were able to spend the weekend with our granddaughter, who, just for the record, is perfect in every way. My son dropped us off at the airport, we checked our bags and headed to the TSA screening area. I often say in the classes that I teach that the best place to observe what poor emotional intelligence looks like is in an airport.

I put my backpack on the conveyor belt to be screened like I do several times a week, almost every week. In my pack, I have a couple of books, my laptop, business cards--nothing unusual. 

The agent at the computer looks into my bag, shouting, "Whose black bag is this?” I look over and my backpack has been rerouted for physical inspection. I hear the agent tell one of his partners, “There is liquid in that bag." I thought to myself, “There is no liquid in that bag. I don’t carry liquids.”

A bit puzzled, I walk over with the agent to his station. He takes a black stick and rubs it over the outside of my bag and then on the inside. I am thinking, oh, this is just a routine screen for gunpowder or drugs or whatever it is that TSA uses that little black stick for. The agent asks me, “Do you have anything sharp in this bag?”  Again, pretty routine. I say, “no."

So he opens the bag, reaches in and pulls out a jar of peanut butter. I remembered that as we were on our way out the door this morning my wife asked me to put the jar in our suitcase. I stuck it in my backpack, thinking, no big deal people take peanut butter on planes all the time.  Since 50% of my flights are to Orlando, I see kids at the airport quite often; they eat PB&J all the time.

The agent then said to me, “This is a liquid and you will have to take it out and either check it or throw it away.”  

This is the point when I became like my friend in Clarksville.

I instantly reacted to the TSA agent by saying, “Peanut butter is not a liquid, it's a solid!" I feel pretty confident I am right about this. My reasoning is:

  1. Mr. Volosio, my 8th-grade chemistry teacher, was excellent and taught us the difference between solids, liquids, and gasses. I paid really close attention in that class and am reasonably sure I grasped the concept.
  2. My Inorganic Chemistry class took Mr. Volosio’s lesson even further and I passed that class too.

And if those aren’t enough then I ask you this: when is the last time you sat down to have an ice cold, refreshing glass of peanut butter?

The next thing I hear is, “Peanut butter is considered a liquid and you can check it or throw it away." So my statement and all of my logic are being challenged and I can feel myself triggering, which is where this story differs from the one about my friend in Clarksville.

I recognized my trigger. I stop, take a deep breath, and ask the agent just to go ahead and dispose of the peanut butter. I guess some of my training in emotional intelligence kicked in, and my mind told me to not let my emotion get the best of me. There is no way I am going to win an argument with a TSA agent who is convinced that peanut butter is a liquid. Not because he is right, but because he has the power. 

In that moment I had to decide if it was more important for me to be right than to end up on a no-fly list.  I decided it was much more important to fly again and so the peanut butter went into the trash and my wife and I went and had a bite to eat at the Chili’s restaurant in the airport....where I sat down and ordered a tall glass of peanut butter on the rocks with extra ice.

The waitress just looked at me with a puzzled look. I said,“Didn’t you know that peanut butter is a liquid, and so could you pour me a glass?"

My wife said to the poor girl, who was just there trying to make a living, “Just ignore him, he just got his feelings hurt. We will both have water with lemon.” The waitress left with our drink order, and my wife said, “I thought you taught emotional intelligence, you're  not showing any right now.” The truth hurts!

Embarrassed, I looked at her and said, “You're right. That waitress probably didn’t have Mr. Volosio for Chemistry so she might not know the difference between a liquid and a solid.” 

I can’t tell you my wife's response to that. Sometimes what happens in a marriage, stays in a marriage.

So, a trigger for me is when I know I am right and what I perceive to be an injustice occurs.  

How about you? Do you know your triggers? Are you aware of what sets you off? Can you control your emotion, or does your emotion get the best of you and you end up making poor decisions because of some strong need you have to be right, or be heard, or be seen?

Having good emotional intelligence requires both self-awareness and self-management. 

Having good character is knowing when you are wrong and being able to apologize. I did. To my wife, the waitress, and the TSA agent.

PS. The next time you are in Orlando, send me an email because my wife and I would love to have you over to our house for an ice cold glass of…. your favorite liquid beverage.

A Vaccination for Leadership Failure

Who wants to fail as a leader? No one. None of us wakes up in the morning and says, “Let me see how I can totally screw up the thing I am working on today."

And yet…Here is my story.

4 Things to Look for in Wise Counsel (2)

A number of years ago, I had been a fairly successful sales professional and tapped for a management development program. The company I worked for was growing like crazy. Most people spent less than 2 years in this program before they were tapped for their first management level job. I thought I had arrived! Look at me! Watch me climb! Nothing will stop my career! These were all thoughts I had at the time. I was on top of the world and it felt great.

My wife and I moved from my sales territory in Decatur, Illinois to the corporate headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. Our family consisted of my wife and I along with our 2-year-old son Zach, and a precious baby girl due in about 6 weeks. The plan was to be in Indianapolis for less than 2 years before our next move into my first management level job. So, I did what every person with a dream, a wife, and 2 young kids does….

I went out and bought a 2 seat sports car.

I rationalized it by telling myself, "Hey, we already own a minivan. No problem."

Fast forward 5 years later. That's right, my 2-year window for promotion had gone to 5! The company hit a tight spot. No one got promoted for 3 years beyond my 2-year window. And on top of the career slow down, my wife and I had another baby boy! We were now a family of 5, with a minivan and a second car that is a Mazda Rx 7.

Great car, yet totally not practical when my wife took the minivan to go shopping one Saturday and left me with the 3 kids and a couple of friends kids. Scott and 5 kids on a Saturday morning, normally not a problem, until Zach comes out holding his hand over his eye and blood dripping down having just been whacked on the head with a toy by one of the other kids.

Question: How do I get 5 kids and me in the Rx7 and to the hospital to get Zach stitched up?

The Lesson

There is an ancient Proverb that says “Before his downfall a man's heart is proud."

I will admit it. I was full of pride. Proud of my career. Proud of my family. Proud of how I had achieved.

What is the problem with pride? It blocks your vision of reality. As leaders, we puff ourselves up for everyone to see.

What are some things that feed our pride as leaders?

1. People come to you for decision making. 2. People look to you for safety (job security). 3. People look to you as an expert in your field. 4. People feel comfortable knowing you are there. 5. You make people feel they are important. 6. You give people a feeling of optimism. 7. You give people a sense of hope. 8. You are near the top of the food chain. 9. People seek your advice and counsel. 10. Your opinions are sought and considered.

The great writer CS Lewis says that the problem with your pride is that it is in competition with everyone else's pride. Pride at its very root is competitive. “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man,” according to Lewis.

More money. Bigger house. Better looking. Smarter. Prettier wife. More loving husband. Successful kids. Faithful servant. Harder worker. Coolest job.

The problem with pride is not the metric, but what we do with it. It is in our nature to compare. It is how we know where we are. The problem with pride is an inability to be content and a desire for control. It is a scarcity mentality that says for me to be up in life you must be down.

This is a lie.

Great leaders find ways for everyone to be up.

What I have learned over the years is that when I begin feeling like this, full of pride, I better watch my next step.

The Vaccination

When things go wrong, we begin to think about treatment. Treatment is about fixing the problem. Vaccination, however, is about prevention.

Treatment in the medical world is meant to help you recover from something that has happened to you. A vaccination is meant to prevent the disease in the first place.

The second part of the Proverb I mentioned above states, “but humility comes before honor."

Being humble. Putting others ahead of your pride. Being modest in your opinion of yourself. Thinking of others as better than yourself is one way to overcome pride.

The question I have been asking myself is, are there any strategies for preventing pride in the first place?

How can you vaccinate yourself against pride that often accompanies Leadership?

Here is a shot in the arm that can help you prevent Leadership Pride. This might sting a little, but here comes the needle...

Seek Wise Counsel.

That didn’t hurt too bad, did it?

Looking back on my story, I really should have sought wise counsel about buying that car. Not only was it impractical, but the assumptions I used to frame my reality regarding my career and my family were askew. They just were not based in reality. Just because the business was in an up cycle didn’t mean it was going to stay that way forever. Some wise counsel at that time could have been just the vaccination the doctor would have prescribed to prevent me from making such a poor decision.

There is another Proverb that says “Without counsel plans are frustrated, but with many counselors plans succeed."

As you are thinking about getting wise counsel in your life, what should you look for? Here are a few things I have found as I have researched the topic:

4 Things to Look for in Wise Counsel:

1. Experience. Why not ask someone who has been down the road what the path looks like? 2. Impulse Control. Look for someone who is not going to be swayed by your emotional rationale. You do not want someone who will agree with you all the time. You want another perspective on what reality looks like. A person who is patient enough to hear you out. 3. Courage. Having an ability to disagree with you is paramount to you being able to learn and grow. 4. Empathy. Someone who can see your perspective even if they do not agree. Empathy differs from sympathy in that the empathic person will ask the hard question when it is in your best interest. The sympathetic person will just agree with you in whatever state you are in.

So often in leader development we screw up and look for a treatment remedy for what has happened. Why not look to prevent these potential failures in leadership by vaccinating yourself against tragedy? Seeking wise counsel may be one good shot in the arm for you as a leader.

Your Homework

Look for a leadership decision you have coming up. Seek out some wise counsel. Lay the topic out for those you are seeking input from, without bias or telling them your preferences. Consider what they say to you before you act.

Call to Action

Please click here to go to my Facebook page and leave a comment about the value you have found in seeking wise counsel in your leadership life. We would love to hear from you.

P.S. - There is still time to enter our Leadership Survey Contest.  It will take you less than 3 minutes to complete, and you just might win a $50 Amazon gift card for giving us your opinion!

What Does Being Self-Aware Cost You?

I had a client recently who said he received feedback that he needed to become more self-aware of the impact of his behavior on others. man-reflection-in-mirror

When I probed for what behavior seemed out of line, he told me that he had been rewarded his entire career for being a critical thinker and deliberate in decision-making. The organization needed to undergo changes to be more responsive in the marketplace and his caution was now being viewed as inflexibility. The feedback he was receiving from the organization was that he needed to be more self-aware of his inability to see things in other ways. He told me, “I need to pay attention to when I am being overly cautious and evaluate if I really am being inflexible or if my caution is warranted."

Paying attention. An interesting phrase...

Paying attention, as it relates to being self-aware, implies that there is a cost involved. When you sharpen your focus on something, you will inherently need to give something up in exchange.  In the example above, if my client is to be self-aware and pay attention to a behavior to elicit change, he will have to give up something in exchange for the attention he is going to give the new behavior.

Here is a simple example: If I go to the grocery store to pick up a banana, a transaction takes place where I give the clerk something of value to me, in this case, money, before receiving the product I desire more than the money I possess, the banana. Pretty simple.

When leaders are told they need to be self-aware of their actions or behaviors, it seems to get a bit more complicated than buying a banana. The process of becoming a self-aware leader requires that we give something up in order to draw attention to what we desire to change or better understand. [TWEET THIS!] This change in behavior must have more value to us than what we need to give up in order to obtain it.

When purchasing a banana, I know what I need to give up to own the fruit. In the same way, if I need to pay attention in order to become more self-aware of what is seen as inflexibility, for example, what must I give up in order to obtain this behavior change? To pay attention to this kind of behavior change will require humility to even get the process started. You have to recognize that you desire the banana more than you desire money and be willing to give up one in exchange for the other.

What does it take for you to humble yourself as a leader?

In this context, to be humble is really about having a clear perspective of your place in the context of your situation.  My client had to get to a point where he could be objective when situations arose. It is quite probable that because he had been rewarded (or at least had the feeling of such reward) in the past for his display of caution, that he installed it as a permanent successful behavior. After all, who does not like a positive feeling?!

His first step in becoming self-aware had already occurred. He recognized the spectrum of behavior he was trying to distinguish. He had described the poles as being deliberate on one end and inflexible on the other. He gave up the freedom to just behave as he had been rewarded. He had to pay, in this case, his normal feeling of being cautious to precipitate a desired change or even recognize the spectrum that he was asked to change along.

Now he must understand the strength of his deliberateness and the weakness of his inflexibility.

Let me illustrate:

To stay in shape, I like to jog. I started having some knee pain. Once a week I work out with a personal trainer for 30 minutes, so I was telling him about the pain I was having in my knee. One of his thoughts was that I had some muscle imbalance, meaning one of the muscles in my leg had become stronger than another. The tension, caused by one muscle being stronger than another, caused a pulling at the joint and, therefore, the pain.

According to my trainer, this weakness causes an imbalance and puts stress on other muscles to become stronger and overcompensate for the weakness.  According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine there are many reasons that one muscle might be stronger than another, such as past trauma, repetitive movements, lack of core strength, poor training technique, emotional duress, and poor posture. He said, “Scott, you have to pay attention to strengthening all your muscle groups so that you don’t have knee pain."

There it was again, pay attention. What was I going to have to give up in order to relieve the pain? The same is true for my client, and for you.

What do you need to give up when you are working with those who follow your leadership so that you “pay attention” to them? If you are trying to listen better to what your followers are telling you, what is the cost to you? What do you need to give up to become a better listener? Have you identified the cost that may be involved for the change to occur?

Feel free to comment on this question. I would love to know what you are thinking.

Top 3 Leadership Reasons Leeza Gibbons Won Celebrity Apprentice

Two distinct leadership styles were pit against each other in the finals of this year’s Celebrity Apprentice.

Character one is Geraldo Rivera, the egotistical, self-made, self-reliant leader. Geraldo made it into the finals of the competition with a style of being hard-working and very well-connected, making sure that everyone in his circle of influence knew how powerful he was. He is smart and full of talent and very egocentric.


Character two is Leeza Gibbons, the selfless, humble, follower-centric leader. Leeza made it into the finals of the competition with hard work and high levels of self-awareness. Her ability to listen to others and encourage those on her team was really a classic study in leader-follower interaction. The way she attracted followers was captivating.

Donald Trump, the Boss of the show, asked contestants who had been “fired" in prior episodes who they thought would win. Those who chose Geraldo thought he would win because of his power. Those who thought Leeza would win said it would be because she had such a positive influence.

The TV drama was really interesting from a leadership perspective. A classic battle between two types of influence. The dictator who leads with power and intimidation versus the servant who leads with compassion and caring. Even the Boss, Donald, was amazed when he told Leeza that he could not believe she had made it this far with that kind of leadership style.

As followers, you have to ask yourself, “Which type of leader would I rather follow?". You have to decide which type of leader you're going to be. It's hard to live in both worlds.

Leeza Gibbons was triumphant with her servant leader style. Her leadership style cut out the crazy and dropped the drama some followers brought to the task. She got along well with people.  Geraldo got fired because he couldn’t play nice with others. It was really that simple.

Leeza  successfully employed 3 core leadership principles for the win:

  1. Know Where You Are Going Leeza provided a clear vision and direction for her team. We have a lot of clutter in our world. Leaders must be clear and consistent. As a leader do not get distracted from your core message and your vision.
  2. Be Passionate As the leader, the level of passion will be established by you.  Err on the side of “no one cares as much about this as you do”.  It does not matter if their lives depend upon it, the level of passion and commitment of the group will never exceed that of the leader. EVER!!!
  3. Have Zero Ego In his book Humble Inquiry, noted organizational leadership scholar Edgar Schein shares the premise that many organizations lack a safe environment for lower-level employees to engage or bring up issues.  Leeza Gibbons won Celebrity Apprentice because she established a climate in which all followers felt safe and she made the team better.
Questions to ask yourself as a Leader:
  1. Do you know where you are going and is your vision clear? DO NOT assume because you said it once a year ago that followers get it. Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!
  2. Are you the most passionate person in your organization for your vision? If you are lacking passion, what do you need to get back on track?
  3. Am I willing to let go of my ego and make my success about others and not myself?

For more information on this topic, Edgar Schein has written a really great book on how to start: Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling. Check it out and let me know what you think.

[reminder]Did you watch this season of Celebrity Apprentice? What was your biggest takeaway? [/reminder]