On the 6th of November 2011 I was fired from my Dream Job.
Sometimes it takes getting fired from your dream job to create a personal epiphany. And my personal epiphany was around a skill that I lacked, and that skill is emotional intelligence. Now it might help you to understand why I had trouble with my Emotional Intelligence when I tell you that I’m half German.
But in all seriousness I grew up as a very left-brain centered person. And I was taught that to emphasise my rationality, my scientific way of thinking I should push away my emotions.
So I developed this idea that somehow to become more rational, to become more logical I have to abandon my emotions. And I think that’s complete… I won’t say the word. It’s not true. Our emotions and our logic can help us become better together.
I’m going to tell you a story about how I really discovered emotional intelligence.
Before I do that I need to explain what my understanding of emotional intelligence is.
And that is, that emotional intelligence is a skill that involves the ability to read one's own and others emotions accurately, and to put that information to good use.
That’s it. Simple. Nothing else.
Emotional Intelligence is just a skill. We can learn it.
It is the ability to read our own and other emotions accurately and to put that information to good use.
So, on the 6th of November 2011 I was fired from my Dream Job. 10 Months earlier, in January 2011, I landed my Dream Job.
I was elected President of an organisation called AIESEC New Zealand. And this was my dream job because I got to work full-time for an organisation that develops young leaders. This is my passion.
AIESEC is the largest organisation in the world that’s run entirely by young people. Every single position in the organisation is held by a young person under the age of 30 for just 12 month terms.
I discovered this organisation while I was studying at the University of Auckland in New Zealand in 2006. Over the next 5 years I attended leadership conference, I led teams of people, and I discovered an ability to communicate and inspire people towards a common cause.
So, in 2010 when I finished my studies, I made a decision to run for a full-time role with the organisation, working as the national president in Wellington.
I went and researched what it involved, I studied all the major stakeholders and I made some ambitious plans for the changes I would undertake if elected. On the day of the elections I went to wellington, and I delivered my speech.
I did the interviews. The votes were cast and tallied. At the end of the night I stood in front of the leaders of the organisation who had gathered from around the country with two extremely qualified rivals by my side, and the announcement was made… I was elected!
Wow. This moment is etched so deeply into my memory as one of the most profound moments of my life, and yet, maybe I should have been looking to the future, because the next 10 months proved to be the toughest of my life so far.
Those 10 months were like the TV show Survivor, set in an office nonstop for 10 months. In the end, I didn’t survive. I did not complete the 12 months that I had been elected to serve as president. After 6 months as President-elect and 4 months as President-in-action I was forced out of the role by my team, and to the wonder of many people, I made a decision to stay on that team, reporting to a new leader, to really stare my failure in the face for another 8 months.
The 10 months leading up to that point were like that proverbial frog in that pot of water getting heated up so slowly that he never notices the temperature change.
In the story the Frog boils to death even though he could easily have jumped out. Figuratively I boiled to death too, but in that death I realised that I was not a frog. I realised that I was a phoenix waiting to be reborn.
Not all at once, but slowly, slowly I began to build up a new me. I did what I was good at with a newfound humility that allowed me to connect more authentically.
I facilitated meetings. I coached individuals. I trained leadership skills, and I deconstructed my failure so that I could learn from it.
And my failure was this. Summed up by a mentor at the time. She said to me: Josh, you lack emotional intelligence.
I thought, "alright, emotional intelligence I know about that, that’s like empathy, I’ve got this, it’s fine."
And she said, Josh, she said: "How do you feel? How are you feeling right now?" I answered that "I’m tired, I feel tired."
And she looked me straight in the eyes and she said: "Josh, that’s not an emotion."
Wow, ok, What is an emotion?
I had thought that emotions got in the way, of leadership and management, of science and business. I thought I had successfully suppressed my emotions and rendered them harmless. Isn’t that the goal of a scientific individual?
I was wrong. My emotions were not the problem. In fact, I had cut off one of my leadership legs and found myself unable to walk. I had stunted a major part of my power. In fact, without emotions I could not lead myself, let alone other people.
Once I identified this problem I was able to overcome it. I didn’t realise how far I had come until earlier this year.
In June, I flew to Mongolia to lead a team of facilitators delivering a leadership conference. At the end of this conference at the final debrief meeting with all of the facilitators we gave each other feedback, and the most common piece of feedback that I received was that I was extremely Emotionally Intelligent.
One person said: "Josh, I feel like you were able to know my emotions before I even knew them myself."
Wow. I was extremely flattered, and also a little bit astounded. How did I go from turning my greatest weakness into a great strength so quickly?
The biggest shift for me was my belief. I used to believe that emotions get in the way of leadership and management, and now I believe that emotions are absolutely essential to leadership and management.
We all know that the leader who provides a lot of positive reinforcement will get much better results, and yet, we all give praise too sparingly.
I used to believe that emotions got in the way of decision-making and now I believe that emotions are absolutely crucial in decision-making.
Without our emotional brain guiding our values we do not know how to weigh up the factors in a decision and yet we so often try to rely on the cold hard facts alone blind to the emotional work done in the background.
The truth that has already dawned on all of us, is that we are emotional creatures first. It is our emotions that allow us to navigate effortlessly in a complex world, it is our emotions that allow us to be leaders, and It is our emotions that make us human beings.
So, at this point I’ve talked for a while, and I want you talking as well. I want to ask you to do a little exercise. Because what I found as a highly rational person, as a highly logical person, I could learn about emotions by just asking people.
Because we do this all the time, but we don’t connect with people deeply enough. So I’m going to ask you to turn to the person sitting next to you and ask them about how their feeling. Dig deep, find out how they are really doing today. Make assumption, really ask the question and ask insightfully.
So I’m going to give you 60 seconds now to turn to the person next to you and really have a deep conversation about your emotions. And the thing to remember about this is that we all know how to do this. We have the emotional capacity within us to connect, we just don’t do it often enough. So let’s just try and do it right now. Here’s your 60 seconds. Go.
Fantastic. Thank you. Who felt a little bit uncomfortable about sharing your emotions with someone you don’t quite know that well?
One more belief I use to have: emotions are a sign of weakness, and now I believe that emotions are the only way you can really connect with someone.
So I hope you’ve formed a new connection here today.
One final thing. As a hyper-logical person, I want to finish with a data point.
In fact, in 2009 the European Union did a report that found that 28% of people in the EU have health problems from work-related stress. 28%.
And this problem is even worse in the US. In the USA more than 70% of people have health problems from work-related stress.
The EU found that this cost, they approximated that this cost 20 Billion Euro in 2009 alone, just in the EU-15.
So my question is, how much of this value could we recapture just by being more aware of the emotions of our co-workers. It’s like what Johann talked about earlier. Executives don’t know how their colleagues are feeling. This is the problem.
I hope that I’ve been able to show that emotional intelligence isn’t just a good idea, it’s critical. We need to bring more emotional intelligence into our own personal lives, but especially into science and business, so that we can communicate more clearly, so that we can be better leaders, and maybe, maybe even, so that we can be, better, human, beings.