Emotional intelligence is a real, and really important, factor at play in any business which employs and serves human beings. Leaders are learning how to leverage the impact that emotional intelligence—sometimes called “soft skills”—has in business, from individual careers to organizational culture. Articles on the subject are no longer relegated to fringe publications or social sciences, in fact mainstream business journals like Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and FastCompany have been talking about it for several years. The thriving conscious capitalism movement, the emergence of B Corps , and sold-out conferences like Wisdom 2.0 are all further evidence that more and more professionals and companies are taking the human element of business very seriously. This means that not only is the industrial age model of treating people like machines an outdated one, but companies who aren’t engaged with their employees and customers on a human level are at a competitive disadvantage in an increasingly networked world.
I first started conceiving of misfits and misfit teams when I began to reflect on my own employment process. As an unusual, "over"-sensitive and intelligent kid with no siblings, I often balked at oversimplified directions, experienced a bruised ego when receiving criticism, and struggled with how to participate in team or group environments. By the time I entered the workforce, I had developed a complex web of insecurities and related defenses designed to protect against the embarrassment of making public mistakes, compensating with my intelligence. It was in my first management position, which happened at about the same time I was engaging in lot of personal development work, that I really saw the impact.
Often, the focus on the ideal of the cross-functional, interdisciplinary, extroverted worker results in questions being asked which the average employee is insufficiently skilled to answer. In her book Quiet, Susan Cain cites the example of one of her research technical interviewees' recollection of a 'murder board,' a panel of decision-makers whom engineers had to face in order to get their new ideas considered for funding and other resources. One can imagine a hard-faced panel of besuited men tearing down the brilliant if meek engineer with the smug expressions of a young MBA grad: "What's your marketing plan!," they might shout, "
Introvert seems to be a nasty word these days. It's worth unpacking why, though, according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. In the book, she point to an overemphasis on the extrovert rooted in the shift from a 'culture of character' to a 'cult of personality,' stemming from the need to find new ways to quickly and repeatedly introduce one's self—to sell one's self—in the newly-urbanized United States in the early part of the 20th century.
Autonomy, especially in and around U.S. businesses, is a tricky concept. Autonomy is valued very highly in our culture, but the challenge of finding a way to hand off acceptable amounts of control takes a lot more work than most leaders or employees realize. Few companies have the patience or budget for mistakes which occur when a more-autonomous goes wrong, so they choose not to grant autonomy in the first place, or revoke it at the first sign of trouble. Understandably, the constant conflict of employees who need autonomy and leaders who need accountability plagues most organizations.
Gender is a touchy subject. In the U.S., business peoples' historic inability to responsibly discuss gender resulted in a backlash which human resources department also reacted to—with an oversimplified, "we're all the same" message substituting for a deeper, more nuanced discussion of inclusion and equality.
I was recently asked to weigh in on how to support the creative worker. It's a broad, almost-impossible question: how does one even begin to categorize such a person? So I chose to respond by focusing on the elements of the workplace which enable creativity, both culturally and structurally, to support the rise of good ideas and ease for those bringing good ideas to light.
Most leadership guides, hiring manuals and educational practices are grounded in the idea of supporting collaboration and motivating employees by having extroverts lead. The history of how this came to be is detailed in the revealing title by Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.
Of the ten virtuous act spoken of in Buddhism,
four are verbal: not to lie, not to engage in divisive talk,
not to speak harsh words, and not to engage in frivolous conversation.
—The 14th Dalai Lama
In business, it's often easy to focus on what we perceive to be broken or wrong. Instead of focusing on what's wrong, try looking at what works and what could work better. From that lens, what might transform in you conversations with other team members? What could you acknowledge them for producing?
There is a value of the Causeit vision which seems quite apropos to His Holiness' comments. In a recent retreat, we declared:
Our conversations are about works or what doesn't work in servive of profoundly important visions; we don't dwell in the old paradigms of right/wrong, good/bad, blame, fault, guilt or shame.
What could you adopt in your organization to build consensus around a value of generous, compassionate communication that also produces the results you're committed to?