To business people I say I was very analytical, which is how they describe themselves. In casual conversation I say I was a geek or nerd. When I was young, those terms were still insults, before everyone got computers and became geeks and nerds too.
To business people someone being analytical usually means they have poor people skills, which to them means low emotional intelligence, which means limited ability to rise in a corporation or make deals. That’s about as big a problem you can have in business. By the time I was in business school, I knew I wanted to keep starting businesses, so I valued success in business.
Here is the main slide covering these concepts my core leadership class used, showing that you don’t want to get caught without emotional intelligence.
Leadership courses are the business person’s cure for being too analytical. They are supposed to teach you people skills so you can increase your potential. Unfortunately, the more analytical you are, the less a graph like that made sense, or rather, the more it annoyed you with vague labels for the axes, unlabeled curves, nothing quantified. It looked like nonsense.
Happily, though humbly, for me, I think I started with the least emotional intelligence of anyone in my class, which meant I had the most to learn. In particular, I had never learned anything like leadership skills, nor had I studied in that way. For me studying meant listening to a lecture and reading followed by writing, solving problems, or doing a project.
Leadership class gave us exercises to interact in certain ways with another person to do things like negotiate. The exercises created emotions like social anxiety I had never felt when solving problem sets for science or writing papers. More importantly, when I did what they told me, other people responded how they said they would. Amazing! You can learn skills to lead people. When they told me that at the beginning of the semester, it didn’t affect my belief that we are largely born with what leadership ability we’ll ever have. Now I experienced the difference. I learned I could improve my leadership skills.
Improving leadership skills meant increasing my potential, as I could tell by my relationships with people, no matter the vagueness of those graphs. More importantly, these skills improved my life. My relationships improved, I found myself enjoying emotions I liked more and suffering ones I disliked less, understood more about myself and my values, and saw how to keep improving. As much as I loved physics, sports, and other things I learned in school, nothing directly improved my life like learning these skills did.
Who wouldn’t be inspired by such results and expectation of further success?
The scientist in me, on seeing predictability and reproducibility, concluded there must be a model or theory behind what they were teaching me. When I asked them, they didn’t have one. Business school is a vocational school, after all, and its purpose is to prepare students to work, not to theorize.
My curiosity and motivation increased after graduation. I continued practicing what they taught. I also started researching motivation, emotion, self-awareness, and emotional skills. I found the most useful information in evolutionary psychology, which began to explain why we have the emotions we do, and showed me that our emotional system is systematic, by which I mean consistent and reliable. Out of my research emerged my Model and Method, on which I base much of my practice.
Now I continue to learn social and leadership skills all the time, as well as practice the ones I have. I’m also focusing on the teaching of leadership, which I’ll have to write about later.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book