EQ > IQ

The higher you go, the more this is true, because the higher you go the less your job is about process and the more it is about people.

The recipe for increased EQ (your emotional quotient or emotional intelligence) is a simple one, challenging but simple.

It starts with self-awareness. Do you know yourself? Do you understand the source of your emotional actions and reactions? And not when you’re feeling good, but especially when you’re under stress? That’s when EQ really matters.

The second step, once you know your emotional tendencies, is to manage them, which means that with knowledge comes choice. I tend to think this is why a lot of people don’t work on EQ. It can be very difficult to deny an impulsive, reactionary emotional response and replace it with something more productive.

The third step is where the investment in your self really starts to pay off. Through the process of understanding your emotional tendencies you are increasing your capacity for empathy, first within yourself and then with those around you. Empathy is the not-so-secret weapon that separates your mature and compassionate colleagues from those who stay stuck in the trap of “me first.”

The final level of advancement with EQ is the ability to use that understanding of other’s emotions to benefit them and the larger team. This is where EQ becomes a potentially game-changing leadership competency. Leaders at this level have learned how to take the gusting winds of a person or team’s emotional reactions and calm them to a gentle breeze. They do this by noticing and then listening. They ask questions to learn more and they employ their awareness of both the individual and the group – as well as their knowledge of the current needs of the business – to ensure that what is being felt is both contextualized and normalized.

The truth is that most people just want to be heard, respectfully and thoughtfully reassured that someone is willing to sit with them while they experience the often-difficult feelings that emerge in organizational life. Once heard we are often able to solve our own problems because we no longer have the cloud of emotional upheaval obscuring our view of what’s possible.

Among all of the good reasons for our leaders to develop strong EQ skills, maybe the most important is the simplest one: it’s just a better way to be human.


woman wearing blue top beside table

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Dear Mona
{Naomi Shihab Nye}

Dear Mona, do you know
how your old stucco building
marks the spot of Something True?
Your hand-lettered red sign rises up
like a crooked, friendly flag.
I can guess the menu:
bean & cheese, potato & egg,
maybe a specialty of your own making,
avocado twist or smoky salsa.
Your nombre is nice.
One taco might be enough.
You feed the ranchers who just lived through
the worst drought and flood back-to-back.
They touch the brims of their hats
when they see you.
Don’t we all need someone to greet us
to make us feel alive?

West of town, soft fields
ease our city-cluttered eyes,
There’s a rim of hills to hope for up ahead.
Mona, mysterious Mona,
I don’t have to eat with you to love you.
Every morning I think, Mona’s up.


three purple plastic chairs

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At Ease

It is a difficult truth of the human condition that to feel at ease, to be filled with a sense of peace and calm, is to actually be on the edge of another thought entirely: how soon will this leave me? When will I feel “normal” again, anxious, uncertain, doubtful…easy prey for the vicissitudes of the voice in the head?

I won’t say that it doesn’t have to be this way. We have already lost that battle. Millions of years of inherited protectionism have guaranteed that.

Instead, I suggest that in those brief moments of relief, when our defenses have momentarily dropped away and we feel ourselves as whole and alive, we take a picture and put it in a scrapbook titled “possibility.”

That way, we have proof that we were there, an invitation to return again and again.


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On the Great Wall – June, 2002

I Got Knocked Down Again

I watched Brene Brown’s Netflix special, The Call to Courage, for a second time today and her call to get into the arena, to be willing to get knocked down – to embrace the certainty of getting knocked down – reminded me of a post I wrote last October. Here it is again, truer than ever.



“You can’t go back and change the beginning,
but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
— C S Lewis


You know the feeling of being lost. You know what it’s like to start out with a sense of direction, a heading that makes sense to you. And then, after a wrong turn or missed signpost, that sense of direction evaporates into confusion as you can’t get your bearings. And you stumble around a little bit hoping it will come back to you. “This all looks familiar,” you might say, “but I just don’t know how to get going in the right direction.”

I got lost in the forest that way, not once but three days in a row. Each morning I set out with clarity and purpose and within 15 minutes I was not where I intended to be. I made wrong turns. I missed the signposts. It was dark and I was stubborn, a troubling combination.

For three consecutive days I failed to get the beginning right. For three consecutive days I was able to change the ending and get myself back where I needed to be.

I didn’t want it to play out that way but it was how I needed it to play out to help me understand my developmental pathway. That trail in the woods was always leading me back, not to what I wanted but to what I needed. And what I needed was the reminder that I am least in control when I am the most controlling; that I am least capable when I am blindly confident; that I am least connected when I focus on competence, arrival and completion.

Me against a dark and unknown forest trail wasn’t close to a fair fight. And each time it knocked me down I got back up to test it again. And I got knocked down again. Until, until, until I was ready to accept what it had to teach me; that the construct of “me against a dark and unknown forest trail” was only the latest manifestation of my familiar developmental path.

Me against. Me against. Me against. An endless, un-winnable fight.

Me with the unknown trail. Me with the scary conversations. Me with the deepening relationship. Me with the new opportunity to stretch, learn and grow. Me with the unknown future.

Connection is the pathway I continue to walk.


mountains nature arrow guide

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Playful

“We have no empirical evidence that being more serious leads to greater insight into the human condition than being playful. There is, however, growing empirical evidence that being playful opens toward the ever-elusive, supple heart.”
John Paul Lederach


There is only one thing I miss…that I truly miss…from going to work every day at an organization, from being an employee, on a team, responsible to deliver what’s been promised.

That thing? The fun of it. The playfulness, the messing around, the good humor, the connection and camaraderie. Enjoying myself at work – playing at work – is something I never got tired of and that I miss very much.

As a “sole practitioner” I have to work very hard to create the kind of playfulness that, inside the walls of the company – in the right conditions, of course – happens organically. I have regular and irregular phone calls and email/text exchanges with friends and colleagues that help me keep perspective, have a laugh and enjoy the experience of my day-to-day work. And that’s essential because I can take my work much too seriously on far too many days.

I am reminded today that the intensity of my furrowed brow suits my work only insofar as it moves me toward lightness and freedom. I realize that I can measure this by checking whether I am inching myself closer to the playground than to the principal’s office.

That the seriousness of my endeavor can be for the purpose of creating more playfulness – rather than just more work “product” – seemed an irreconcilable difference to me for far too long. That my work is and always needs to be playful, given all of the best effort I can muster, is what makes it worth doing. And what makes those on the receiving end much more appreciative of what I offer.

I love my work. Some days I love it so much that I squeeze the life right out of it. Some days, better days, I hold it lightly…so lightly that it just starts to float away. And I can sit back and smile as I watch it go.


This is for my friend, Alia.

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How You Do Life

“Sometimes you have to change how you do life.”
– Alexis Eader


The simple truth is that we are all prisoners of a many-millions-of-years-old limbic system, the sole job of which is to ensure our survival.

Its primary strategy for achieving this is to convince us to stick with what we know. And doing that is easy because the known is so much more comfortable than the unknown.

So, once in a while, when we are at our best, and if we really want to change, we have to decide that we are bigger and stronger than our cerebral inheritance and do something about it.

We have to act against our deep and ancient longing to stick with what we know and make a change anyway.

It’s what separates us from our history. It’s what makes us who we are.

{HT to AE}


gray concrete post tunnel

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Onward and Awkward

I gave a keynote speech yesterday on the topic of “Leading Change.”

After my talk, an attendee approached me and shared that an old boss of his used to advise his team to keep moving “onward and awkward.”

There is no change or learning or growth without the uncomfortable feelings that attend us into the unknown.

Those feelings are a reliable early warning system that it is time to pay close attention to ourselves and our surroundings, a time to be more connected to others rather than less, and a time to fully embrace a beginner’s mindset.

That’s a lot to juggle all at once and doing so will always feel awkward.

But isn’t that awkwardness, even when it lasts longer than we think we can stand, a far better alternative than giving up on learning?

Your ego and your expertise and all of your lived experience – everything that draws you back to the safety of the status quo – will survive the truth that there’s still so much to learn.


blue jeans

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Monday Morning Thought Experiment

Imagine that it’s five years ago. If you could meet yourself on October 14, 2014 what advice would you give yourself for the coming five years?*

Five years ago, my advice would have been (1) trust yourself; (2) open yourself; (3) move towards aliveness, always.

Imagine that it’s five years from now. What advice do you give yourself today that will help you wake up on October 14, 2024 satisfied that you lived the last five years with a clear purpose?

My advice to my future self is the same: (1) trust yourself; (2) open yourself; (3) more towards aliveness, always. 

Is it a cop out to focus on the same things, evidence of a lack of growth or ambition? It’s tempting to think of it that way, but I choose not to. I choose instead to recognize my “advice to self” as an acknowledgement that my core developmental themes will always resist being “fixed” or “solved.” These themes represent a very large part of the work of my life, work that never really ends.

I suppose that could be frustrating, even defeating. But I find it inspiring, an invitation to keep learning.

And what about you? What did you discover?


*Suggestion: conduct this experiment out loud, with a friend. Make a commitment. See what happens.


hallway at night time

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

I Happened To Be Standing
{Mary Oliver}

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance.  A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep.  Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why.  And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t.  That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.


selective focus photo of house wren perched on white birdhouse

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Necessary Waiting

If you want to ice skate on a frozen pond it’s best not to attempt it after the first frost.

A reliable surface, one you can trust to sustain your weight and the carving of your skates, needs time and consistently low temperatures to get to a solid state.

The same is true for new relationships or those that are recovering from a difficult passage.

We want to believe that our initial best efforts to repair the damage will be sufficient. But it takes time and consistency for someone to believe that we are worthy of their trust, once again.

Do not ask me to skate with you on the early, brittle ice. Invite me, deep into winter, to join you on the solid ice that will hold us both.


adventure blue calm waters climb

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