The Single Best Investment You Can Make – In Relationships

This post is about a topic I fear most readers care about very sincerely, but most neglect because so little value is placed on it in today’s overachievement oriented world. I believe that the best investment we can make is in relationships! Who doesn’t want to experience harmony, collaboration, affection, kindness, respect, support at work, school and home? Perhaps only those with little to no emotional intelligence may not be able to answer in the affirmative; in fact, one of the main reasons people report to work is because of the social element.

Some may push back on my assertion with arguments like, work is about work and not interpersonal relationships. It turns out we are profoundly social creatures–more than we know. In Social, renowned psychologist Matthew Lieberman explores groundbreaking research in social neuroscience revealing that our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental, more basic, than our need for food or shelter.

I have had my own share of interpersonal relationship challenges this year and have found that to successfully navigate the complexity of relationships at home and work, and experience thriving, life giving relationships, it requires quite an elaborate network to make this happen. Gathering from the world of psychology, coaches and mentors, management literature, as well a spirituality, I’d like to recommend the following approaches to making the most of your best investment.

Invest in A Personal Board of Directors

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Priscilla Claman defines this unique set as “… a group of people you consult regularly to get advice and feedback.” Claman adds, “There’s no need to hold meetings or even inform each person of his or her status as a board member—but you do need to select the right people and stay in touch.” My current board of directors are eight individuals who all speak into my career, personal, and spiritual life.  Five of them I meet with individually on a monthly basis, the other three meet as a group on a bi-weekly basis. As I mentioned earlier, one of the challenges I faced just this month was losing one of these board members to cancer. This was very sudden and has had a significant impact on me personally. The adjacent picture captures the warmth of the friendship, but our meetings were characterized by a commitment to seeking advice and feedback.

Invest in Developing Diverse Relationships

One of the best examples that comes to mind is Nelson Mandela as the newly elected President of South Africa, befriending the captain of the South African national rugby team, known as the Springboks. The Springboks were a symbol of apartheid to black South Africans and Nelson Mandela who had spent 27 years in jail for fighting against apartheid. He somehow managed to overlook all of that because of his Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), that if South Africa could win the 1995 Rugby World Cup, it would bring together a nation divided by apartheid.  A new constitution, which enfranchised blacks and other racial groups, took effect in 1994, and elections that year led to a coalition government with a nonwhite majority, marking the official end of the apartheid system.

The beauty of this diverse and unexpected relationship is proof as I have argued for what I call cultural empathy, that “authentic diversity happens one relationship at a time.” Pienaar told The Telegraph. “As we stood there he turned to me and said with that incredible, beautiful smile of his: ‘Thank you for what you have done for South Africa.’ I couldn’t believe he had said that. With some people you meet, they are just

courteous. Some you meet are politicking. With Madiba, it was always genuine. We had met a year before, in 1994. He had just been elected president and I had just been made Springbok captain. We had tea together. Pienaar and his wife remained close to Mandela and years later asked him to be godfather to their two sons, Jean and Stephane.

Another area of diversity that I am committed to is gender equality and advocating for women who are leaders (because of gender inequality). I also provide support in my coaching practice to women who are leaders and executives. I actively participate and partner with organizations like https://www.missioalliance.org/  and http://tedxpasadena.org/ who’s purpose is to promote gender equality and egalitarian leadership.

Frances Hesselbein whom Peter Drucker called the …greatest leader America reminds us on the topic of women in leadership, “We never refer to ourselves as ‘female, or women leaders.” We are not a category. We are leaders who are women. As leaders who are women we begin by acknowledging that we bring a special dimension to the work of our organization.”

Invest in Personal and Professional Development

Well, it goes without saying that an executive coach would give this advice! I think I’m in good company if not just for these two men. Tony Robbins and Warren Buffet attribute their success to making an investment in their professional and personal development. When Robbins was 17 and earning $40 a week, he spent $35 for a three-hour seminar with personal development coach Jim Rohn. Buffett learned a similar lesson. He was terrified of public speaking when he was young. To force himself to face his fears, at age 20, Buffett signed up for a public speaking course with the Dale Carnegie institute.

I am always surprised when I meet a business leader who says they wish their organization believed in either executive coaching or leadership development. This investment is a matter of strategic leadership and long range planning. An organization or board of directors that doesn’t understand the impact of leadership coaching must not understand effective leadership. They may understand the monthly financials, but they cannot understand the importance of a healthy organization being led by healthy leadership team. Peter Drucker, the man who invented management theory, put great currency in listening, asking questions and letting natural patterns emerge from the answers. Boards of directors who approve budgets for executive and leadership training must know that the organization’s leadership should be asking questions like; How effective is our management team? What is the relationship between management and the culture it seeks to direct? How is the business organized, and how can managers use people’s strengths more effectively?

When you invest in your own personal and professional development, you will see every relationship around your improve. Your level of engagement for work and life can catapult you to new opportunities when you know yourself well.

Invest In Your Colleagues

Employees report that when they have friends at work, their job is more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile, and satisfying. Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work. The development of trusting relationships is a significant emotional compensation for employees in today’s marketplace. Thus, it is easy to understand why it is such a key trait of retention, and is one of the Q12 key discoveries from a multiyear research effort by The Gallup Organization.

At DLS PARTNERS LLC  we’ve developed a model to operationalize Gallup’s ‘best friend at work’ concept. We call in the Leadership Buddy SystemTM. – A leadership self-awareness and performance effectiveness tool. It was designed to provide psychological safety or a “safe-space” for leaders to discuss, share, vent, solicit input on issues and matters they are faced with on a daily basis. Having a designated individual within the organization as a sounding board, confidant, and accountability partner, enables a leader to develop and grow exponentially, much like what we see with individual coaching. (It is not expected that buddies can provide “executive coaching,” however, buddies can provide real-time feedback on specific issues.)

I realize that much of what I’ve said, even though backed by the latest research and is relatively intuitive, is actually quite counter-cultural. Most of us don’t have our own personal board of directors, enjoy diverse relationships, invest significantly in our own personal and professional development, and experience strong relationships with our co-workers. If you are willing try at least one of these options, you will experience a greater level of meaning at work and beyond.  In the words of words of the 1st century Roman philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero, “ All I can do is to urge you to put friendship ahead of all other human concerns, for there is nothing so suited to man’s nature, nothing that can mean so much to him, whether in good times or in bad… I am inclined to think that with the exception of wisdom, the gods have given nothing finer to men (and women) than this.”

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Advice to My High School Self

If someone had told me back in high school that one day I would be sharing my life experiences with business professionals, or a group of soon to be graduating high school seniors, I would have responded that that would be highly unlikely. In high school I didn’t think enough about the impact I could have on those around me or the world. This is a letter I am writing to you about the life lessons you will learn in the near future.

1. Understand the importance of knowing yourself and your personal values. Many are not given the opportunity to pursue their passions in life. Either we are told very early in life that we should have certain interests, certain friends, we should attend certain schools or universities, we should have an interest in a particular profession. You will be told, either overtly or implicitly, that your choices aren’t perhaps the best idea — that they are not the typical and known path. I am not eschewing listening to others. It is a wonderful thing to receive guidance and advice from family and friends. No one, however, will know you better than you know yourself! Hold fast to your values and let the knowledge of yourself guide your decisions.

2. Life is unpredictable. What I want to communicate is the fact that you will experience adversity, setbacks and even direct opposition. Do not be afraid of experiencing the realities of life. Wrestling through setbacks and opposition produces individuals who are able to cope with life when it doesn’t go as planned. Don’t complain or wallow in disappointment or self-pity when this happens, know that these seeming setbacks are shaping and building your character.

3. Ask yourself, what are you doing for others, and what impact are you having on those around you? Are you a force for good? Be authentic, caring deeply about people, while creating a climate where people are cared for, understood, supported and challenged. What you do matters and deeply affects others. Be intentional about your actions and words.

As I look back over my life, there are a few things I believe that have made me into the person I am today and define success for me. Knowing myself — separating who I am and who I want to be from what the world thinks I am and wants me to be — allowed me to define success on my own terms. Taking time to cultivate healthy relationships allowed me to have true friends, who supported me on the path toward success. Lastly, asking myself what I can do for others and what impact I had on those around me enabled me to help others reach success. Keep this in mind, “One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself.”

See you in the future!

Your future self

This post was adapted from David Llewelyn Samuels keynote address at Flintridge Prep Senior Horizons Retreat

The Importance of Developing Emotional Intelligence

When you walk into a room – can you read it?  How well can you gauge the perceptions, feelings, emotions, needs of those around you? As an individual, are you self and socially aware, sensing need around you, while harnessing an empathetic approach?  These all are key qualities of Emotional Intelligence.  

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) was made popular by Daniel Goleman and is rising in both personal and professional capacities.  According to World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report, Emotional Intelligence will be one of the top 10 job skills in 2020.  So what is EQ and why does it matter?       

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand, express, and manage emotions, while developing and maintaining good social relationships, and thinking clearly under pressure.  Developed EQ is important and desirable because it is the foundation of teachable and team-focused attitudes.  Emotionally Intelligent individuals share seven qualities that make them effective leaders and valuable employees:   

Emotionally Intelligent employees are/have:

  1. Better able to handle pressure
  2. Increased level to understand and cooperate with others
  3. Good Listeners
  4. Are Open to Feedback
  5. More Empathetic Toward Others
  6. Set an Excellent Example for Others: Ability to not be flustered
  7. Make More Thoughtful and Thorough Decisions

In a recent workshop, a high-level participant stated she looked for these qualities in new-hires because she can teach them how to use Excel and develop a budget fairly quickly.  She could not, however, spend the time teaching new hires how to be empathetic, teachable, and team-players.  Please do not misunderstand, emotional intelligence is something to be cultivated, but cultivation takes time and self-awareness.  If an employer can hire someone with a developed EQ over an individual without one, they will be saving time and bringing an immediate and strong asset to the team.   

At the core of EQ is self-awareness.  To be emotionally intelligent we need to be able to be critically self-reflective.  In essence, we cannot avoid who we are, but we can develop who we are. Developing who we are begins with self-awareness and is comprised of 3 competencies:

  1. Emotional Self-Awareness: Able to read and understand your own emotions; recognize personal emotions impact on work performance and relationships; able to conceptualize how we impact others.
  2. Accurate Self-Assessment: Knowing strengths and limitations of the self.
  3. Self-confidence: Where you have a positive and strong sense of one’s self-worth

Practically speaking, if you find yourself saying, “this person is clueless”  you have successfully found an individual void of self-awareness.  To avoid being “that guy” ask yourself: “Are there things I don’t like about myself? Things I can change about myself?” In doing so, you have begun the journey of self-awareness.