When someone dumps their toxic feelings on us- explodes in anger or threats, shows disgust or contempt-they activate in us circuitry for those very same distressing emotions. Their act has potent neurological consequences, emotions are contagious. We catch strong emotions much as we do a rhinovirus-and so can come down with the emotional equivalent of cold. The speed differential between these two systems- the instant emotional one is several times faster in brain time than the more rational one-allows us to make snap decisions that we might later regret or need to justify. By the time the low road has reacted, sometimes all the high road can do is make the best of things. As the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wryly wrote- Man is not a rational animal, but a rationalising one.
During the early days of Iraq invasion, a group of soldiers set out for a local mosque to contact the town’s chief cleric. Their goal was to ask his help in organizing the distribution of relief supplies. But a mob gathered, fearing the soldiers were coming to arrest their spiritual leader or destroy the mosque, a holy shrine.
Hundreds of devout muslims surrounded the soldiers, waving their hands in the air and shouting, as they pressed in toward he heavily armed platoon. The CO, Lt Col C Hughes, thought fast.
Picking up a loudspeaker, he told his soldiers to take a knee, meaning to kneel on one knee. Next he ordered them to point their rifles toward the ground. Then his order was smile.
At that the crowd’s mood morphed. A few people were still yelling, but most were now smiling in return. A few patted the soldiers on the back, as Hughes ordered them to walk slowly away, backward still smiling.
That quick-witted move was the culmination of many split-second social calculations. Hughes had to read the level of hostility in that crowd and sense what would calm them. He had to bet on the discipline of his men and the strength of their trust in him. And he had to gamble on hitting just the right gesture that would pierce the barriers of language and culture
Appliance sales at GE had slowed alarmingly and the manager was dismayed. Studying a chart showing a steady dip in sales, he and team realized that appliance division was having serious trouble with marketing. The conversation quickly turned to finding a solution. Should they concentrate on pricing? Advertising? Or some other marketing change.
Then someone from co.’s financial services arm Ge Capital showed a chart that consumer debt was reaching saturation levels. It was not that the company was failing in its marketing , but that people were having more trouble paying for appliances.
Suddenly everyone had a whole new angle on the problem. This fresh info led to discussion away from marketing to financing, searching for ways to help customers pay for such a large purchase.
This organizational intelligence represents that capacity as it emerges from the complex interplay of people and relationships,culture and roles within an organization.
Any orgn is cybernetic i.e. being engaged in continuous and overlapping feedback loops, gathering info from within and outside and adjusting operations. Systems theory tells us that in an environment of change, entity that can take in info most widely, learn from it most thoroughly, and respond most nimbly, creatively, and flexibly will be the most adaptive.
Levi Strauss, the huge garment manufacturer, faced a dilemma regarding two sewing subcontractors in Bangladesh who were using child labourers. International human rights activists were pressurising Levi Strauss to stop allowing contractors to use underage workers. But company investigators revealed that if the children lost their jobs, they would be impoverished and maybe driven into prostitution. Should the company fire them, in a principled stand against child labour? Or keep them on, to protect them from a worse fate?
The creative solution-neither. Levi Strauss decided to keep the children on the payroll while they went to school full time. And then, when they reached 14- the local age of maturity- hire them back.
That innovative response offers a model of creative thinking for MNCs seeking to be socially responsible. Coming to such an original resolution demands entertaining ideas that may seem too radical or risky at first glance, yet having the courage to pursue them anyway.
From- Working with EI
It was a subtle signal. Sometime in the mid-1970s there was a shift in how Intel managers were treated by their peers in Japan. Where before they had been shown lavish respect, now they came back with the vague feeling that they were being viewed with a newfound derision. Something had changed.
That report from the frontlines was a harbinger of the coming Japanese supremacy in the market for computer chips. , at the time Intel’s main business. The story is told by Andrew S. Grove , Intel’s chairman, as an example of how hard it can be for executives to adapt to shifts in an industry.
It took Intel’s top management, Grove confesses, several more years to realize that Japanese companies had used their strength in precision manufacturing to beat Intel at its own game, making and selling memory chips.
Such moments, when changing circumstances turn a winning strategy sour, are crucial in the history of any company. These moments amount to what Grove calls a “valley of death”. If a company is not nimble enough to rethink its strategy while it still has the assets and strength to change and adapt, it is doomed to wither or die….The ability to be flexible, to take in new, even painful, information without tuning out in self-protection, and to respond nimbly is essential…..
At Intel the dominant assumption into the 1980s was that they were a memory company selling chips, even though by then their share of that market had shrunk to around 3 percent. Barely noticed was the sidework that would become their new core business-microprocessors, or what we all now know as- Intel Inside.
Take the VP of Marketing at a large consumer products company, who discovered that one of his sales reps was unable to close a sale with a large national account. The VP had made many presentations to that same account in the past, and so on his own initiative he called and set up a meeting there. Then he phoned the sales rep with instructions to meet him at the account’s office the next day.
One result of VP’s initiative was that they made the sale. Another, unintended result was that the sales rep was deeply humiliated.
Feeling he had been made to look foolish and incompetent in front of his client, the rep protested, and his two bosses-the regional and the national sales managers-fired off irate memos to the VP, claiming he had stepped out of bounds in going over their heads and humiliating their staffer.
But the warning had no effect. The same pattern continued for two years, with the VP acting high-handedly with other sales reps, until the president of the company, worried about a slump in sales, blamed it on VP’s demoralization of the sales force. The net result -President gave VP a choice- leave the company or step down to take a regional sales job.
Anne, once head of Amex’s Optima Card division, was demoted in 1991 when 5 of her employees were revealed to have hidden USD 24 million in bad debt. Anne, though not responsible, was accountable, and so lost her position as GM of the division. Though devastated by the setback, she felt a basic confidence in her abilities and rallied to another challenge she was offered at a lower level, salvaging merchandising services, a failing division of Amex.
Optimists can more readily make a realistic assessment of a setback and admit how they contributed to it. Anne, e.g., re-examined her perfectionist, sometimes overly critical management style-even considering that it might have cowed her employees into hiding losses. She underwent executive coaching to soften her style, becoming more patient and a better listener. And under her direction, the failing merchandising division reached profitability within 2 years.
From- Working with EI
Take Arthur Blank, whose personality clashes with his boss at Handy Dan’s, an LA hardware chain, led to his being fired in 1978. Blank’s mother had kept the mail-order drug company his father had founded going after his death when Blank was young, and Blank himself, having witnessed how she overcame adversity, learned to keep trying instead of giving up when things went badly in life. So when an investor approached him, he jumped at the chance to found Home Depot, the no-frills, high-service, huge-selection home improvement chain that has grown to be a retaining giant.
Arthur Blank did not give up, he reacted like an optimist, using the insider’s expertise he had acquired in his years at Handy Dan’s to invent a business that could outcompete his former employer. He saw himself as having the ability to change things for the better. For an optimist, a failure is just a lesson to learn from the next round.
It was a small lesson, but one with lasting impact. As a high-profile, fast-track editor at a national magazine, she had a problem- I was prone to snap decisions, committing to projects in a moment of enthusiasm, then having to suffer through a torturous series of rewrites with authors that ended in their articles being killed. It was emotionally draining for me, and it created too much animosity and just plain pain.
But then she told me, my editor in chief taught me a phrase that has helped immensely.
What was that phrase?
“I will think about it.”
That simple bit of advice exemplifies coaching, which lies at the heart of developing others. Excellence in this competence is emerging as second only to team leadership among superior managers. For sales managers, developing others is even more important- the competence most frequently found among those at the top of the field.
This is a person-to-person art, the heart of coaching and developing is the act of counselling. And the effectiveness of counseling hinges on empathy and the ability to focus on our own feelings and share them.
A project manager notices a draftsman struggling over a simple aspect of blueprint. The project deadline looms, and they are all under tremendous pressure. As she approaches her colleague, the project manager notices that her hands are clenched, her thoughts are fixed on angry feelings about the difficult deadline, and she feels frustrated because the draftsman is not further along.
She relaxes a bit and asks the draftsman-What’s going on, is something wrong? His response is a litany of frustrations of his own, about not having enough information to finish the drawing., about how much he was asked to do in so little time.
Sympathetic, the project manager asks more detailed questions about what he is up against. Her speech is lively, animated, her gaze direct. She lets him know she feels overwhelmed by the pressure, too.
Her line of questioning leads him to see that he actually has more inthought, and formation than he that he can, in fact, finish the drawaing. He is buoyed, eager again to get back to the task. The manager even makes a joke about how everyone was missing some data on this project, especially the vice president who had made such a crazy commitment in the first place. They both laugh and get on with the work at hand.
What did the project manager do that was so right? She was emotionally present at work. She was fully attentive and involved in her work. Such person perform their best. Others experience them as accessible and engaged, and they contribute their creative ideas, energy and intuitions fully.
Presence begins with self-awareness. Manager… was attuned to her feelings, her clenched hands cued her to the anger she was feeling about the situation. And her empathy made her receptive to picking up the draftsman’s sense of frustration without taking it as a reflection on herself. Her ability to be comfortable with these distressing feelings let her deal with them effectively rather than avoid them. Instead of dismissing draftsman’s frustration or preemptively criticizing his performance, she drew him out. And she was able to highlight information that transformed the frustration to enthusiasm, ending the encounter with a joke that put th onus where they both felt it to be- an EMOTIONAL JUDO MOVE that tightened the bond between them.
When fully present, we are more attuned to those around us and to the needs of the situation, and we fluidly adapt to what is needed-in other words, we are in the flow. We can be thoughtful, funny, or self-reflective, drawing on whatever capacity or skill we need at the moment.
From- Working with EI