Jay Levin on Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

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BigEQ Executive Director Jay Levin was recently interviewed by leadership blogger Adam Mendler.

The interview covered many topics. Below are excerpts pertaining to leadership and emotional intelligence.


Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts and your advice. First things first, though, what is the Big EQ Campaign all about? How did you come up with the vision and what do you hope to achieve? 

Jay: When I was young, I was fascinated by the question of why do humans do the painful things to each other we do and have so much emotional pain in life. Life seemed to be full of pain, conflict, disappointment, heartbreak, and depression. Couldn’t we do better? How come society could often be so dysfunctional – and could it be changed for the better?

As a young journalist, I followed these questions into covering the human development movement. That work taught me that people need two kinds of skills to live a successful and positive life. One skill is the ability to transform your own and other’s emotional and mental reactiveness. The other skill is creating more caring ways of relating to yourself and others–and life itself–no matter the circumstances.

Raising emotional intelligence is the key to a loving and peaceful world – and it can and must be learned if this species has any chance of survival in the nuclear age and when we seem on the verge of potential ecocide. The easiest definition of EQ is the ability to manage yourself, your emotions, your career and all your relationships with others in a caring and productive way. Manage your entire life this way.

Adam: How can CEOs and executives become more emotionally intelligent leaders? What are tangible steps they can take? 

Jay: The first, most important tangible step is deep and honest self-reflection and caring about how you affect others. If your workplace is not collegial and a warm cooperative atmosphere with loyal productive employees and based on healthy relationships,  you need to look in the mirror and take a deep self-reflective account of yourself. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and ask those around you what they need from you and the changes they would like to see. Then find yourself an excellent executive coach whose focus includes empathy training. At a minimum, go take a course in non-violent or compassionate communications. 

The start of emotional intelligence is acknowledging the dysfunction you might be triggering for others and that you developed along the way, understanding how you are wounded and when you are not authentic. Then you can start addressing how that impacts your relationship with yourself and with your colleagues. 

Basically it is about healthy relationships. I highly recommend Keith Ferrazzi’s book “Who’s Got Your Back” to every CEO who doesn’t already prioritize healthy relationships and hasn’t yet acquired the skills to manifest them.

Adam: More broadly speaking, what are your best lessons in leadership? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level? 

Jay: The best leaders understand that they are in service to the people around them with whom they share a common purpose or vision. Letting go of the ego of leadership, and the underlying fear of having to deliver success single handedly, helps leaders and aspiring leaders to unlock the collective, collaborative power of the organization to achieve what a single person can’t. After all, that should be why we work together in the first place. 

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? Who are the best leaders you have been around and what did you learn from them? 

Jay: Often, people are given the title of leader in an organization because they excel at execution, getting things done. No one tells them that leaders are those who get things done by working with and through other people, by building the organization that gets things done. That’s a completely different skill set than being proficient in your own personal, professional capacity. Building the organization doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and being a good doer doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be a good builder. 

Adam: What makes a great executive coach? What are your best tips for fellow coaches? 

Jay: Here’s what I would look for in a coach, and what I try to provide to others: A person who who straight talks with you AND at the same time is your biggest cheerleader because he/she really gets you. Someone who can show you the big picture so your view of the world and yourself is larger and your thinking is corrected. 

A great coach is a skills trainer, not a judge. You feel safe learning that your limitations are only a product of bad training and societal misthinking which you have been inoculated into, So the coach makes you feel like a happy learner rather than an asshole. Someone who presents as your best ally, maybe even as a best friend, because he or she is easy to be with and who is naturally caring and interesting.

Someone who can guide you out of stress and into a higher level of functionality.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received? 

Jay: Follow your strengths. When I needed a break from journalism and media, I signed up for a master’s degree program in spiritual psychology. It was a continuation of those burning questions from childhood about why we do what we do. The advice, the message that I got from that program, was to follow my strengths. In the program, I discovered that I had a surprising-to-me natural gift for coaching, so much so that other students started asking to come to my home to work with me. I said yes to the adventure that my strengths were revealing to me and within a year, with no promotion by me, I was seeing 25 clients a week, all via word of mouth.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward? 

Jay: If everyone grew their emotional intelligence and shared that intelligence with those around them, that would build a more supportive, sustainable, and happy world for those who come after us. It is for me the single best way to pay it forward. Again, if we keep child development in the old paradigm then we constantly recreate a world that has nukes pointed at all our heads. Emotional intelligence in its broadest sense is the best tool humanity has to evolve itself into a survivable paradigm. 

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share? 

Jay: Sure: Everybody could memorize two thoughts. First, the world is an effect and the cause is how we learn to be with ourselves and others. Second, almost all life’s stress and pain–personal and social and in our communities–derives from lack of EQ and relational skills, not from bad character. 

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