Carolyn Stern joins Wayne to discuss her new book, The Emotionally Strong Leader: An Inside Out Journey to Transformational Leadership. They discuss why showing emotion as a leader is actually a good thing and not a sign of weakness as well as how to do that effectively within your organization.
Name: Carolyn Stern
What She Does: Emotional Intelligence expert, author, professor, and CEO of EI Experience
Notable: As a professor with the School of Business at Capilano University, Carolyn pioneered the integration of Emotional Intelligence into Capilano’s business curriculum, making it one of only a few post-secondary institutions in the world to do so, following Yale’s Centre for Emotional Intelligence.
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- The Remote Leadership Institute
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00:00:08:05 - 00:00:37:21
Hi everybody. Welcome to the Long-Distance Work Life Podcast. My name is Wayne Turmel. Welcome. Welcome. This is the place for those of us dealing with remote and hybrid and virtual and whatever else we call the way we work in this crazy world of work. I am not joined by Marisa today. It's an interview episode. With us is Carolyn Stern, who is the author of The Emotionally Strong Leader.
00:00:38:01 - 00:00:40:18
Carolyn, welcome to The Long-Distance Worklife.
00:00:41:02 - 00:00:42:09
Thanks for having me, Wayne.
00:00:43:02 - 00:00:51:13
Well, thank you for being had, as always. So who who are you? What's the book about? Let's position ourselves there.
00:00:52:04 - 00:01:14:18
Well, Wayne, it's called The Emotionally Strong Leader: An Inside Out Journey to Transformational Leadership. And why I wrote the book is I was sick and tired of hearing successful leaders tell me that showing emotion in the workplace is a sign of weakness and should cause shame. And I wanted to teach the world that you could be emotional and strong.
00:01:14:23 - 00:01:40:16
They're not mutually exclusive. So after 20 years of research, I'm happy to report that, you know, for a first time author, this book became on the bestseller list of Amazon, which is pretty unheard of. And I think it's because everyone's ready to write. The pandemic really heightened our all of our emotions and people realized that their leaders weren't equipped to deal with people's heightened emotions.
00:01:40:16 - 00:01:57:05
Because I don't know about you, Wayne, but I never had an emotional education and I didn't have superb, emotional, intelligent role models. So I had to learn this, right? It's taken me 20 years of research and business and psychology to learn these skills, to be bigger and smarter than our emotions.
00:01:57:18 - 00:02:20:20
Well, there you go. And so let's start with just leadership in general. I mean, you mentioned that you didn't receive an education. It is fairly apparent that I didn't either. We figured it out kind of on our own, the way we figure out so many things in life. What don't we get told?
00:02:22:17 - 00:02:24:01
In schools you mean?
00:02:24:10 - 00:02:33:16
In schools, when we begin our business career, what don't we get told about the job of leadership that sneaks up on us?
00:02:34:01 - 00:03:02:08
Well, I'd say the biggest fallacy that we get told is that you I think we leaders think we have to be problem solving heroes. And I think what I want, what I wrote in the book and what I want people, the listeners to hear is that really leaders are teachers. And having taught at the university for 25 years in it from in my local city in Vancouver, British Columbia, I didn't know the answers to my students’ test, but I don't give it to them.
00:03:03:03 - 00:03:24:20
Right. I purposely ask questions so that they figure out the answers themselves, because otherwise they're not learning. Well, it's the same thing in leadership. If you give people your answers, you just tell them what to do. They're not learning and growing. And so I think the big fallacy is that we have to have all the answers. We have to you know, we're perfect.
00:03:24:20 - 00:03:47:10
We have it all put together. We we're human. And that's one of the reasons I wrote the book is before you're an employee or a leader, you're human and human are creatures of emotions, not just logic. And so we need to learn how to manage not only our emotions, but other people's emotions. And so the key for me and why I wrote this book is it's called An Inside Out Journey before.
00:03:47:10 - 00:04:05:09
You've got to figure out what your emotional makeup is. So, for instance, we maybe you struggle with flexibility, maybe you're a rigid leader, or maybe you take on people stuff too much, maybe you have too much empathy, or maybe you don't know how to assert yourself and set good boundaries. Or maybe you're an impulsive leader and make rash decisions, whatever that is.
00:04:05:09 - 00:04:10:13
We all have a different emotional makeup. And how is that helping and hurting our leadership?
00:04:11:15 - 00:04:49:07
Yeah, I mean, that's and of course, in a traditional workplace, there are kind of guardrails in place. Right. We know more or less what's appropriate and inappropriate behavior. And we know to put on our game face when we walk through the door. And but as we've started to work across time zones and across distance and things like that, some of the things that you've talked about, what you show and don't show how you connect with people, all of those things are a little bit different.
00:04:49:12 - 00:05:24:02
I want to talk specifically about something that you said, which is that for empathetic leaders, this is particularly challenging. And I think this has really come to the fore as we've started to work more remotely the pandemic, because not only are we trying to get work done, but there is just so much stuff going on in people's lives and the chaos of the last couple of years that it is, I fear, our most empathetic leaders that are taking the brunt of this.
00:05:24:03 - 00:05:25:07
Can you speak to that a little bit?
00:05:25:14 - 00:05:45:11
Yeah. So in in chapter seven of the book, I talk about 15 different emotional intelligence skills, empathy being one of them. And I asked the reader to take them through, assess themselves, where are they? Are they low in empathy, which means they don't care about people? They kind of might be surprised by people's reactions. They can show up as uncompassionate.
00:05:45:20 - 00:06:07:22
Are they a high level of empathy, which means that they can appreciate how other people feels. They put themselves in other people's shoes? Or are they on the dark side? Which is when you have too much empathy, which is means that you're getting mashed in people's stuff, you might even take on people's emotional problems on your shoulders. It's really about getting really clear on where you land.
00:06:07:23 - 00:06:25:14
So the strategies that we give in the book and there's 60 strategies, you know, if you have low empathy, I'm going to give you a different strategy than if you're on the dark side of empathy. When you have too much and a lot of empathetic leaders, those that have too much empathy, that maybe coddle people too much, don't push them to excel.
00:06:26:09 - 00:06:50:11
They can be really burning out at this time because they're taking on not only their emotional problems that that things that are going on for them at home and in the office, but also all of their employees problems. And so that's that weighs a lot on people and the thing that I speak about in the book is that it's really important that you don't have to solve you don't have to be anyone's emotional support therapist.
00:06:50:20 - 00:07:17:01
All you have to do is ask questions. Hey, Wayne, I notice that you're you know, you're struggling in that project. What do I need to do to support you so that you get this project done in an efficient way and on time? You don't have to know the answers. So what you need to do to show true connection, to show true appreciation, and to show and to to make people feel fulfilled in their role is just to connect with them and to ask questions.
00:07:17:01 - 00:07:32:05
And three of my top favorite questions that I talk about is What do you need to feel connected to me in the team? What do you need to feel appreciated for your efforts and what do you need to feel fulfilled in your role? And then I shut up and listen and I hear what my team has to say.
00:07:32:12 - 00:07:56:16
So, for instance, Natalie, in order to feel appreciated in my company, she likes words of affirmation. Whereas Kieran, she likes quality time with me. She'd much prefer time with me, Natalie to connect with me. She much prefers to have one on one meetings once a week. Kieran likes to have meetings every day I check in, you know, for fulfillment for for Natalie.
00:07:56:20 - 00:08:20:22
She prefers to take a course where it's sort of Kieran. She prefers to have work life balance. Every employee is going to want different things for them to feel better because how they feel at work affects how they perform at work. And until you connect on an emotional level to find out what makes them tick, what makes them stressed out, what motivates them, what are they afraid of?
00:08:20:22 - 00:08:40:10
Until you have those deeper conversations and in the book we call them inner iceberg conversations, you're only going to hit the tip of the surface, the tip of the iceberg, which is really all I'm going to see is your communications, your actions and your behaviors. I don't know why you're making those communications actions and behaviors. If I don't talk about them.
00:08:41:12 - 00:09:11:11
Absolutely. Now, there are two very separate things that you raise that I don't want to let get asked us here in this conversation. I'm going to tell you something and your eyes are going to roll in your head and just trust me. This is a true story. I was talking to somebody about returning to the office and their exact words were, Thank goodness I can quit asking them how the kids are and concentrate on work.
00:09:11:11 - 00:09:35:23
Right. Which was obviously not terribly empathetic person who has been driving herself crazy, trying to adjust and trying to do what she needs to do over distance. Before I get to the second part, let's begin you just what would you tell this credit?
00:09:36:10 - 00:09:57:06
Well, this person probably struggles with empathy, caring about what's important for the other person. And the thing is, regardless of whether they go back to face to face and working under the same roof or continuing to work in this hybrid or remote space, they absolutely still need to start continuing to ask about their kids because we bring our whole selves to the office.
00:09:57:10 - 00:10:20:07
We don't just bring our work persona, we bring our whole selves. And what the pandemic did, the silver lining. The pandemic brought a lot of negative lost jobs, lost lives, you know, you know, isolation, all of that. But what the silver lining the pandemic brought is it realized we could no longer suffer emotions down because they bubbled up to the surface and people realize, wow, we have chaotic lives.
00:10:20:23 - 00:10:43:13
In fact, at some point in this podcast, my dog might come running in from his walk. That's my life, right? It's it's not as simple. I don't just get to, you know, put on my suit and work perfectly in the office. So if your leader does stop asking these personal questions because she feels she he they feel that they no longer need to because they're now face to face.
00:10:43:13 - 00:11:02:00
That's a big mistake. The worst thing that they can do is to stop asking those personal questions, because when I feel cared for, well, that's what's going to make me stay in the company. When you just see me as a task, complete her and not a true human being that actually has a life in and outside of the office.
00:11:02:12 - 00:11:07:16
That's when I don't care. And that's when I quietly quit.
00:11:07:16 - 00:11:35:21
Absolutely. Now, let's take a look at something else that you said, which is about those who are super empathetic and I'm not I am shockingly not on that end of the spectrum, although more than a lot of people think. But one of the things that drive us here, Kevin Eikenberry, being our founder and leader, is passionate about is this concept of servant leadership.
00:11:35:21 - 00:12:11:12
And one of the things that I've talked a lot about sometimes with Kevin privately is the dark side of servant leadership. This notion that if something if somebody needs to take a late call, it's going to be me because I'm trying to be sympathetic. I'm trying to take the load off people. I'm trying. And what you wind up doing, as somebody explained to me when I was doing this as a leader, is you just keep taking one for the team until there's nothing left.
00:12:12:05 - 00:12:14:02
Yeah. And you burn out.
00:12:14:12 - 00:12:31:04
And you burn out. And it's those people who are servant leaders and care and empathetic who are most at risk for this. What do you tell these four? It's like you can't tell people to stop caring. I mean, you can, but it's probably not going to work.
00:12:31:08 - 00:12:59:02
My my advice is you can still have compassion and boundaries at the same time so that I can still care for someone, but I can still set some boundaries. And I'll give you a perfect example. I had a student in my class that sent me a letter saying she had a social phobia. She got hurt. She told me her therapist had recommended that she send me a letter that she could not do the presentation in the class of the assignment that was required.
00:12:59:13 - 00:13:21:13
And I felt for her because I also struggle with anxiety. I know what that feels like to to have that that pressure of all those eyes looking on you. But I also knew the requirements for the course was one of the learning objectives was that they needed to learn how to speak in public. So as much as I felt for her and empathy is feeling with sympathy is feeling poor.
00:13:22:11 - 00:13:43:16
So I felt with her I know what that feels like to have that kind of anxiety. And I also knew that in order for her to, to, to meet the requirements of the class, she had to do speak in public. So I gave her an option. I said, I cannot make an accommodation for this. The assignment is that you need to speak in public.
00:13:43:22 - 00:14:07:10
You can do one of two things you can decide to not. Maybe this is not the right time to take the course. You couldn't take a zero and not do the assignment. And she decided to take a zero and not do the assignment. What she did end up doing. But I encouraged her to push herself a little, get herself out from her comfort zone into her learning zone, but not to the point that she became into panic, that then it became a negative experience.
00:14:07:10 - 00:14:29:01
So what she ended up doing is she got zero on that assignment, but there was a group presentation assignment that she ended up doing and she ended it because that was a little bit easier for her because the eyes weren't all, all on her. She got to share some of that pressure with her other group, me. So I still had empathy for her.
00:14:30:00 - 00:14:52:12
And with her I felt with her, but I still set some boundaries. And, and the key is, is by you getting enmeshed in people stuff and by you carrying their load, what you're creating sometimes is a culture of dependance. Oh, well, I know Wayne will do it for me, so I'll just tell him my problems and. And he'll do it for me.
00:14:52:19 - 00:15:17:15
Well, that's not getting them to become emotionally resilient. And one of the things that I will tell you about the Gen Z, they are worse at problem solving, worse at stress management and worse at independence than any generation before. Y Because they grew up with these things and helicopter parents. If we continue to give people the answers and do it for them, they ain't learning and they're not growing.
00:15:18:07 - 00:15:41:11
So you can be a kind and compassionate person, but also have boundaries and set the rules of engagement. And you can also ask your people, I can't do this for you, but what can I do to support you during this challenging time? And in fact, just before this podcast, I had a call, a meeting with my team, and one of my team members said she's at max capacity.
00:15:41:23 - 00:16:03:15
And so I said to her, let's postpone this meeting and move it a week later. And so that would give her space to do the work. The other employee, who also said I'm at max capacity she I that didn't work for her see her. Even though I took that meeting and postponed it, she still felt overwhelmed. I then said rather than saying, Oh, well, what else?
00:16:03:20 - 00:16:29:19
I said to her, What else can I do to support you? I didn't say. What can I take on for you? What can I do to support you so that you feel that you're not as overwhelmed? So if we have those conversations not take on the burden, their emotional burdens, and because really when you say let's let's, let's think about this, if I say let me do it for you, what you're basically saying is, I don't think you have the capability of doing it yourself.
00:16:29:19 - 00:16:49:01
So let me do it for you. And so a lot of times I when I work with people who are trying really feel like they are caring and compassionate by you doing it for them, you're basically letting them know that you don't think that they can. And what you have to do is believe in your people that they can do it.
00:16:49:05 - 00:17:09:04
Still monitor how overwhelmed they are and figure out ways, be flexible and figure out ways of how you can adapt their work, their work schedule, or their work expectations. But but don't do it for them, because all you're doing is saving the children when the plane's going down before you put the mask on yourself.
00:17:09:20 - 00:17:41:20
Okay, so two things. Number one is it warms the cockles of my born in Canada heart to hear somebody say Gen Z. That just makes me so happy. People in Canada, in the UK are going, Yes, I am too and Americans are freaking out. Why? If you can't let somebody else need to worry but what I do want to add and we'll have to finish up on this is I understand what you're talking about is setting boundaries with your team.
00:17:43:06 - 00:18:01:22
How about leaders for themselves? How do they set those boundaries for themselves? Because they will very often treat themselves, talk to themselves, handle themselves in ways that they would never handle an employee or team member.
00:18:02:07 - 00:18:24:01
Yes. So a couple of things. The first thing really is they need to read the book because in the book I get them to figure out where they're too much of and where they're not enough and they have to figure out what their emotional makeup is. So for me, I have too much flexibility. I flip flop as a leader when one employee wants sushi and the other one want Greek, I say, okay, yes to sushi, and I say yes to Greek.
00:18:24:01 - 00:18:43:11
And then I've got to make a decision. Sometimes I might say, No, we're doing Italian. And both of you know, they both are going to be disappointed. I got to take a stand sometimes, but I have really low independence, which isn't a good combination. Independence is I care too much about what people think. So if I have high flexibility and low independence, that's not a good emotional makeup.
00:18:43:11 - 00:19:06:13
I'm a combination because I'm caring too much about what my employees think and then I'm accommodating to whatever they want. Sometimes I need to take a stand. So the first thing you need to do is figure out where you're high, low and on the dark side. And in the book we work through all 15 of those. But the second thing is, is to have compassion for yourself that treat yourself like your own best friend, don't break your own boundary.
00:19:06:19 - 00:19:26:20
Right? So if I know that I need to be more flexible and I know for a lo someone with low independence, I need to stop asking reassuring questions. Then what I need to do is make sure that I'm accountable to doing those things. And how do I do that? Maybe I find a an advisor to help me. Maybe I find an accountability partner and a mentor.
00:19:26:20 - 00:19:37:20
We talk about the competency advisors. If you struggle with independence, find someone who has independence and how can they help you? But then if you screw up and by the way, we'll all screw up because we've been doing this.
00:19:37:20 - 00:19:40:17
I was going to say it's adorable that you say, if not when.
00:19:40:23 - 00:20:03:03
Right. It's even when we screw up, how are you going to get back on track and what we write about in the book or what I write about in the book is this relapse prevention plan. What are you going to do when you relapse, when you do break your own boundary? When I do ask reassuring questions, when I know I shouldn't, when I am too flexible and accommodating, when I know I should take a stand, what am I going to do?
00:20:03:03 - 00:20:15:08
When I do do that? I'm going to have self-compassion. I'm going to feel like, okay, I have some grace. I made a mistake, but I am not my mistake. But what can I do to get myself back on track the next day so that I don't do it again?
00:20:16:18 - 00:20:41:02
That is a very good place to end, which is good because we are actually a little bit past the end of our time. So Carolyn, the book is The Emotionally Strong Leader. CarolynStern.com is where you can find her. We will have links to the book to her and her website and her socials and all of that good stuff on our website.
00:20:41:02 - 00:21:05:17
Longdistanceworklife.com. Thank you so much for joining us. I am going to remove you from the meeting very shortly and wrap this up. So thank you for joining us. I really appreciate you. And if you have enjoyed our time, a few things to think about. We do have a new book coming out the end of February, The Long-Distance Team.
00:21:06:04 - 00:21:36:12
Check that out. You can preorder it now wherever books are sold. If you are interested in developing your skills around long-distance leadership, please on the longdistanceworklife.com site, there's a link to a four part video series. Please, please, please like and subscribe. You listen to podcasts so you know how this works. And of course you can reach Marisa or I directly Wayne@KevinEikenberry.com or Marisa at
00:21:36:18 - 00:22:07:05
KevinEikenberry.com. For those of you who like her better than me and I'm okay with that, thank you so much for joining us on the Long-Distance Worklife. We will see you again next week. Don't let the weasels get you down and have a great, great week.