Taking Leadership to Heart – Success Stories

As we continue our “Taking Leadership to Heart” series, certain emotional intelligence behavioral patterns are starting to emerge.  See if you can spot the commonalities among the leaders who’ve been featured.

This month we are spotlighting Marian Anderson, Human Resources Director at Edwards Lifesciences.  When I asked her to reflect on her definition of emotional intelligence, she said:

Emotional intelligence is about me being aware of my emotions.  My emotional state is magnified by my team.  I see myself as a conduit to the company and must be aware how my emotions affect the team.  It’s in my DNA to love people and I’m not afraid to use that.  People sometimes call me a Pollyanna saying I love everyone and I agree to a point, but I am discerning.  It’s unfortunate that I have to defend being kind.  I think about Ken Blanchard who says “Leadership is love.”  It’s about caring for each other and extending grace.  Know their story beyond their role. The ‘how was your weekend’ conversation on Monday morning can tell you a lot.”  As I interviewed some of Marian’s directs, they confirmed she is all about supporting the whole person, not just the employee.  It’s quite motivating to them.

At the time of this interview, Marian had just attended a Marshall Goldsmith seminar and he told the story about the son who brought home a report card with 4 A’s and a B.  His father looked at the report card and said, “What’s up with the B?”  The son was totally demotivated because no one was celebrating the A’s.  It’s the same with leadership.  You have to celebrate the good things.  You don’t ignore low performance, but if your conversations only focus on the negative, it demotivates and impacts future performance in a limiting way.

I believe in taking the high road and giving grace and kindness.  Everyone is going through something.  Leaders see only one dimension of employees and there is so much more to them.  They could be going through a tough divorce, losing a child or parent, fighting an illness…you never know the personal challenges people face outside the office.  You have to let some things go.”  This is a great expression of empathy and compassion, two key emotional intelligence competencies.  Empathy is the ability to see from another perspective and compassion is acting on that empathy.

Speaking of empathy, one of the folks I interviewed shared a great example of how Marian uses empathy to lead.  When this employee was struggling with how to handle a situation, Marian said, “Remember when you…. it’s like that.”  Instead of using Marian’s own example, she used her employee’s previous experience to help her see how to handle the situation at hand.  What an empowering approach!

Too often people think emotional intelligence is just about softening your approach, never taking a strong stand.  This couldn’t be more inaccurate.  Being able to have tough conversations in a productive way is a critical EQ skill.  Marian can have the tough conversations.  A colleague asked about one of Marian’s colleagues who was no longer employed there, “Does she not like me?”  Marian reminded her, “Remember how you used to yell at her and tell her she was incompetent?  No, she doesn’t like you.” Even though she is compassionate, she is not afraid to tell it like it is. When asked to coach someone who thrives on motivation through fear, she tells them she’s not going to be of help because she doesn’t believe in leading through fear.  Having the courage to assert your opinion is definitely a way to demonstrate emotional intelligence. Low EQ can survive for a while but can’t sustain.  Eventually they become that leader who delivers results but the collateral damage is high and management is looking to fire them or get them a coach.

Marian is naturally a humorous person, with the ability to see the humor in a situation where others may not.  She will also leverage humor intentionally.  For example, one of her employees shared a story about having a tough day balancing the budget – $100k was mysteriously missing.  She and Marian had hit a mental block.  As the stress began to mount, Marian stopped and said, “Let’s change the channel.  We need a humor break.  We’re going to watch a YouTube video.”  For the next five minutes they watched a hilarious video and laughed so hard they were almost in tears.   It was exactly what they needed to refresh and find that $100k.

Let’s talk about resilience.  Marian’s thought is that everyone screws up.  It’s how you recover that matters.  Once an employee forgot to order lunch for an important meeting and she began to freak out because the cafeteria wouldn’t have time to prepare the hot meal they normally ordered and food from outside vendors is not permitted.  Together they calmly proceeded to explore their options and decided to take advantage of the summer day and make it a casual luncheon with sandwich platters.  The focus of the meeting was not the food anyway, it was the networking.  The participants had a great experience and no one knew there’d been a mistake.  And the employee was not reprimanded for forgetting.

Marian is a strong proponent of the saying, “If you want people to dream big and innovate, you have to make it safe for them to fail.  You tried this and it didn’t work – great!”  Her team reports being very comfortable saying when they’ve messed up.  Creating a safe space for your employees to experiment means you’ve kept the emotional part of their brain calm and the logical part of their brain engaged.  (This is the relationship management piece of emotional intelligence.) If you don’t make it safe, their emotional brains take charge and they live in a state of apprehension, not innovation.  One employee recounted Marian calling her into the office on her first day and saying, “Ultimately this is my department, my responsibility.  If you make a mistake, come to me.  If you have a problem, it’s my problem.”  This was so powerful for that employee, so motivating.

Sarah Blakely, the founder of SPANX, talks about her father always asking them at the dinner table, “What did you try and fail at today?”  He made it safe for them to try new things and that mindset led her to create a product that has made her a millionaire.

A common theme that immerged when I spoke to Marian’s directs was trust.  She teaches and practices Stephen MR Covey’s Speed of Trust principles.  Marian is no micromanager.   Per her team, Marian knows how to effectively delegate and create growth opportunities for her team.  She extends trust and encourages her team to grow.  One employee said Marian saw how she handled a baby shower and complimented her command of the room.  She then asked if she’d ever thought of being a facilitator.  Marian believed in and trusted her to take on that role – and with a development plan in place, she did.

When asked what type of culture she strives to create, this was her response.

“Maximizing potential for business results.  Maximizing potential is about engaging and developing the whole person, not just the employee, and business results means saving lives through our products.  At Edwards Life Sciences, our credo is Helping patients is our life’s work and life is now.  Every time I think I’m having a tough day, I think of that credo and it makes it all worth it.”

For more information on how Edwards is saving lives, go to http://www.edwards.com.

And if you know a great leader who effectively uses emotional intelligence, reach out to me at Dawn@DayBreakEQ.com.



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