Be forgiving and assume noble intent. When someone sends an email that you think may be a little too edgy, take a moment to think about what that person might be really trying to say. Give others the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.
As a part of our series about Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Malone.
Patrick Malone is Director of the Key Executive Leadership Program at American University. He is a frequent guest lecturer on kindness, gratitude, emotional intelligence, compassion, ethics, mindfulness and leadership at various organizations, professional associations and universities including the Fulbright Scholars Program. His research and teaching interests include human motivation, kindness, leadership, ethics and organizational behavior. Dr. Malone is a retired Navy Captain. While in the Navy, he served in a number of leadership and policy roles, including as a professor of biometrics and preventive medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Academic Director and Dean of Academics for Navy Medicine. His most recent publications include The Way Leaders Think, The Trusting Leader, Selfies in the Workplace, Kindness and Survival of the Fittest, Go Ahead, Laugh — Why Humor Makes for a Better Workplace, and VulnerABILITY — Can Managers Benefit from Extreme Exposure? His TED Talk, “Thinking about Time,” is available at http://tedxtalks.ted.com. He co-edited the book, The Handbook of Federal Leadership and Administration (November 2016) and co-authored with Zina Sutch the book Leading with Love and Laughter (BK Publishers, May 25, 2021). His new book Emotional Intelligence for Talent Development will be available in Fall 2021.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Oh my. Well, I was born in Dallas, Texas and grew up in Austin. My family was a working-class family. My mother worked in a factory and my stepdad drove a trash truck and did side jobs fixing cars. They worked very hard at multiple jobs to pay bills and make sure there was food on the table. They were tremendously loving, and I feel so lucky that I had them. I think my fondest memory with them was Sunday afternoons watching the Dallas Cowboys. I started working at a very young age as a lifeguard, and then on to multiple jobs to put myself through college.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I have actually had two careers, one related to healthcare and one in leadership development. They actually kind of blend in the middle. I think my healthcare interest was tied to my desire as a young child to be a dentist, but I quickly found out when I faced organic chemistry in college that being a dentist was not going to happen. I developed an interest in leadership development midway through my healthcare career and one thing led to another. My biggest inspiration was my uncle, who was the only college graduate in our family and was always there to give me advice, a pat on the back or a kick in the behind when I needed it.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Wow. This goes back many years. As a young man I worked my way through college as a surgical technologist. Basically, this is a person that passes instruments to surgeons. One day a surgeon I was working with asked for a particular instrument and I was told by the nurse that the hospital couldn’t afford to buy that instrument. So, I marched down to the administrator’s office after the case, full of anger, to inquire as to why we could not afford a simple instrument that a surgeon needed. The CEO, Bob Spurck, sat down with me for an hour to explain how things worked. He then encouraged me to go to graduate school. His kindness and patience with a young surgical tech, along with his gift of his time really struck me. I still keep in touch with him. In fact, I told the story during my Ted talk!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
These are terrific questions! Okay, one time I accidentally released the personal performance data for every organization in our system to all of the CEOs. This doesn’t sound terrible, but it actually was. It’s very private information that shouldn’t have been shared across the organization. It was an innocent error on my part, not understanding how the data were embedded inside the graphics that I had prepared. Still, this was a career-ending mistake. But my boss was so forgiving. I learned two things from this: to pay attention to details and the power of gracious forgiveness.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Without a doubt to live your life and pursue your dreams with a foundation of love and laughter. I would suggest everyone hone their emotional intelligence skills and build relationships that are trusting, kind and compassionate. Education will help, certifications will help, but human beings are your greatest asset.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A documentary back in 2003 called “The Corporation” was about corporate greed and the destruction of our environment and health. In one scene, the CEO of the largest carpet making company in the world shared how he wasn’t aware of the impact his work had on the environment. When he looked at the science, he had a change of heart and immediately changed the company’s operating procedures. What resonated with me was the look in his eyes when he shared his fear about what would happen if we continued to ignore our own physical and mental health and the world in which we live. The lesson for me was that humanity matters more than anything, and we have to be good to one another and to the planet upon which we live.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
The great Maya Angelo wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The way we care for one another matters. We can disagree on anything, but we’re morally bound to lead lives of kindness and caring.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you’re working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Well, Zina Sutch and I just finished a book, Leading with Love and Laughter, that we’re very excited about. We’re also starting work on a new project about the humanization of the workplace. You probably see a common theme here.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you’re an authority on Emotional Intelligence?
I’d be hard-pressed to call myself an authority on emotional intelligence! I do have a lot of experience in the world of teaching, writing and research into the topic. I’ve also made plenty of mistakes that exposed my lack of emotional intelligence. Both personally and professionally, I think that we’re all on a journey to the end goal of emotional intelligence. But the fact is we’ll never get there because we’re just simple human beings.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
I think when you look at the research on this topic, you see several different definitions. I like to think of emotional intelligence as the simple act of noticing. This means noticing yourself, your behaviors, others, and your relationships. It’s about self-awareness, but it’s also about social awareness and acceptance.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
When we think of intelligence in the traditional way, we usually think of the intelligence quotient. This is nothing more than the cognitive capacity to develop and succeed using certain skills. Emotional intelligence is quite different. It involves our feelings, and our recognition of other people’s feelings. So, we can have a very high intelligence quotient and a very low emotional intelligence quotient or vice versa!
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Emotional intelligence is so critical because it’s the bridge to building trust in a relationship, personally and professionally. It allows us to be open and honest with one another about our feelings, our emotions, and what we think. And thinking about this in the workplace, we want people to feel comfortable saying what they think, asking probing questions, exhibiting childlike curiosity. It’s possible to have a workplace without emotional intelligence, and that type of workplace is likely going to be toxic and sterile. Why not tap into the passion and energies of the people on our teams by connecting with them in a very real and authentic way? This is what will drive organizational performance.
Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.
Of course. I am by nature a very emotional person. I tend to lead with my feelings. This can be very nice and it can also be very debilitating. If for example I receive a review of a class that I’ve given that is less than positive, I always default to an emotional reaction — defensiveness, or maybe even a little bit of anger. But I know this about myself. So I allow myself to feel those feelings because I know that’s the way I am. But then I quickly exercise self management and stop any negative reaction I may have. I try to assume noble intent on the part of the evaluator and I also look for ways to try to improve.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
Listening. Listening. Listening. In the business world we’re so busy that we rarely have time to truly listen to what others are trying to tell us. We put up our own emotional barriers, look at our watches, check our iPhones and move onto the next meeting. When we listen in an empathetic way, we build a connection with the speaker. This gives the speaker the opportunity to be open and candid with what he or she is sharing with us. Some of the best ideas in business come simply when leaders just stay quiet for a few moments and listen to those around them.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
The above example is a perfect depiction of what happens to relationships. Let’s say for example that I’m working for a boss and I want to share a new idea or an observation that I think is important. When my boss listens in an active and kind way, it makes me think that she actually cares about what I have to say. If I know my boss cares about what I have to say, I’m going to be more likely to share in the future. I’m also going to be more likely to be creative and ask better questions because I know that my opinion matters. So we’ve established a trusting relationship in which I feel valued and my boss gets the best energy out of me that she possibly can.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
Studies have shown that when we’re mindful, self-aware and socially aware, we tend to build better relationships. When we have relationships that are healthy and trusting in our lives, we’re more grounded. We feel safe and cared for. This state of mental comfort gives us a sense of belonging. And if there’s one thing that humans want, it’s to belong. We’re hard wired for connection with others.
Ok. Wonderful. Here’s the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.
Absolutely. First and foremost I would say practice mindfulness. This can be through meditation, journaling, gardening or even going to the gym. But find some quiet space to connect with yourself and make it a practice.
Second, I would say own your feelings. Be honest with yourself about how you feel about situations, whether it’s a challenge you’re facing at work, or a challenge you’re facing in a relationship. Own the feelings first and then you can make decisions on what to do afterwards.
Third, practice kindness every day. We know that when we do something as simple as open the door for someone or pay for their coffee, it infuses our brains with chemicals that make us feel better about ourselves.
Fourth, be forgiving and assume noble intent. When someone sends an email that you think may be a little too edgy, take a moment to think about what that person might be really trying to say. Give others the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.
Lastly, care for yourself. We can only be our best selves if we give the best to our selves. Eat well, exercise, get plenty of rest and find your passion. It’s not selfish.
Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?
Definitely start early and stay with it. I have a daughter that’s a teacher and I know that in her school they’re working on emotional intelligence skills from a very early age. I think the problem is that once we get to high school and college, the competitive nature of the world starts to take over and the beauty of sharing as a child becomes the nightmare of competition as an adult. We need to be revisiting Emotional Intelligence and relationships throughout our lives and throughout our educational system at all levels. We’re all on a journey and that journey must be filled with learning and growth opportunities. We owe it to our world to be inclusive and accepting.
Ok, we’re nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I will go back to what I said about love and laughter. I’m a firm believer that this is the foundation for everything that we do. We can do so much as professionals, but without a foundation of caring and humor, and a lot of humility thrown in, I think that we fall short of what we can contribute to our organizations and to the lives of others.
We’re very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I wish I could give you a name, but honestly, I can’t. The people that impress me the most are the single parents working multiple jobs to support their families, the first responders, the healthcare professionals, the people in recovery, those working in nursing homes or homeless shelters, those serving the poor, and basically anyone devoting their lives to making our world more inclusive and accepting. These are the people that I admire the most and I’d love to have a private breakfast or lunch with — and I would insist on paying!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.