Carolyn Stern, author of The Emotionally Strong Leader, is the President and CEO of EI Experience, an executive leadership development and emotional intelligence training firm.
She is a certified Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Development Expert, professional speaker, and university professor whose emotional intelligence courses and modules have been adopted by top universities in North America.
She has also provided comprehensive training programs to business leaders across the continent in highly regarded corporations encompassing industries such as technology, finance, manufacturing, advertising, education, healthcare, government, and foodservice.
Stern lives and works in Vancouver, British Columbia.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- About Carolyn’s book The Emotionally Strong Leader
- Why so many people have difficulty managing their emotions and the impact this have on careers
- Growing your Emotional Intelligence (EI)
- The five distinct areas of EI — self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal, decision-making, and stress management
- Learning to recognize our emotions and changing our reactions to them is challenging
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:08] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for workplace wisdom, sharing insight, perspective and best practices for creating the planet’s best workplaces. Now here’s your host.
Stone Payton: [00:00:32] Welcome to another exciting and informative edition of Workplace Wisdom. Stone Payton here with you this afternoon. You guys are in for a real treat. Please join me in welcoming to the broadcast president and CEO of EI Experience, Speaker, educator and now author Ms.. Carolyn Stern. How are you?
Carolyn Stern: [00:00:54] I’m excited to be here. Stone Thanks for having me.
Stone Payton: [00:00:57] We are so delighted to have you on the show and this topic that you’ve chosen to tackle in your career and with this book. The book is called The Emotionally Strong Leader. I got to say, right out of the box, it almost sounds what is the word oxymoron, emotional and strong in the same phrase. Tell us about that.
Carolyn Stern: [00:01:19] Well, I mean, I was just so sick and tired of hearing successful executives think that being emotional was a sign of weakness. Right. Being emotional is basically someone who feels things deeply and has strong reactions. The challenge is many of us have never learned to have the skills to be in the driver’s seat of our emotions. And so our emotions have been driving us. So I think being emotional and strong are not mutually exclusive. And the whole book is equipped with tested skills and strategies to help you learn how to be bigger and more intelligent than your emotions.
Stone Payton: [00:02:00] So President and CEO of I experience I’m going to go out on a limb. Is I emotional intelligence? Is that what that stands for?
Carolyn Stern: [00:02:08] Yes. Yes. So we are a leadership and emotional intelligence training company. And so we train. It’s interesting to see over the years I’ve been in business with I experience since 2017, I’ve been in business since 2006 with my own company. But when we launched my experience, you know, no one kind of knew what emotional intelligence was. And all the phone calls we were making, we needed to convince people what it was and why you needed it. Well, what’s interesting in particular with everything that’s happened with the pandemic is people are now picking up the phone and calling us, saying we need this training. And so we’ve never been busier because think about it. Stone You know, people are more emotional now than ever. And what the pandemic, the silver lining that the pandemic did is it just brought to the surface all the emotions that people were feeling. They no longer could stuff them down. There is no on and off switch of your emotions when you get into the office, but for many years we’ve all kind of put on a corporate persona or mask, and what the pandemic did was just shined a light that we are emotional creatures and that your leaders need to have the skills on how to handle their employees emotions.
Stone Payton: [00:03:28] So the I the intelligence is that in an effort is that talking about getting your arms around your emotions so that you can maybe not only control them but actually capitalize on them and identify what you’re seeing in your people?
Carolyn Stern: [00:03:45] Yes, absolutely. So being stronger than your emotions is not strong, arming your feelings or having a steely resolve not to to feel. It simply means that you work to acknowledge, understand and accept that you feel things and that you identify your feelings, definitely contain data. You know, they’re full of wisdom. And what you can do is use that information to guide your behaviors when confronted with emotional triggers, right. That can drive either hasty reactions or even undisciplined behaviors. So it’s really about being smarter or, again, more intelligent than your emotions because emotions come and go right. They’re not good or bad, right or wrong. They’re an emotional experience or reaction to a person thing or situation. The challenge is none of us. I mean, I don’t know about you, Stone, but did you have good, emotionally intelligent role models? I certainly didn’t.
Stone Payton: [00:04:45] You know what I got to say? One of the best has got to be my youngest daughter. She has I would describe it as wisdom beyond her years. I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t think that that Holly and I did anything in particular. So I’m sure there are other people. I’m sure there’s a continuum. Some people have more aptitude. Some people have a little more. Kelly, her name is Kelly in them, others don’t. Are you finding in your work that that there are plenty, though, that are having really quite a challenge with this? And if so, why do you think they’re finding it so difficult?
Carolyn Stern: [00:05:21] Well, I think it stems at home that we really actually don’t talk about your emotions at home. And many people, when you think just back to your childhood, you know, did you were you allowed to express your emotions? I was not. I was taught the kids should be seen and not heard. And for many, many years, I sort of stuffed my emotions down by eating about them. And what’s interesting about me and having written the book and taking the last few years, I’ve actually lost £125.
Stone Payton: [00:05:51] Oh, my.
Carolyn Stern: [00:05:52] Because I was stuffing my feet. I was trying to eat my feelings. And what what emotional intelligence. Not only has it saved me personally on, on, on my with my personal health challenges, etc., but it’s helped me in my career because I’ve started to spend time thinking about them. So why they’re there, you know, how, how, what triggered me to make them to for me to experience that emotion at that time. And how can I use that data to make good strategy choices or behavioral choices? So I kind of use the example of think of ad agencies, how they use consumer behavior data to make good strategic choices to encourage us to buy their stuff.
Stone Payton: [00:06:41] Yeah, well.
Carolyn Stern: [00:06:42] It’s the same thing with our feelings. Can we use emotions as data? So for instance, if I’m feeling frustrated, what what brought on, what triggered that frustration? So that’s the first thing I need to figure out. What’s the trigger, then I need to kind of dig into why am I feeling frustrated? What does what’s underneath, what’s the causal effect of of frustration? Well, frustration stems from unmet expectations. So who is not meeting my expectations? What is going on? So it can provide you an incredible amount of data if you spend enough time figuring out why they’re there, how they got there, and you can do about it.
Stone Payton: [00:07:26] The applications for this conversation, this work, this this science is topic. I mean, they seem to me they strike me as almost endless. Right. Personal relationships in the in your career, in in your friendships. I mean, you must never run out of ways to help people apply this.
Carolyn Stern: [00:07:46] Absolutely. I think emotional intelligence is the answer to any personal, interpersonal or professional issue. And so that is why, like I said, the phone keeps ringing for us, because I think finally leaders are realizing that there is an emotional gap that exists for many of us. And how we showcase our internal emotions in our external actions needs, work, care and understanding. Because the problem is, so many organizations focus on unproductive behaviors or disrespectful communications rather than getting to the heart of the matter, which is we need to spend time thinking about why are we feeling what we’re feeling? Where did this come from and what can we do about it?
Stone Payton: [00:08:38] So just how natural or unnatural does that come for folks? I’m getting the sense that you have found a way to apply some some some discipline, some structure, some rigor to help someone get on get on top of this. Yeah.
Carolyn Stern: [00:08:57] Yes. Well, I mean, as you mentioned in the intro, right. I’ve been teaching at the university for almost 25 years, but before that, I was a high school teacher for five years. And prior to that, I was trained in elementary school as well as as teaching high school. So I’ve been sort of exposed to our education system from primary all the way up to adult learning. And I will tell you, we’re not teaching this in schools. So, for instance, as an instructor, I give students stress. I don’t teach them how to manage it. Right. I put them in teams, but I don’t teach them how to work within those teams. And so I really made it became very apparent to me there was a gap. And for five years I lobbied to have an emotional intelligence course in our school of business at my local university that I teach at. And it took me five years. Why? Because the faculty said it wasn’t academic enough. But you and I both know that your IQ might get you the job. But your IQ is what’s going to get you promoted and why. It’s because as soon as we are leading people, we are leading people with emotions.
Carolyn Stern: [00:10:10] And I’d say the biggest thing that I see with leaders is that they think that they have to solve people’s emotional problems. And that’s a big fallacy. You do not need to solve people’s emotional problems, but you do need to be brave enough about having honest conversations about what’s going on for you, what might be going on for them. And when you have that sort of genuine connection, others feel seen, heard and cared for and they feel valued. And in a work setting that’s going to help you, that’s going to affect their dedication, their engagement and their fulfillment. But I think the big fallacy is you do not need to be the problem solving hero. You just need to listen and ask really good coaching questions. On what do they need to feel supported through their emotional challenges. You know what? What solutions can they come up with your employees on their own? You don’t have to have all the solutions. You’re not a therapist. Right. That’s that’s work for them to be done outside of the office. But what you can do is figure out how are your employees feeling? Because how your employees feel affects how they perform.
Stone Payton: [00:11:30] So you’ve been at this a while. What was the catalyst or was there a catalytic event that compelled you to sit down, put some of these ideas to paper and create the book?
Carolyn Stern: [00:11:43] It actually happened when I was a high school teacher. So I was in my mid twenties and I was teaching an entrepreneurship class and they were for whatever reason, the thugs of the school were in this class. And on my first day of class, a boy and a girl got into a fistfight and I thought, Oh my gosh, how am I going to teach this class, let alone let them run a business when they won’t even listen to me? You know, and I think about it, there are 17, 18 years old, I’m in my mid twenties and I’m not much older than them. How am I going to get them to learn from me, let alone listen to me? And what I decided to do was I thought to myself, I wonder if those two students were ever given any opportunity. Were they sort of labeled these challenging students? And were they was that label placed on them and that prevented them from having opportunities? So what I ended up doing is making one of them, the VP of production of our little business that we were running the school business and it made the other one, the VP of Human Resources and my teacher friends thought I was crazy, that I gave the most challenging students such important roles because when they became the VP of the of the school business, they had a lot more additional responsibilities, right? They had to open the business. They had to count the money that the business made. They had to work with our vendors. They had to schedule all the students in their shifts, afternoons shifts and after school shifts. And so they had a lot more responsibility. But when I connected with both of them on an emotional level and kind of got to know them, what made them tick, what, what what was getting in their way of success? When I got to that sort of heart level, that’s when great things happen.
Carolyn Stern: [00:13:35] And the one student who was actually one of the most challenging students and was at the principal’s office far too often ended up being the most improved student in the school. And it was at that moment that I thought, people need to learn this. People need to know that if you start to get to the heart of the matters of why people are feeling what they’re feeling. Great things can happen. And so two of the questions I always ask at every single one of the meetings I chair or run in my company is What are you feeling and what is that feeling telling you about you? And then I shut up and listen, because that will give me a lot of insight of where my my my team is coming from. So if someone’s overwhelmed, I don’t need to know in the check in when we have kind of a check in with the team. I don’t need to know why they’re feeling what they’re feeling, but I can kind of get a good temperature of the room. And if anyone says anything alarming to me, then I can go back to those employees and say, hey, you know, Jane, I remember you had said that you’re feeling overwhelmed today. What’s going on? How can I support you? And to find out more offline so that she doesn’t have to sort of share all of that personal information in front of the group. But that gives me a really good temperature of how people are feeling that day and I therefore how they might perform that day.
Stone Payton: [00:15:06] Whether it’s in the classroom or the boardroom. This must be incredibly rewarding work.
Carolyn Stern: [00:15:14] It really is. I mean, I’ve changed. I mean, the book is called The Emotionally Strong Leader and Inside Out Journey to Transformational Leadership. And Why I called it this is I’ve literally seen in front of my eyes transformational change, whether that is, in my case, losing an incredible amount of weight, whether it’s been saving a marriage, whether it’s been something at work that an employee could never speak up for, for herself with her boss. And she finally was given a voice, whether it’s someone not being able to have good personal relationships at work, whether it’s maybe some people are making decisions impulsively or not handling stress well or not even feeling good about themselves. You know, there are some there are 15 areas of emotional intelligence we we teach on. And what’s interesting is, and you said it earlier at the beginning, is everyone has a different emotional makeup. You and I didn’t grow up in the same way. Stone And so what I struggle with, you might not. And so what happens in the book is we talk about sort of what’s your emotional makeup? So I help the reader kind of go through a series of questions to kind of take their own assessment. What am I good at? What am I not good at? What am I too good at? Right.
Carolyn Stern: [00:16:39] And I talk a little bit about the dark side of emotional intelligence. When you’re too good at something that it becomes a strength, actually becomes a liability. So take empathy. For instance, if you have too much empathy, you can get smashed in people’s stuff. You might not set good boundaries. You might carry people’s emotional burdens on your shoulders so you can have compassion and boundaries at the same time. So for someone who has too much empathy, I’m going to give them a different strategy than someone who doesn’t have enough empathy. Or if you don’t struggle with empathy at all, but you struggle with feeling like you can’t stand up for yourself and you’re not assertive. Well, that’s a different strategy. So the first step is really kind of taking an inventory of how your faring in all 15 of these different competencies or skills to see What am I good at, what am I not good at, what am I too good at? And then what is the thing that’s really getting in my way? That’s making me not the best leader that I could be? And so for me, Stone, my challenge has been I my lowest competency and skill that I struggle with is independence.
Carolyn Stern: [00:17:54] And people are always surprised by that because I run my own company. I’m I’m financially independent. I’m not married. Right? I, I travel by myself. It’s not that kind of independence that I struggle with. The kind of independence I struggle with is emotional dependance, which is I care too much about what people think. And so I need more reassurance. Well, where does that come from for me? Well, I had a very overbearing, overprotective mother. And bless her heart, she kind of was a helicopter parent and kind of hovered over me growing up as a child. So I just didn’t learn to build this emotional muscle, kind of like a six pack, supposedly. We all have one underneath. Well, if I did more crunches, my six pack would come out. Well, it’s the same thing with emotions. If I did more exercises to become more independent, to be more self directed, to not need reassurance, to not care about what people think, that muscle, that emotional muscle would become stronger. The challenge is we’re not doing that kind of work. So none of these skills are are are difficult, but it’s not easy, right? Like, it’s not easy. If you just said to me, well, stop caring about what people think. Well, that’s very challenging.
Stone Payton: [00:19:21] No, it’s an excellent point every day, because I’m thinking even if I can start getting a little more self aware, a little bit better at identifying some of these tendencies in myself and seeing things in other people that I’m trying to work with and through. Then there’s this whole other piece where it’s got to be very challenging to actually change my response, change my reaction to the to the stimuli, right?
Carolyn Stern: [00:19:48] Yes. Yes. And so that’s why one of the simple activities that I that I give all our clients is you can take a piece of paper and you can split the paper down into four different columns. And the first thing you can do is, what am I feeling? Right. So that’s the emotion. What’s the emotion? So let’s say your boss gives you an unrealistic expectation and you’re feeling angry. Well, that’s the emotion. I’m feeling angry. Well, the trigger was that your boss gave you an unrealistic deadline, right? That’s the trigger. That’s the second column. So what triggered that emotion? The third column is, what am I going to respond? Right. What’s my response? Well, a highly emotional, intelligent response would be to tell my boss, hey, you know, I can give you Project X by Friday, but Project Y might need I might need some more time. Can I have an extra week to finish Project Y. Now the fourth column is impact. What if I give my boss that response? What’s the impact? Well, he might not be happy with me, but he’ll at least respect that I’m setting a boundary and taking care of myself. Right?
Stone Payton: [00:20:59] Yeah.
Carolyn Stern: [00:21:00] A low emotional intelligence response would be. Screw you, boss. I could. I could say, I don’t want to do that. And then what’s the impact of that response? Well, that could be insubordination. Or I could lose my job or I could get in trouble. And so why I get them to write it down in four columns emotion, trigger, response and impact, and to get them to figure out what what it look like. If I had a high emotional intelligence response, what would it look like if I had a low emotional intelligence response? Well, if you pause and kind of look at, hey, if I do one or the other, that gives you the wisdom on what’s the best strategy to move forward. So I think the problem is we’re so reactive of our emotions. We don’t spend time figuring out why am I angry when I’m angry? Because he didn’t set a realistic expectation. And maybe this is a common thing that my boss does and maybe this is a habitual problem. And so it then gives you the tools, what can I do about it? You know, emotional intelligence, really, in my simple, simple opinion, is just be speaking your truth respectfully and professionally. So if I told my boss, you know, sometimes you give deadlines that are not reasonable with the amount of work I have to do, that at least is speaking my truth. He might not like what I’m saying, but at least I’m speaking my truth. And I’m doing so in a respectful way. I’m not losing my temper or talking behind his back or creating, creating challenges with other people. I’m actually just telling him how I’m feeling and why I’m feeling, what I’m feeling.
Stone Payton: [00:22:51] And imagine, well, you don’t have to imagine, but I’m imagining just how valuable that can be for anyone who is who is a leader, who has the responsibility of generating results with and through the voluntary cooperation of other people to to have the skill model it and create an environment where the team where they’re comfortable sharing those things, as you just described me. And that’s that’s got to set a culture on fire. That’s that’s got to be powerful.
Carolyn Stern: [00:23:25] Yes. You absolutely have to create a psychologically safe environment so that people feel safe to share. But one of the reasons I wrote this book was it starts with you as the leader. You have to model the way you have to be brave enough to start. So I think the big fallacy that leaders make is they feel like they have to be stoic and unflappable and they they can’t show emotions. And I have to know all the answers. Know you’re human. People follow people who are relatable, not perfect. So if you say to your team, I’m having a bad day, I need some assistance here, can you help me out? You’d be surprised at how many people would come to your rescue and try to help you if you ask for help. A lot of leaders in high positions have too much independence. So the dark side of independence is they never ask for help. Well, when you never ask for help, people in relationship with you don’t feel needed, wanted or trusted. And so the balance is really finding your sweet spot for me. I need to become more independent, but I don’t want to become so independent that I never ask people for help. I want to still be a team player. It’s like interdependence, knowing when I can do it on my own, but also when to ask for help, when I need it. And so that’s what this really is, is figuring out the first step in the book is really, where are you on these 15 different skill sets? Where are you high? Where are you low? Where are you in the middle and where are you on the dark side? And that’s the first step.
Carolyn Stern: [00:25:02] But the second step is, are you really seeing yourself for who you are or is that your own self perception which can be flawed? Right. So what I ask in the book is now go talk to people, find five people in your life that you can ask these same questions to because what you think might be a liability, others might think is your genius. What you think is a strength. Other might see that as a weakness. So I think what happens is we first need to sort of do our own inventory and then we need to consult with others and see if we’re aligned. And where is there alignment in what they’re. And then from there you can create a focus. What’s the one or two things that I need to improve to be a better leader? And when I say leader, I’m not talking about just leading people. I’m talking about leading yourself. Leading yourself, right. This is about personal leadership. This is about our. Have you spent enough time figuring out how to live your best life? And so the book is really about first looking at you. And I have to tell you, as much as my mother was overprotective. She taught me a lot of valuable lessons. And one of the biggest lessons she taught me is when you point a finger at someone, it’s their fault. Well, three fingers point back at you.
Stone Payton: [00:26:28] Hmm.
Carolyn Stern: [00:26:29] So you need to take 100% responsibility of the results you’re getting in your life. So I always say, if I could tell leaders one thing, if you’re not getting the results you want with your life, look at yourself. Look at yourself. How are you contributing? How are you hurting or helping the situation you’re in because you’re creating your own reality show right now? And if you don’t like the show, change the channel. Right. Figure out what you need to do to be your best self. And and by asking others, it will give you a good indication is my reality. The reality is how I see myself truly how others see me.
Stone Payton: [00:27:17] I loved the picture that you painted for me in our listeners with your story in the classroom, with the with the challenging kids. I know you share a lot of stories in your book. Is there one more that you might highlight that just really struck a chord for you or sort of gives you foundation to to help people in your practice? I’d love to leave our listeners with another word picture if we could.
Carolyn Stern: [00:27:45] Sure. Absolutely. Well, his name was Andre or that’s what I called him in the book. Obviously, I changed all the names to protect people’s anything. But Andre was the VP of Finance and administration for a large transportation company, and he was being considered for the role of president and CEO. And when I first met him, it was evident that he did not express his emotions. So emotional expression, so constructively. Expressing his emotions was one of his lowest skills. So he appeared very stiff and reserved and almost a bit stoic, like robotic. And he was an introvert. And so his cautious approach was often misinterpreted as though he was hiding or omitting information. And so the board of directors had a really hard time trusting him. But because Andre didn’t openly share or radiate authenticity, the board simply felt he might not have the chops to be the charismatic leader that they needed him to be. Right, because his public speaking skills were lacking. He struggled with matching people’s energy and mirroring the emotional, non-verbal cues in the room so that others felt seen, valued and understood. And so, really, to be honest, why he was even being considered for CEOs, for the CEO role was anyone’s guess. But it really actually had a lot to do with his performance because his personality traits at the time worked really well for him because he was the VP of Finance.
Carolyn Stern: [00:29:17] So he wasn’t supposed to divulge company wide information in a public forum, right. He was. He was entrusted to be cautious and reserved. Right. Which made sense given that financial responsibility. But when he was being considered to be a CEO, he needed to be that inspiring leader. Right. Compelling his followers to exceed their goals. And he had to be inspirational. Well, he wasn’t good at that. He didn’t know how to express his emotions. So I worked with him for over a year. And we I taught him simple things like how do you express your feelings and motives and underlying concerns when making decisions? So, for instance, he would say, I would teach him to say, Hey, I’m feeling frustrated and here’s why I’m feeling frustrated or, hey, here’s the reason why I made this decision. Right. And once people knew what his stressors, his motives were, all of a sudden he seemed like he could build trust and he was more transparent with the team in the board. And then when we worked on his public speaking skills, that he actually showed emotion on his face when he was actively listening, he nodded and adjusted his body language.
Carolyn Stern: [00:30:29] And he and he I worked with him on his tone of voice. Right? Think about it. Stone 38% of what people hear is your tone of voice. 55% is your body language. So I practiced with him on how to use his change, his tone when publicly speaking, or how to use his body language to be more inspiring and expressive with how he was feeling. Anyways, long story short, a year later he was promoted as the President and CEO of the company, and since under his leadership, his company has won multiple awards being the best in their sector. And and those are just that’s just one of many, many stories of of and again, none of that’s really difficult work. Right. But it’s not always easy, especially if you struggle with it. So for me, I’m very good at public speaking. That’s what I do for a living. But for him, that was torture. So working with him on building his public speaking skills, working with him on telling people how he was feeling and why he was making the decisions he was making didn’t come easy. It wasn’t in his makeup. But like anything, you can learn those skills if you practice them.
Stone Payton: [00:31:47] What a great illustration. I’m so glad that I asked and I can’t wait to get my hands on this book. But it’ll be out soon, right? When will we be able to have access to this thing?
Carolyn Stern: [00:32:01] Yes. So the book comes out on September 13th in Canada and October 4th in the US, the emotionally strong leader and inside out journey to transformational leadership. So I’m super excited that it’s going to be on store. In stores and online very, very soon.
Stone Payton: [00:32:18] Oh, I’m excited. I know it’s an exciting time for you and so many people are going to truly benefit from having access to to this work. Before we wrap, I want to make sure that our listeners also, if they would like to have a conversation with you or someone on your team or or connect with you in some way and continue to learn about this topic, I’d like to lead them with some coordinates, whatever you think is appropriate, whether it’s a website or a LinkedIn or email, I just want to make sure that they can get access to to you in this important work.
Carolyn Stern: [00:32:51] Wonderful. Yeah. So absolutely. If anyone has any questions or wants to learn more about feelings and feelings aren’t facts, they’re just feelings. Talk good or bad, right or wrong. Just an emotional reaction to a person, event or situation. And we teach people those emotional skills to be bigger than your feelings and so they can reach us at learn more at experience. So learn more at I experience.
Stone Payton: [00:33:19] Well, Carolyn, it has been an absolute delight having you on the show today. It’s been informative, inspiring and I’m quite sincere. I can’t I can’t wait to to dive into that book. Thank you for the work that you’re doing. We we really appreciate you for doing it.
Carolyn Stern: [00:33:38] Thank you so much for having me.
Stone Payton: [00:33:40] Stone All right. This is Stone Payton for our guest today, Carolyn Stern, author of The Emotionally Strong Leader and everyone here at the Business RadioX family saying We’ll see you next time on workplace wisdom.