An excerpt from Say Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose, Say Yes to a New Future: Develop Emotional Intelligence.
When I first told my friend Teresa that I was writing a leadership book, she asked if I knew Jo Miller, CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching and founding editor of Be Leaderly. I knew of Jo, but I hadn’t heard her speak or read her work.
When I got home that night, I sent Jo an invitation to connect online and began following her blogs. I would tag her in my posts now and then, and she would kindly respond. Several weeks later, we learned we’d be speaking at the same conference. She sent me a note suggesting we connect in the hotel lobby the night I arrived, since she had to leave early the next morning to catch a flight. I arrived after 10 p.m., Jo rode the elevator down to meet me, and we talked for a brief but memorable fifteen minutes. The day she told me the below story, I confessed to her that her desire to meet me was an incredible and inspiring surprise. I didn’t realize that our brief encounter would be just the beginning of a friendship.
Jo was born in South Australia and attended the University of Adelaide. Her first foray into the workforce after graduation was exciting by any definition. She started working for a small, vibrant freelance agency for the publishing and advertising industries, and Jo managed the creative staff. Armed with fresh business knowledge and ready to take on the world, she began her new adventure. What she quickly learned, however, was that her new opportunity was less about running a business and more about people management. The company was created from her manager’s network, whose entire career was built on the foundation of these relationships. It was a professional and personal treasure of sorts.
On its face, the focus on people sounds like a nonissue. And it would have been, except that Jo claims she lacked the skills we’ve all come to know as critical to successful leadership—social and emotional intelligence.
Knowing Jo today, it’s hard to believe she ever operated this way. But as she explains it, her analytical mind just didn’t think about this sort of thing. It wasn’t long before her skill gap began causing problems for Jo and the business partners for whom she worked. Managing people is difficult, but managing creative people is something else entirely.
Jo’s leader sat her down and asked what it would take to bring her out of her shell. This wasn’t the first time someone had asked Jo a question like this, but she truly didn’t get it. It just wasn’t apparent to her that emotional intelligence was “a thing.” She didn’t easily open up to others, she had a difficult time with social intimacy, and she wasn’t building the trust necessary to get the most from her team.
Jo took a few personal and professional-development classes that her managers recommended, and she found them challenging in some ways. But overall, she didn’t like being under the microscope. One day, she became so upset with one of the business partners that Jo called her a “bitch.” Shortly thereafter, Jo got fired. This unfortunate event coincided with the breakup of a five-year relationship. It was definitely a tough time for her. She had entered the workforce full of enthusiasm, but she quickly crashed and burned.
Jo decided to relocate to a new city and start again. A friend suggested she read Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. She chuckles as she recounts having to read it a couple times before it sunk in, but she admits it dramatically changed her approach to everything.
Jo began thinking (analytically, of course!) about how to further develop her emotional intelligence. Who were the people she admired? She paid attention to how they interacted with others, their manner of speech, and how they mentored and built relationships. She wrote a checklist of behaviors she wanted to emulate, and she lined up a coach to help her along the way. Jo set a goal to have as much executive presence as her model leader. With time and practice, Jo lost the fear of being around people and of speaking up, which she acknowledges comprised her shell in the first place.
Jo knew she had made progress when, during a phone call, her client said, “You sound different today.” Jo joked that someone put Prozac in her coffee, and the laughter came easily. Her confidence had arrived. Her mojo was working. Today, Jo is a keynote speaker and advises women and companies on a range of topics intended to strengthen women’s leadership skills and inspire them to take the reigns. She suggests identifying a few role models and deconstructing their approaches—not to be like them, but to follow their guidelines for effectiveness. After all, doing so worked for her.
Tara Jaye Frank is VP of Multicultural Strategy for Hallmark Cards, Inc. and the author of Say Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose, written to help women from all cultural backgrounds chart a career course they can believe in and achieve. Follow her on Twitter @tarajfrank and Facebook at Facebook/tarajayefrank, or visit her at tarajayefrank.com.