Almost a decade ago, I was fortunate enough to work for a company that, at the time, was eager to recognize and develop leaders from within its ranks. As a result, and after a lengthy application process akin to college entrance, I was chosen to participate in a year-long leadership fellowship that required several things. Among them were: Don’t let my participation negatively affect my day-job; be able fly out to various parts of the country once a month for 11 months; and eagerly participate in various projects designed to expand my leadership competency and explore my inner-workings, such as becoming aware of my tendencies, motives and styles of communication.
I had already been through the typical “Leadership” program, in the Central Florida area. However, this particular fellowship, called the Dolan Leadership Institute (DLI), was quite a different experience. What most affected my personal and professional style through the subsequent portion of my career were lessons of emotional intelligence and mindful leadership. I would venture to say that this understanding, which could be characterized as a shift in perspective, has had the most profound effect on my career trajectory, my ability to successfully parent my two boys, as well as improving interpersonal relationships inside and outside of the workplace.
Just before I set out on my DLI journey, I remember sitting in my at-the-time boss’ (esteemed Rotary member, Mary Mélon) office discussing my willingness to develop leadership qualities and her inclination to challenge me to go for it. I asked her for a book recommendation. She walked over to her bookshelf, pulled out “Emotional Intelligence” by Dan Goleman and handed it to me. (Mary, I still have this book and will return it if you want it back!) This book gave me insight into a type of awareness I’d never pondered – that is, it is possible to transcend my emotions. It is possible, and incredibly beneficial, to feel an afflictive emotion and still act rationally and reasonably. Not surprisingly, I had not learned this during my previous career as a professional touring rock musician, so this was Big News!
Additionally, DLI was a matter of perfect timing for me because, at that time, I was a broken wreck of a recently divorced man. Many of the insight tracks of the program seemed exactly like the group therapy I so desperately needed. With that fortuitous timing, I invested myself into the program with open arms.
What did I learn? What seemed like a direct extension of the Goleman book, more than several areas of study in the DLI program were concerned with contemplative intelligence traits. We developed more informed ideas about trust, patience, the import of being fully present, interpersonal awareness and active listening, non-reactivity – especially during difficult conversations, and how to understand and leverage the talents of others despite disparate work styles and tendencies.
My elevator-speech takeaway is that these lessons in mindfulness and EQ training helped me develop a more accurate sense of situational awareness, both outwardly and inwardly, which equated to me making less dumb mistakes. If one can make a dozen or so less dumb mistakes per year (or month, or day…), the future is inherently brighter.
After the DLI program, I remember travelling back to Florida on vacation and talking with my wise and encouraging mentor, my aunt Debbie, about my experience. After discussing the lessons I gleaned from my DLI experience, she characterized it as “maturity training.” I think she is exactly correct.