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Why Psychological Safety Is Impossible Without Emotional Intelligence

In today's episode, Tim and Junior will also talk about Why Psychological Safety is Impossible Without Emotional Intelligence and the connection between these two important concepts. Emotional intelligence or EQ, as we define it, is your ability to interact effectively with other humans. It's your delivery system. This is a practical episode full of practical tips on how to improve your emotional intelligence and your interactions in general. 

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Episode Show Notes

In today's episode, Tim and Junior will also talk about why psychological safety is impossible without emotional intelligence and the connection between these two important concepts. Emotional intelligence or EQ, as we define it, is your ability to interact effectively with other humans. It's your delivery system. This is a practical episode full of tips on improving your emotional intelligence and interactions in general. 

(03:40). Is EQ something that can be improved? There's a difference between a fixed trait and a learnable skill. Based on longitudinal studies, behavioral and social scientists have concluded that EQ is absolutely learnable. How would your life be different if you significantly improved your EQ? This episode is an opportunity for introspection and self-reflection, and this is the first self-reflection question that Tim and Junior ask during the episode. 

(06:27) Junior shares some stats surrounding EQ and its effects in the workplace. 71% of employers value EQ over IQ, and HBR found that EQ is a better predictor of workplace success than IQ in most jobs. The Center for Creative leadership found that 75% of careers are derailed from reasons related to emotional competencies like handling interpersonal problems, and unsatisfactory team leadership during times of conflict, and World Economic Forum named EQ a top 10 skill for 2020. 

(13:45) What is EQ? EQ is your delivery system and conduit of influence. This concept is applicable regardless of your role or profession, whether you're a chef, network engineer, journalist, or fishing guide. 

(16:12) Emotional intelligence is our ability to interact with other humans. Interpersonal effectiveness comes from 3 things: awareness (what you perceive about yourself and others), beliefs (what you believe about yourself and other people), and behaviors (the way you act, what you say and do).

(21:16) EQ as an individual metric leads to psychological safety as a group metric. When we're talking about EQ, we’re talking about you as a person, your self-regard, social regard, self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and social management. So when we measure emotional intelligence, we don't do it in groups, we do it at the individual level. But psychological safety? That gets measured at the group level since it's essentially the collective EQ of the group. 

(30:29) Teams don't outperform their leaders, they reflect them. We learn leadership and we learn culture by observing the modeling behavior of the leader. How would a team outperform the leadership that is modeled by the leader? They're not going to outperform that leader, they’ll reflect them. That's just Newtonian physics applied to organizational behavior.

(36:58) What’s the anatomy of culture? From habits to norms, and from norms to cultures, culture is made up of discrete, everyday interactions.

Episode Transcript


0:00:01.9 Producer: Welcome back, Culture By Design listeners. It's Freddy, one of the producers of the podcast, and in today's episode, Tim and Junior will talk about Why Psychological Safety is Impossible Without Emotional Intelligence. Emotional intelligence or EQ, as we define it, is your ability to interact effectively with other humans. It's your delivery system. And Tim and Junior will talk more about that in today's episode, which we hope is timely and relevant for you, and that it gives you a chance to reflect on your own experiences, not just at work, but in life. As always, today's show notes can be found at Thanks again for listening. Enjoy today's episode on Why Psychological Safety is Impossible Without Emotional Intelligence.


0:00:55.7 Junior: Welcome back, everyone to Culture By Design. I'm Junior. I'm here with Dr. Tim Clark, and today we will be discussing Why Psychological Safety is Impossible Without Emotional Intelligence. Tim how are you? 

0:01:07.7 Tim: Doing great. This is gonna be a great discussion, very relevant, not only to work life, but personal life, every aspect of your life, and so I hope that you'll stay tuned in and find this relevant and timely.

0:01:23.2 Junior: Yeah. EQ is one of my favorite topics because of the crossover potential. If you're a human, it's relevant to you. So without the ability to understand and manage our own emotions, to empathize with others, it's very difficult to build or perhaps impossible to build a culture of trust and openness, a culture of what we call rewarded vulnerability. So today we're gonna dive into the importance of emotional intelligence. We're gonna talk about what it is first, for creating a psychologically safe environment, and we're going to share some practical tips with you to develop EQ. So whether you're a leader who's looking to foster a more inclusive workplace or you're an employee seeking to improve your relationships, this will be relevant to you.

0:02:04.3 Junior: And notice that I said relationships generally, not just professionally. As we mentioned, what we talk about today has very broad application; friendships, families, anywhere there are people. And I'll also say, as we begin, that these principles have been some of the most influential in my personal life and my personal leadership journey. I've come a long way in my understanding, in my practice of EQ. I've a long way to go as we all do, but it's something that I really enjoy talking about and trying to practice. So Tim, we wanted to start off today with a question, didn't we? 

0:02:36.9 Tim: I think we did.

0:02:38.1 Junior: So here's the question, how would your life be different if you significantly improved your emotional intelligence? So we've got some questions that will hopefully trigger some introspection today, huh, Tim? 

0:02:51.2 Tim: Yeah, I think we wanna make this an introspective, an opportunity for listeners to reflect and take personal inventory and ponder, and so as we go, we're going to stop and we're going to ask questions along the way. And this is the first one, this is the first question that we want you to pause and think about, how would your life be different if you significantly improved your emotional intelligence? And now, think about your personal life, think about your professional life, think about your life in all of the relationships and the interactions that you have, how would it be different? What would be improved about it? 

0:03:30.1 Junior: And it appeared to me as I was listening to that question, when you restated it, that inside lies the assumption that it can be improved, so maybe we start there and unpack that for a second. So is EQ something that you can improve? This is a question that a lot of people have asked over time. Maybe you have the answer to this question, those of you who are listening, but for those who may not be as familiar with the topic, maybe we can touch on that.

0:03:57.0 Tim: So we can make the distinction between a fixed trait and a learn-able skill, and at this point, emotional intelligence has been around for over 30 years, at least, the systematic study of this concept and construct, and we've really come to a consensus view among researchers, behavioral and social scientists, that psychological safety is a learnable skill, not a fixed trait.

0:04:23.4 Junior: EQ? 

0:04:23.6 Tim: Yeah, EQ. There may be certain aspects of core disposition and temperament that remain relatively fixed over time. I think a lot of psychologists would argue in that direction, but the skills related, the component skills related to emotional intelligence are without doubt learnable, and we know that based on longitudinal studies that have been done with children and adolescents. Now, it may be a little harder for you if you're an adult to make changes and to make discernible measurable improvements over time, but it is entirely possible to increase your emotional intelligence.

0:05:05.0 Junior: So here's a quote from Maya Angelou, "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." Now, I was thinking about this quote earlier today and its application in my own life and those who have influenced my life the most, and this is true, at least for me personally. I forget what a lot of people have told me, I've forgotten what a lot of people have done, but there are certain people who stand out in memory who I don't forget, and the reason for that is because of how they made me feel, and I think each of us can think of select individuals that we've interacted with over time that we won't forget because of how they made us feel.

0:05:50.1 Junior: So I would encourage you to think about those people as well that have left an indelible mark on you because of their emotional intelligence. When you tie back that impression probably has something to do with their emotional intelligence, and one of the things that I think about often with lens that I look through is how can I be that person for someone else? How can I leave that type of impression, that kind of mark for better in someone else's life? And it's through emotional intelligence, which we'll dive into. So here are some statistics that we wanted to share with you and some data. 71% of employers value EQ over IQ. So from an employer perspective, this is something that we're looking for and we'll leave references to some of these in the show notes, HBR found that EQ is a better predictor of workplace success than IQ in most jobs.

0:06:44.2 Junior: The Center for Creative Leadership found that 75% of careers are derailed from reasons related to emotional competencies, like handling interpersonal problems, unsatisfactory team leadership during times of conflict and a few others. I thought that was really interesting when you look at career derailers linking back to emotional competencies. And then the World Economic Forum named EQ a top 10 skill for 2020, and Junior says that it's a top three skill for 2023. How about that? 

0:07:14.5 Tim: Thanks for adding that.

0:07:15.0 Junior: So I think that that's important just to lay some context and set the stage and help us all understand that this category is well-researched, it's well-documented, and it's something that's more important now than perhaps it ever has been.

0:07:30.6 Tim: It really is. It is not fading in importance at all, Junior, and in fact, as technology, we automate so many things now, as technology becomes a bigger part of our lives, so too does emotional intelligence become a bigger part of our lives because it features so prominently in our ability to have effective interactions. So Junior, did we go back and define emotional intelligence? I don't know if we've done that yet.

0:08:00.3 Junior: No, we haven't.

0:08:02.3 Tim: Why don't we do that? 

0:08:03.4 Junior: Yeah, It's not premature. Let's do it.

0:08:05.3 Tim: Yeah, so we're going to provide you... It's a bit of a long clinical academic definition, so we would encourage you to get out your pen and paper and be ready.

0:08:18.3 Junior: He's kidding.

0:08:19.9 Tim: Here's the definition, and I think it's spot on. Emotional intelligence is your ability to interact effectively with other humans. That's what it means. That's the essence of the concept, to be able to interact effectively with other humans. Now, there are all kinds of academic definitions and clinical definitions, but this is really what we're talking about, this hits the nail on the head. This is the essence of the concept. So I wanna share, Junior, would it be okay if I shared a couple of personal examples to get us started? 

0:08:57.3 Junior: Do it.

0:08:57.8 Tim: So I wanna talk about two bosses that I had early in my career. Not at the same time, obviously, one and then the other, but they painted a contrast in emotional intelligence. So let's talk about boss one, and we'll call boss one Bob. So early in my career, Bob was my boss, and he brought superb emotional Intelligence. How did I know that? How did I suspect that? Well, he was actually the CEO of the company that I worked for, and I was a new employee, very junior, and suddenly, one day, he comes to my office to visit and sits down in a chair in my office.

0:09:42.7 Junior: Wow.

0:09:43.6 Tim: And so immediately I knew that something was different. And one of the first things that I noticed is that he used physical space in a different way. He would come to you. He would not demand that you come to him, even though the power differential was significant, he would close that power differential. He was not exclusive in his social interactions, and I could see that. He came to my office and sat down and wanted to talk. He was open for connection. He was accessible. He brought energy and he expressed and he showed interest in you personally. There was this underlying warmth in the way that he would interact. For example, Bob would say, "Tim, tell me what books you're reading right now," and he would be very interested, and then he would share what he was reading with me.

0:10:36.7 Tim: And there was this pattern that I saw in him where he would ask and then he would share, and he would ask and he would share. Now, he was a very emotive person. Another thing that I noticed about him is that he didn't use fear, and when he wanted to hold you accountable, he would, but he would hold you accountable with questions. So why do you think, Tim, that we're getting these results?" And they were unsatisfactory results, but he would ask that and he would get to it with questions because he wanted to hold you accountable first with... He wanted to see what your understanding was, and then he would go from there. These are just a few of the patterns that he exhibited in the way that he interacted. Isn't that interesting? So that's boss number one, Bob.

0:11:22.6 Tim: Boss number two, this was a boss that I had after boss number one. We're gonna call this boss number two, Bill. Bill is also early in my career, but let me explain some patterns that were a little bit different. Bill was also a very high character person and a very highly intelligent person, and I did respect him. But here was the difference, he was closed. He maintained professional distance. He was extremely formal and buttoned down and starchy, and he just was not accessible. He was not open for a relationship, and he used physical space differently. He would stay in his office and keep the door closed, and when he wanted to talk to you, he'd have his admin call you and say, "It's almost like Bill will see you now." It was very, very interesting.

0:12:13.2 Tim: So the way that he interacted was a lot more staged and scripted and almost rehearsed and business-like, and he wouldn't just sit down and chat, and his ask and share pattern was all about business, so the conversations would never drift to topics outside of work. Now, do you see the contrast? So the question that we often ask ourselves is, is this person open to connection? And we assess that. Bob was extremely open to connection, Bill was not open to connection. Now, I'm not trying to say, and I don't wanna oversimplify this and say that people who are formal or who may be interpersonally clumsy or awkward, don't have emotional intelligence. It's not really a matter of being gregarious or not, or being extroverted or not.

0:13:09.3 Tim: I think more than anything else, because I've worked with a lot of people that were, I would say, interpersonally clumsy, they were introverted, but they had high emotional intelligence, I think that the key issue was that they were open for connection and they were able to communicate that, and they were accessible in some way. And so one of the things that we're gonna talk about, Junior, is that emotional intelligence is your overall delivery system for your knowledge, your skills, your experience. It's your conduit of influence. So what if you have all of this to give people and all of this value to add, but your delivery system is under-developed? Then that's going to get in a way, that's going to be an obstacle in your performance and your ability to contribute. We'll talk more about this, but hopefully that contrast between those two bosses, hopefully that illustrates some of the differences that make emotional intelligence so important.

0:14:20.9 Junior: It's interesting to think about those two examples and then think about examples like that in my own life. I think back to the Maya Angelou quote, people will never forget how you made them feel. I think most people take that to have positive connotation. It also has a negative connotation.

0:14:38.0 Tim: That's right.

0:14:39.6 Junior: People don't forget how you made them feel terribly, and we each have experiences like that. There's a thread that I wanna pull on for a second, inside one of the things you mentioned, which is those who are interpersonally clumsy still being able to have high emotional intelligence. And I think so much of that has to do with intent. You don't need to be eloquent to share your intent. It doesn't have to be flowery, it doesn't have to be energetic, it could be very clumsy, and yet we get it, we get the message.

0:15:16.0 Tim: That's right.

0:15:17.5 Junior: And there's so much, I don't wanna call it margin for error, but there's a lot of leeway, there's a lot of space, there's a lot of room and rope for those that may not have the skills that others do, yet still have the positive intent, and the opposite is also true. You could be very well-spoken, you could be very eloquent, and you could say all the right things, but if the intent is not there or the intent is not positive, we pick up on that too. And so, so much of emotional intelligence ties back to intent, which we talk about, in our own construct for EQ, which is a little bit different than a lot of the constructs that are out there, and maybe we can dive into that a little bit later, but I just wanted to call that out. That above all else, intent trumps. It trumps almost anything else that's skill-based.

0:16:12.4 Tim: That's right.

0:16:12.6 Junior: And so if there's one thing that you can take away as a practical tool to improve your emotional intelligence, double-check your intent when you go into a new interaction. Okay, let's go into EQ. Let's break it down into three categories, and this might help us get a better handle on it. What is EQ? So we said that it's our ability to interact effectively with other people, but where does interpersonal effectiveness come from? What does that even me? We break it down into three categories; awareness, beliefs, and behaviors. Those are the three things that we wanna look at. So awareness. There are two domains inside each of these two, how they deal with you, yourself, and how they deal with other people, internal, external.

0:17:02.7 Junior: So awareness is what you perceive about yourself and what you perceive about others. What do you know about you? What do you know about other people? And then beliefs, what do you believe about yourself, what do you believe about other people. It's where some of that intent comes in and there are some cool ties to Stage 1 inclusion and safety, when we're talking about psychological safety, which we can strengthen those ties a little bit later. Do you like yourself? Do you respect yourself? Do you believe that other people are worthy of your respect? And then behaviors, the way that you act, what you actually say, what you actually do. So EQ is the combination of these three things as they have to do with you and other people.

0:17:42.4 Tim: Yeah, Junior, and just going back to behaviors from minute, the third area, we influence others, but we control ourselves. Now, we don't wanna get those mixed up. So this is self-regulation for ourselves, we should control ourselves, our emotions, the way that we interact, but we don't control others. We influence others. These are the management, their self-management and then their social management. These are the management competencies that go back to behavior. I just wanna make that distinction.

0:18:14.0 Junior: That's a relevant distinction. It's very important. So you mentioned EQ as our delivery system, and I really like that. I think about it as software. That's another way to put it. We have some hardware in knowledge, experience and skills, and that needs to be combined and delivered in some way, and that goes through a set of software filters, and then that shows up in the real world. So the way that we deliver our influence, as you said, to other humans, is through emotional intelligence. Put another way, EQ delivers IQ. IQ in a vacuum, not terribly useful. You would rather have more of it than not, but eventually that needs to get translated into the real world in dealing with other humans. We can't all just work alone in a closet with high IQ and expect good outcomes. We need to interact. We need collaboration, and that's where the EQ comes into play.

0:19:15.0 Tim: Junior, I can't help but think of, I was out with my wife and daughter. We went out to dinner the other night to a new Italian restaurant that we had never tried before, and the server was this young woman, and she had just brilliant emotional intelligence, and she created an experience for us. You talk about creating and delivering an experience, that's what she did through her emotional intelligence. She was the greatest brand ambassador for that restaurant that I could ever imagine, and her delivery system was just exceptional. It was as if we were... Well, we were. We were partnering with her to have this experience, and she, in many ways, architected that experience for us. She was just amazing. That's how powerful emotional intelligence is in creating an experience. I just couldn't help but think about that.

0:20:17.5 Junior: How did that show up for you? What is it exactly that she did or didn't do that made that experience what it was? 

0:20:26.1 Tim: Well, just to listen to her talk about the menu, she just lit up. She was filled with energy and enthusiasm, but then she would ask us... So she had mastery of the menu, the items on the menu, but then she would ask us about our preferences, our likes and dislikes, and then we would have a conversation so that we could choose items off the menu to try. And it was this exchange, it was this interplay, it was this beautiful interaction, and she was so excited when we would get excited about something. And this just went on throughout the evening, and we ended up ordering twice as many dishes because we wanted to try these different things, and it was just a delightful experience.

0:21:16.4 Junior: That's awesome, thanks for sharing. So EQ as a construct, let's talk about it as an individual metric because that's an important distinction. It may seem self-evident, but it's important to call out, especially as we venture into psychological safety in their relationship. So EQ is an individual metric. We're talking about you as a person, your self-regard, your social regard, your self-awareness, your social awareness, your self-management, your social management, all those things as they relate to you as an individual. So when we measure emotional intelligence, we don't do it in groups, we do it at the individual level. You respond to the items and we give you your score. Many of you in the past have probably done some sort of emotional intelligence assessment, so individual metric.

0:22:07.6 Junior: Now, let's talk about psychological safety. You've heard our definition before, a culture of rewarded vulnerability, so as we interact, I reward your vulnerability, you reward mine, and those acts could be asking questions, pointing out a mistake, challenging the direction that we're going. And one of the ways that we can frame psychological safety that will hopefully make a lot of sense is the collective emotional intelligence of a group. So you may not have heard it explained that way, but let me share the core logic and then we can double back. So EQ at the individual level leads to psychological safety in a group, and the outcome of that is business impact for the organization and career impact for the individual, so that's the train.

0:22:56.8 Junior: Think of those three things. EQ leads to psychological safety, if we have enough EQ as a group, which leads to business impact and career impact. So EQ individual metric, psychological safety group metric. And that's why I make that statement about EQ being individual, because when we move into psychological safety, it no longer is. Now we're talking about the collection of people inside that group and how they behave together, how they interact, and that collective EQ, if you will, is the level of psychological safety that we have. So as you reverse engineer psychological safety back down to the individual, I think that it's an interesting way to look at it.

0:23:39.5 Tim: Junior, I appreciate you explaining it that way, because I think, for some of us, we need to come to that realization that emotional intelligence, the unit of performance is you, the individual. We're talking about your behavior, your perceptions and your beliefs, and then those get aggregated at a team level, and the unit of analysis and the unit of performance becomes the team. So I like the way that you define that, that psychological safety is the collective emotional intelligence of a group. That's really true. If we say that we want to increase psychological safety, we talk about it as a group level, team-level phenomenon, but how do you actually do it? As you say, you gotta go back to the individual, analyze the behaviors, the perceptions and their beliefs, and then make alterations, make modifications, make changes at that level, and then we start to get some different outcomes at the team level.

0:24:47.5 Junior: Here's another way to look at it. Is it possible to achieve high psychological safety without high EQ? It's another way to frame the question. So if we define psychological safety as a culture of rewarded vulnerability, which requires us to perceive and then respond accordingly to these acts of vulnerability, if we run it through those six components of EQ, it gets really interesting. So let's say that in our group, someone asks a question and we need to reward that act of vulnerability, what does that require? Well, if we run it through self-regard, I need be stable enough and have enough confidence in myself that I'm okay validating the question of someone else. I'm stable enough. That's okay. Social regard, I care about that person and how they're gonna feel about the way that I respond to their question.

0:25:39.9 Junior: Self-awareness, I need to be aware of my own behavior, my verbal language, my body language as I respond to this question. If I don't do that, it's gonna go south. Social awareness, I need to perceive everything else that's going on in that room. Who else is there? How are they behaving? What might I need to respond to? And then self-management and social management, how do I actually respond to that question? How do I actually behave? What are the words that I use? And so you can see, you run it through all of those filters, if all of those things are high, what does it require? High EQ to respond appropriately to that active vulnerability. And so the relationship to me, becomes very clear when you take it down a brass tacks and you run it through those filters of emotional intelligence. I just don't think that you can make the argument that you can achieve high psychological safety if you don't have those other six things.

0:26:35.9 Tim: You really can't, Junior. It's the indispensable enabling pre-condition that makes it all possible at the team level. It really is. But it is so helpful to break it down into the internal competencies and the external competencies, and then ask yourself, "How am I doing?" And then get a baseline through an assessment, because you come to realize that this really is a learned skill. I can take each of the competencies, the internal competencies and the external competencies, and there are things that I can do to practice and get better. That's extremely encouraging to know that and to work on that.

0:27:18.6 Junior: I wanna take just a second and draw a line between Stage 1 inclusion safety and one of the unique things about the way that we view emotional intelligence. I think it is relevant to this conversation. So we're gonna go off for a second here. So for those of you who have taken an emotional intelligence assessment or you're familiar generally with EQ, you'll know that there are generally five competencies in any EQ construct, well, at least the most popular. And those usually have to do with self-regard and then awareness competencies and the management competencies, but there's a gaping hole as far as we're concerned in most of those. And you may have heard us talk about it, which is social regard. What do you believe about other people? Do you believe that they're inherently valuable? Do you believe that you owe them respect? 

0:28:11.6 Junior: Because one of the things that can be true, and if you look at EQ through the traditional lens, is you could score very well on an emotional intelligence assessment, and also be a very manipulative person, because the way that we're measuring EQ is based mostly on awareness and behavior and not intent. To me, that's so fundamentally flawed, and I don't know how we've got it wrong for so long. We're trying to fix that with all the things that we're doing at LeaderFactor, but I think it's really interesting when you tie that into Stage 1 inclusion safety for psychological safety, is fundamental. You don't get that far, you don't progress at all, and people feel that more than they probably feel anything else, is yeah, okay, you're aware. Okay, your behavior, so so, but what is your intention as it relates to me? 

0:29:04.5 Junior: Do you care or you're just hear for you? You cannot be emotionally intelligent as we see it, as we define it, and be manipulative. You cannot be emotionally intelligent and not have others best interest at heart. At least take into consideration how they're gonna feel about the way that you're behaving. To me, that's so fascinating.

0:29:25.3 Tim: Well, it goes back, Junior, to what Maya Angelou said in that opening quote that you began with, that people will never forget the way that you made them feel. The impression comes from the feeling and the perception of the person's intent. Is there esteem there? Is there regard there? Is there love there? Is there care there? Is there compassion there? We can feel that, we can perceive that, and that is what lingers, that's why we remember the way people made us feel. Those impressions are based on a reading of someone's intent and for some reason, that lingers much longer than what someone said. We often just forget about... We can't even bring to memory what people said. We have no recollection, but the feeling that we had in their presence and what we felt as we interacted never leaves us. It stays with us. It's almost permanent.

0:30:29.4 Junior: Let's talk for a moment about environments that aren't psychologically safe. So if we work backwards through the core logic, we know that there is an EQ problem somewhere, because if psychological safety is our aggregate EQ and our site safety is low, then the EQ must be low and it must be low in general, in aggregate, I don't know. So here's a statement that Tim often says that, Tim, I'd like you to unpack. Teams don't outperform their leaders. They reflect them. I've heard this dozens of times, and I'd love if you could share with everyone listening what you mean.

0:31:06.0 Tim: Right. Teams don't outperform their leaders, they reflect them. The reason that this is true is because we learn leadership and we learn the culture by observing the modeling behaviour of the leader, and that's the central mechanism for culture formation, and there is no other central mechanism. And therefore, how would a team out perform the leadership that is modeled from the leader? They're not going to outperform that leader. They will reflect that leader. That's just... That's kind of Newtonian physics applied to organizational behavior. I have yet to see an exception to that.

0:31:50.6 Tim: Now, if the leader leaves, and the leader is no longer there, okay, well, the leadership is going to come from somewhere. That vacuum will be filled, even informally, it will be filled, and so someone or a combination of people will provide the modeling behavior that the team then will follow. Now, it could be good, it could be bad, but that's the way that it works. That's how cultures form, that's how cultures are perpetuated, and that is why teams don't outperform their leaders, they reflect them.

0:32:27.5 Junior: And it could be the case in that scenario then that whoever should be the leader of the team actually isn't even though they have the title, and there's someone internal that becomes the leader and we're now reflecting that behavior. So it's pretty fascinating. So the reason that I wanted to go there is because if a team has low psychological safety, it's 99% of the time a leadership problem, and if that's true, then it's most likely an emotional intelligence problem with the leader. So if you just follow the chain of logic and make some pretty basic assumptions, you find yourself here. At the end of the day, if you're dealing with toxic culture, there's probably a leader somewhere in the organization that's having some emotional intelligence issues, and it's a pretty safe assumption.

0:33:16.0 Junior: And so it's one of the tools that we use when we go into organizations. Let's say that we do the 4 Stages Team Survey and we see a pocket of red inside their org chart view or the big heat map, and we see, "Hey, there's a little pocket of the organization that's not doing well." What's one of the first things we think about? Well, who's the leader of that team? Who's the leader of that geography or the department, or whatever the case may be? And how's the emotional intelligence and what is the qualitative feedback telling us? Well, probably indicating that the low psychological safety is attributable to some of the behavior of this leader that's emotionally unintelligent.

0:33:52.8 Junior: And so a lot of these things are not mysterious. It's not rocket science. We're presented with some of these symptoms and we can trace it back to some of the fundamentals that must be there in order for that team to be healthy. Because as Tim said, some of this is Newtonian physics applied to organizational behavior. You can't break these principles. You cannot skirt around them. You can't sweep them under the rug. You need to square up to them and either say, "I'm going to become emotionally intelligent," and have positive healthy influence, or, "I'm not." And it's a spectrum, but each of us should want to go to that next step of becoming more aware of having more regard for others, of improving our behavior, and as we do that, we'll have a healthier, better, more scalable influence.

0:34:41.0 Tim: Junior, it reminds me of a statement that I love very much from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said, "An institution is the length and shadow of one person." Now, that may be a little bit of an over statement, but there's so much truth to that. An institution is the length and shadow of one person. That leader has such a profound influence and impact on the culture of that team or organization or department or functional area or geography, whatever it is. There is no doubt, the leader sets the tone, the leader has the greatest influence in shaping the prevailing norms of that team or organization or whatever the social collective might be. You can't negotiate with that principle. It's a true principle. It's just an unimpeachable principle in culture formation.

0:35:39.4 Junior: What comes to mind for me is that each of us, we're all leaders somewhere, in some social collective. It could be a family, it could be a group of friends, and if that organizational principle, if that quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson holds true, then some social collective is length and shadow of you, and that's something to really ponder, is, what does that look like? Is that a good thing? Is that something that we would want to be perpetuated, or is that something that we would wanna snuff out really quick because it's unhealthy? And so while we may not be the leader of a massive institution or have role with high visibility, you're a leader somewhere, and you're setting the tone somewhere. It may be just with one other person, but still, you're setting tone.

0:36:31.9 Junior: And so it's important for each of us to recognize that and say, "Hey, you know what, I may not lead thousands of people or maybe I lead one." Maybe you just lead yourself, and even then, you should think about that for a few minutes. So let's talk about habits, norms and culture for a second. It's another train of logic that is valuable here. Tim, will you take us through what a habit is, what a norm is, and how that translates into culture? 

0:36:58.7 Tim: Right. So this is the anatomy of culture, so we're gonna break culture down into its component parts. So we have to go all the way down to the individual, and at an individual, individuals have habits. What is a habit? A habit is a pattern of behavior that you exhibit as an individual. So that's the first component part, and we all have habits. We all have patterns of thought or behavior that we very consistently model, that we consistently exhibit. If we then share habits, so now let's go to a team, a team environment. If a habit becomes shared among the members of the team, it turns into what we call a norm. That's the second component. So we've gone from habits at the individual level to norms, which are shared habits at the team level. A collection of norms becomes what? A culture.

0:38:03.2 Tim: So let's look at the progression. Habits become norms, and a collection of norms becomes a culture. This is the way that cultures are built. So ultimately, all culture goes back to habits at the individual level. So you can see that the modeling behavior of the leader in a team, those are their habits, and there's a tendency for those habits to become shared and turn into norms, that's the overwhelming tendency on a team, and that's how team culture is created. So those are the component parts, Junior.

0:38:42.7 Junior: I love that. I love that it always ties back to the individual. Sometimes in organizations, we'll see cultural transformation initiatives that are aimed at the entity, like it's something and we're trying to get it to change. We wanna change the culture, and so we're gonna send out generalized communications and blanket statements and hope that that translates into a better culture.

0:39:09.8 Tim: Yeah, culture, Junior, that exists independent of the people. It's this ethereal thing that's out there, that's independent of the people. It's not how it works.

0:39:22.8 Junior: No. It's nonsensical. We based on that train of logic, and so you'd have to refute something in there that the habits don't build to norms, which don't build into the culture or the reverse. Those things have to be true, and to me, that's such an encouraging thought because we can control our own behavior, we can influence others, and we can be intentional about that. And so if we want to truly move a culture in a certain direction, to absorb certain behaviors that we want to become normalized, to shed certain behaviors that are creating toxicity, we can do that. We can do that, but it's the requirement that each of us take ownership of our behavior and take responsibility for what's in front of us and start to implement some of those behaviors.

0:40:15.7 Junior: And maybe we might not have the influence that we want at the scale that we might have, but we can always influence those around us. So just, I wanna go to the impression that that server left on you at the dinner. You remember that. You bring that up in this podcast, probably encourages you to pay attention to the next person that you're serving, that you're interacting with. And so we can't say that it doesn't make a difference, we can't say that it doesn't affect people, and we can't say that we're just independent actors and that we're just gonna do us, and it has no effect on the people around us. That's not true.

0:41:00.8 Tim: Now, the server, Junior, the server at the Italian restaurant created what psychologist call vivid memory. Now, think about all of this for all of the listeners, when you have an interaction and it's unremarkable, there's nothing unusual about it, what does your brain do with that experience? It just tucks it away somewhere, but it's not really subject to recall. You forget it. It's gone. It's unremarkable. But if you have an experience that is remarkably good or remarkably bad, it sticks with you, it's sticky, we remember the things that are vivid, that create vivid memory. So I think we will all remember that experience in the Italian restaurant with that server, because she was so outstanding. Her emotional intelligence was so superb.

0:41:46.2 Tim: So think about that, and then think about the point that, Junior, you just made again, as we talk about the leaders setting the tone. If we want cultural transformation, the leader of the team or the leader of the organization has to model the new behavior. If the leader does that, it accelerates everything. We generate massive momentum and we start moving forward. If the leader does not do that, it is an insurmountable obstacle. We will never get to the future state that we want. That aspiration will be out of reach for us, because it ultimately, it all goes back to that modeling behavior. So if it's there, we accelerate. If it's not there, we're stuck. We have a huge road block and we're not gonna get around it.

0:42:35.7 Junior: Well, Tim, I've enjoyed this conversation with you. I've learned a lot. It's been so fun to reflect on some of these principles. I think they really are true. The core logic that we shared today, I'm gonna be thinking about more. EQ at the individual level leads to psychological safety in a group which leads to business impact for the organization and career impact for the individual. All organizations want that and all individuals want that. So I think these behaviors, they're mutually beneficial, mutually reinforcing to both the organization and the individual. It's a win-win. It's net positive for everyone involved. The world's a better place when we do these things, and as we can see, the world needs emotional intelligence. The world needs psychological safety.

0:43:21.1 Junior: Too often, there's a dearth of it these days, and maybe not just these days, but all days. We as humans need to get better at this. The stakes are high because humans are important and they're valuable. That's why the stakes are high. So everyone, thank you for your time, thank you for your attention. We very much appreciate your listenership. If you found value in today's episode, we would so appreciate a review and a share to someone that you might think would find this valuable too. You can always reach out to us at If there's anything that you would like to be covered in a future episode, let us know, we would love to hear your feedback. Tim, any final comments from you? 

0:44:01.9 Tim: Yeah, let's just go back over the definition of emotional intelligence. It's the ability to interact effectively with other humans. It is your delivery system, and it is your conduit of influence. Keep that in mind.

0:44:19.1 Junior: Alright, take care everyone. We'll see you next time. Bye bye.


0:44:30.3 Producer: Hey, Culture by Design listeners. You made it to the end of today's episode. Thank you again for listening and for making culture something that you do by design and not by default. If you've enjoyed today's episode, please be so kind to leave us a review. It helps us reach a wider audience and accomplish our mission of influencing the world for good at scale. Today's episode show notes and other relevant resources related to today's topic can be found at And with that, we'll see you next episode.


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Episode Transcript

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