…Plan the changes and improvements you will make in your life. Again, this is not a total revamping of everything. Such an overhaul is doomed to fail. Start with one little change that will make your life better. If you usually come home and fall on the couch, tomorrow, come home and kiss your spouse first. If you usually yell at your employees when they make mistakes, plan instead to talk with them about how the mistake hurts them, you, and the organization as a whole. Plan to change one little thing you do every day, and eventually, you will be amazed at how different your life has become
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewingAnthony Babbitt.
Anthony Babbitt has spent almost two decades buying and managing businesses and consulting for C-level executives within various organizations. He has a business administration degree with a human resources concentration. His master’s degree is in psychology. He is a Ph.D. candidate in administration and leadership. He is a Prosci certified change manager, in addition to various other certifications. In addition to his current roles as a vice-president of an Idaho-based medical clinic and the president of a 501(c)3 non-profit foundation, he assists businesses in the US and Canada in change management, employee relations, and more. Currently, he is working on a children’s book series focused on developing healthy psychology from an early age.
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?
I was born and raised in the midwest, the second oldest of five children. From my mother, I learned the value of education and persistence. From my father, I received my sense of humor and interest in people. Our family often moved, so I attended various schools and learned how to make friends everywhere we went. I was devoutly Christian during my youth and participated in the Boy Scouts, where I earned my Eagle Scout award. I was always something of an over-achiever and did well academically. In eighth-grade, I won the Student of the Year, which allowed me to earn an honorary appointment as an Admiral in the Navy of the Great State of Nebraska!
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I discovered I love business entirely by accident, which is surprising considering I come from a family of business owners. My first career was as a network engineer. Eventually, I opened up my own computer support company. I had several employees and was able to work with a variety of small companies (under 150 employees) and churches. This experience led me not only to purchase several businesses but also to begin consulting. I mostly consulted on information technology issues but later branched out into human resources, marketing, and operations. I found that board rooms are filled with MBAs, but very few people who understand basic human psychology. This discovery led me to quit my MBA program and instead earn a graduate degree in psychology. The more I delve into people, the more I understand myself. In much the same way people describe their relationships, psychology is simultaneously satisfying and confusing. The more I learn, the more I want to know!
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?
This could be a long list, and there are many people to whom I am grateful. My Boy Scout leader, “Mac” McGregor, was in many ways a father-figure to me. My uncle Ed used to spend hours conversing with me at his office, sharing his insights. Father Robert and Mr. Farrell, both teachers in my high school, encouraged and supported me as I discovered my strengths and weaknesses. These people lifted me and helped me find my interests. For instance, at one point, I dropped out of high school for a semester. I had become so focused on straight A’s that school was tedious and frustrating. My mentors helped me to refocus on what I enjoyed about learning. I ended up working at Montessori pre-school during my teen years, and the daily interactions with the children changed my entire outlook on life. I still cherish my memories of those children.
However, my negative experiences developed some of my most valued character strengths. I believe life’s challenges teach us more about who we are than anything else. I won’t name names, but several authority figures over the years have led me not only to question the status quo but also to believe that the world can and should be a much better place for everyone.
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?
Don’t trespass! When I first started in IT, I had limited funds. I attended a state auction in the hopes of winning a pallet of old computers that I could build into a rudimentary network. I was trying to earn a Cisco certification. I bought a pallet but had no way of transporting it home that day, so I had to return with a truck the following Monday. I was told the pallet would be put outside since I was not taking possession that day. Even though the pallet would be outdoors, it was behind a fence on state property and presumably secure from everything except the elements. To my dismay, rain was forecast for the following day.
I returned home and bought a tarp. The following day, I returned to the state auction to tarp my pallet, only to find the gate closed and the property vacated. Fortunately, the gate had an 18″ gap at the bottom I could easily roll under, and I did. About halfway to the auction building, I saw a security vehicle approaching me. I explained what I was doing, and he allowed me to tarp my computers. When we returned to the gate, a state policeman was waiting to cite me for trespassing. That ticket began a two-month process of calling the prosecutor to explain what happened, appear in court to plead not guilty, and eventually get the citation dismissed. In the end, it cost me a lot of time, embarrassment, and several headaches. I did earn my Cisco certification, though!
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?
Persistence always wins in the end. Successful people continually make mistakes. They have lapses in judgment, blind spots in their reasoning, and gaping holes in their knowledge base. They trust the wrong people, invest time and energy in the wrong things, and, generally speaking, are as human as the next person. The one thing they don’t do, though, is give up. They may try a different tact, reformulate their plans, or approach problems from a different angle. They are not usually smarter than anyone else, better looking, more personable, or any other attribute we commonly associate with success. There is no successful person who does not have some harrowing losses they can remember in great detail. Yet, they do not give up. Winners persist until they win.
I always thought I would be successful because I was smart. Smart doesn’t carry the day. I wasn’t successful until I learned to keep going, no matter how tired I was, no matter how beaten down, and no matter how many people told me to quit. Looks, talent, brains, connections, and anything else are like wheels on a wagon. They make pulling it more manageable but will not move the wagon. Persistence is pulling. No one’s wagon gets to where they want it without a great deal of perseverance.
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?
In ninth-grade, I had a teacher named Mr. Farrell, who gave me a book called The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, about a Dutch boy in South Africa during apartheid. It tells about his life as he grows through childhood to become a man. It was the ideal book for me at that time in my life. I identified with the main character in various ways. Over the next several years, I often found myself inspired by the book and its lessons in persistence. The main character, Peekay, must work hard to overcome several injustices he suffers during his life. He encounters family tragedy, persecution, and financial hardships. He finds good people on his journey and becomes an educated, honest, hard-working adult despite several setbacks and personal failures. In many ways, this book became my framework for how to live well. It also taught me that sometimes a fight is essential, even when you know you will not triumph. As much as we celebrate our achievements, we need to remember also to celebrate our principled losses.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
In one of his darkest hours, Buckminster Fuller decided to engage in an experiment to “find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity.” I love this quote and Mr. Fuller’s story. He didn’t set out to actually change the world or fix everyone’s problems. He tried to discover his inner power. He tried to see whether his life mattered, and if not, whether he could make it significant. It is easy to look at famous people through history and see them as different from ourselves. More often than not, they were just average people doing their best.
This quote reminds me that every drop of water can be the one that quenches someone’s thirst. We never know which drop will do it. The most significant people in history may have been riding a wave, but even that one drop of water can mean the difference between life and death for a honey bee. Not all of us will change the world during our time on Earth, but we can be essential to the people who know and love us.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Our foundation just launched the Gladiator Award to recognize people who fight daily in the arena of life and, through their efforts, inspire others to continue working to make the world a better place. People can nominate anyone through our website to receive this free award. The foundation will be awarding at least one person a month. Winners receive a frameable certificate and a wallet card. People may also bypass the nomination process and directly award the Gladiators in their own lives. We were inspired to create this award by Brené Brown’s Man in the Arena speech. We hope that by recognizing the ordinary, everyday acts of courage we all display, people will be inspired to help each other and improve the world together.
The other project I just started is a series of children’s books that focus on developing healthy psychology from an early age. Both parents and children should benefit from the books. For instance, the first book focuses on learning emotional permanence. Infants play peek-a-boo because they lack object permanence. Every time a parent hides behind their hands, they disappear from existence. Children eventually learn that the parent still exists and is merely hidden. This is object permanence. Emotional permanence is similar in that people must understand that emotions like love, loyalty, and friendship still exist even when obscured by other normal emotions like disappointment, anger, and frustration. With emotional permanence, people can argue or otherwise have a bad day while still knowing that the relationships’ root emotions (e.g., love, trust, etc.) still exist even though not easily seen. Developing emotional permanence is vital to enhancing one’s emotional intelligence and maturing.
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 are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?
I would love to tell you that it was a gift I was born with, but that would be dishonest. The truth is that I have had to work hard to develop my emotional intelligence. When I said earlier that boardrooms are full of MBAs who can do business math but fail to understand people, this often manifested as a lack of emotional intelligence. Improving my emotional intelligence has been advantageous, but I have learned the most from assisting other people’s development. Emotional intelligence is something you improve over time through consistent practice and effort. There is no time too soon to begin, and the lessons never end. However, what does happen is that over time our lives become happier, more peaceful, and more fulfilling. We begin to develop gratitude and appreciation for those around us. We can perceive the world through other’s eyes, fostering new perspectives and understanding.
My psychology degree and years spent developing emotional intelligence in others has helped me improve my own. Everything we have touched on today plays a role in developing emotional intelligence, including persistence, making mistakes, and failing. People often refer to the emotionally intelligent as having graduated from the school of hard knocks. There is truth in this statement.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to manage, control, and understand their emotions, resulting in a more enjoyable and less stressful life through the constructive harnessing of those emotions.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Intelligence typically refers to knowledge of facts, reasoning, and critical thinking. These are all things we acquire to varying degrees during our lifetimes. However, emotions are who we are deep down. Everyone is born with emotions, often referred to as our feminine-side. Where intelligence involves acquiring information about the external world, emotional intelligence consists of discovering our inner world.
Even primitive societies revered emotional intelligence, as demonstrated by their respect for tribal elders. Today, we live in the most technologically advanced society in human history, and we still respect emotional intelligence in our spouses, our parents, our bosses, and our politicians. I would wager to say that emotional intelligence is more respected than intellectual intelligence. Anyone can become smart with adequate schooling; however, only the emotionally intelligent ever become wise.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
The power of humanity has always been that we cooperate. It took several tribe members to bring down large animals in ancient times, and they sought safety in numbers. Even today, people form communities based on jobs, religion, gender, shared interests, and other characteristics. In the same way that emotions are essential aspects of our being, emotional intelligence is part of our communities’ ability to function.
For instance, I worked with a company where a department head was very motivated by fear. He continually worried about losing his job, and erroneously believed that everyone shared this motivator. As a result, he used to threaten employees as a means to enhance their performance. He was often heard asking, “are you trying to get fired?” or “do you even want to work here?” Eventually, many in his department realized that, in fact, they did not want to work there. They left. Ultimately, his department failed and was shut down by the company.
This story is a classic example of a manager who lacked emotional intelligence. Not only was he unable to mitigate or control his fears about losing his job, he mistakenly believed that other people shared the same concerns. He projected his fears onto his employees. In doing so, instead of motivating people to work harder, he inspired them to work elsewhere. His method of management did nothing more than make his fears a reality.
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.
This story is somewhat embarrassing but should drive the point home. I would not say that I had the best of childhoods, and unfortunately, brought many of those lessons to my parenting. I vividly remember a time when I was under a lot of stress and made the mistake of losing my temper in front of my children. Wallowing in my anger, I screamed and carried on for a solid ten or fifteen minutes. I knew my behavior in front of my children was inappropriate. I reassured myself that since I had not thrown anything or threatened their safety as my parents had sometimes done with me as a child, I was justified. That is, until I calmed down enough to look at my two children.
They were terrified. My children had never seen me so angry or out-of-control. I had not touched or threatened them in any way, but it did not matter. My tirade had shaken them to the core. I realized that I had set the parenting bar in the wrong place. I had vowed never to physically injure my children as I had been. However, at that moment, I realized that my children no longer felt safe. As a parent, the standard should have been that my children always felt safe with me. I was ashamed and embarrassed by my behavior and immediately fled the room.
Later on, I was able to do something my parents had never done with me. I apologized to my children for my behavior. I explained how I behaved badly and that I was sorry for scaring them. I promised never to let it happen again. I am proud to say it has not. I made a mistake, but I used that mistake to change my behavior. I became a better parent after that. I still get tears in my eyes, thinking about that day when I hurt the ones I love more than anyone else in this world. Years later, after re-marrying, I used this experience to help my step-son deal with his anger issues. I am so proud of him and his ability to manage his emotions. I share this story in the hopes that others will benefit from my mistake too.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
Business is about relationships, always and forever. Many of my clients tend to conduct themselves like people celebrating by shooting guns into the air. They think it is safe to fire into the sky but forget those bullets eventually land. Emotional intelligence helps you control your actions but also understand how those actions impact others.
One client was having trouble increasing the performance of his sales staff. He did all the usual things. He offered awards, bonuses, trips, etc. He identified his best salespeople and released the worst salespeople. Unfortunately, his total sales never really improved. What he failed to realize was that his incentives created competition amongst his sales staff. The salespeople were incentivized to undermine each other to win individual prizes. Instead of working as a team, they were a ravenous pack of wolves. By re-orienting the incentives to focus on the group instead of personal success, we dramatically turned around his sales department. Weak salespeople were now taught and supported by the best salespeople. The best salespeople did not have to work as hard to meet goals and were supported by their team members. Customers were happier with the improved attitudes of the workers too. It was a win-win-win, achieved by correcting a problem that stemmed from the owner not realizing how his perverse incentives were undermining his own goals. Once the client realized that he would have behaved like his salespeople, he improved the system instead of replacing people. His hiring and training expenses fell while his sales climbed.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
Everyone has two selves: their inner self and their outer self. We only show the world our outer self. Emotional intelligence helps a person understand and control their inner self. In doing so, they gain greater control over their outer self. In the story about my children, I was out of control internally. That caused me to lose control externally and frighten my two beautiful children. Only after regaining inner control could I see the effect my outer behavior was having. I was so ashamed and embarrassed that I lost control again and had to leave the room. Once more, I had to gain internal control. I had to forgive myself for my behavior and understand from where it originated. I had to create a plan for righting the situation. Only then was I able to confront my children with why I was wrong, apologize for my actions, and help them feel safe again. Only by gaining internal control have I been able to prevent the situation from repeating.
Similarly, with the owner struggling to improve his sales, he realized the effect his perverse incentives were having on the staff. By creating a competitive environment, he made team members into competitors. After changing the incentives, their behavior also changed. His employees worked better with each other and performed better for him. His sales floor went from a dog-eat-dog environment to a supportive environment within a few months. People began looking forward to coming to work. When life’s problems sprung up and people had trouble at work or home, they supported one another. Sometimes this meant covering shifts or handing off demanding customers. Other times it meant visiting people in the hospital or attending birthday parties. The improvements to relationships were so noticeable that even customers commented on the change.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
One of the dirty secrets of psychology is that most people do not go to therapy to change; they go to therapy to change others. Sadly, we only control ourselves. Enhancing emotional intelligence helps improve ourselves and heal old wounds. When we develop, the world around us tends to expand too. We may not change anyone else, but we can change how we interact with others and how much space we give them in our daily thoughts. We also understand how our actions affect and sometimes illicit certain behaviors in others. I am reminded of a quote from Buddha, stating, “It is better to conquer yourself than win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.”
The very definition of emotional intelligence involves better mental health, and I will repeat it: Emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to manage, control, and understand their emotions, resulting in a more enjoyable and less stressful life through the constructive harnessing of those emotions.
OK. Wonderful. Here is 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.
First, learn as much as you can about emotional intelligence. Learning may require attending therapy, group counseling, or simply reading. I recommend Thinking Fast & Slow and anything by Robert Cialdini. David McClelland and Daniel Goleman have done excellent research into emotional intelligence. I also recommend the Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Emotional Intelligence. Ray Dalio has published some excellent work discussing how he developed his emotional intelligence and improved his workplace.
Second, forgive yourself for your mistakes. People often find this the most challenging part of growing and changing. Remember that we are all imperfect people raised by other imperfect people. Mistakes are an inevitable, if annoying, part of everyone’s life. Your mistakes do not define you; failing to learn from them does. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. The only goal is to be a little bit better today than you were yesterday. That’s it. Just be a little bit better.
Third, plan the changes and improvements you will make in your life. Again, this is not a total revamping of everything. Such an overhaul is doomed to fail. Start with one little change that will make your life better. If you usually come home and fall on the couch, tomorrow, come home and kiss your spouse first. If you usually yell at your employees when they make mistakes, plan instead to talk with them about how the mistake hurts them, you, and the organization as a whole. Plan to change one little thing you do every day, and eventually, you will be amazed at how different your life has become.
Fourth, practice the changes. You will falter and fall into old habits. Go back to step two and resolve to do better next time. Each time you find yourself in a situation where you planned a change, practice the change. You may feel uncomfortable and out-of-character in the beginning. That’s good. All transformation starts with discomfort. If your plan fails, then revise the plan. It is OK to make mistakes. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes.
Fifth, meditate or reflect on what you did and how well it worked. Understand that just like you, other people change slowly too. If your spouse is shocked the first time you offer a homecoming kiss, understand it may take a few tries to warm up to the new you. Do not give up. If your employees are hiding in fear of your usual tirade, understand that you may have set aside a time to discuss the new plan to address mistakes. Picture how you imagined things would go and compare that vision to how they transpired. Perhaps you need to go back to step three and make a new plan or maybe you need to stay the course.
Finally, remember that life is not a straight line from A to B. Life is a zig-zagging line where we zig less as we learn how to zag our way closer to the goal. At first, we overcorrect and head too much to the left of the objective. Then we overcorrect too much again and fall to the right of the goal. With practice, and as we get closer, our corrections become more proportioned until we end up on target. It all comes down to persistence. People with emotional intelligence do not give up!
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?
Emotional intelligence needs to be addressed in elementary school when people first start discovering who they are outside of the family unit. Unfortunately, this formative period is also when people are the most helpless to change their situation. There are various solutions schools could implement to assist with emotional development, including improved access to counselors, mentorship programs, and cooperative learning environments. Access to school counselors could help students struggling to cope with emotional issues of any kind. Currently, few schools emphasize access to qualified therapists except as a reaction to traumatic events. Mentorship programs could help students understand the value of their life lessons and provide a positive impact by sharing those lessons with underclass members. Cooperative learning environments would focus on team learning instead of individual grades and achievement. School social networks would be enhanced if the brightest students helped teach the slowest students. Test scores have also been shown to improve in similarly supportive school environments. School environments provide a unique opportunity for students to develop emotional intelligence under the guidance of adequately trained and emotionally intelligent mentors.
OK, we are 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.
This is what we are attempting with our foundation’s Gladiator Award. We hope it will inspire people to appreciate that everyone struggles, yet our personal battles may motivate others to keep fighting for a better tomorrow. In making a nomination, one reflects on how much someone has persevered in life. Considering someone else’s challenges helps us understand the influence others have on us while also reflecting on our influence. The award is meant to allow you to look someone in the eyes and say, “I recognize the battles you have fought, and they have inspired me.” At times, this recognition is all we need to grow closer within our communities. Our foundation’s goal is to lose control of the award and see people award it independently. The truth is, we all deserve a Gladiator Award. I believe that if we recognized the warrior in everyone, we would work together to make life less of a battle for all of us. Humans are cooperative by nature. I would love to see people developing this aspect of ourselves.
We are 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 am an enormous fan of Ray Dalio. He has created an organization that works with human psychology instead of against it. While financially successful, his thirst for learning and understanding the world inspire me. If I had to pick one person to share lunch with, it would be him. I think his insights into people, and himself, would be fascinating and teach me a great deal about myself and others. He often shares lessons on emotional intelligence’s organizational applications, lessons he paid for dearly in the school of hard knocks.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I frequently post on LinkedIn and the blog on our foundation’s website (https://www.BabbittFamilyFoundation.org). I encourage readers to connect with me on LinkedIn to receive notifications and to contact me directly. I love meeting new people from around the world! I hope they will ask questions, share their stories, and grow closer.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.