One of the best ways to reflect and build self awareness is by reading books. I have discovered books to be like ‘power banks‘ that revitalize the human mind. They pack knowledge, wisdom, and valuable lessons from people who have lived life before us. My favorite books are often memoirs of successful people from different fields like business, sports, politics, activism, art, etc. Reading them gives you a whole new perspective of how they looked at life, and their struggles and achievements.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sumit Gupta.
Sumit runs a coaching program called “Deploy Yourself” to coach managers and individuals to express themselves and create high performing teams. He started out as a software geek 15 years ago, but was soon thrown, unprepared, into management. After leading teams for 12 years and making numerous mistakes, he now feels as comfortable talking about team building and career development as about machine learning and software programming.
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 grew up in India in a lower-middle class household, and I am only where I am today due to the hard work and sacrifices of my parents. I have seen my parents start and shut down multiple small entrepreneurial ventures, and perhaps that is where my desire to start companies and empower people come from. I am a Computer Engineer by education and have worked professionally leading software development teams for the last 15 years.
Something interesting happened in 2011, which changed my priorities. I got involved in organizing and leading multiple social initiatives — ranging from waste management to organizing anti-corruption marches. Later I also started a not-for-profit organization. What surprised me in these endeavors were the results that I was able to produce, and my love for empowering people to help them realize how powerful they can be.
This passion for leadership and coaching has finally led me to start my own coaching and leadership development company this year in Amsterdam, where I have now been living for the last 6 years. I work with people today to help them see their own potential, and how they can produce the results in life that matter to them — without being stopped by reasons or circumstances.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I have always followed my passion. Whether it was computers and software in high school, getting involved in social activism around 10 years ago, or my current passion about empowering people, I have always tried to go with my heart. One of my objectives for the work I do today is to elevate the level of leadership in the world, and I feel so glad and privileged to be able to follow my passion.
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?
For me, those people were always my parents. They empowered me to think and believe in myself, and they saw possibilities in my future so big which I never saw. My father is the perfect example of patience, and I have seen him go through multiple failures in life without disappointment and always with a smile on his face. Despite all his struggles, he never compromised on his ideals and set the right example for me.
Contrary to my father, my mother was passionate and determined to the level of obsession. She would show superhuman will and determination at times that it surprised and empowered everybody around her. Yet at other moments she would present her human side and burst out crying. She died in 2012 after fighting cancer, and I still remember a remark her oncologist made, “You are the only person I know who comes to her chemotherapy sessions with a smile on her face”. And she went through not just one or two, but three rounds of 6 chemotherapy sessions each.
When you have parents like these, what other inspiration do you need? They have inspired me to follow my passion, give my best every day to whatever I am doing, and they have shown me that nothing is impossible.
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?
When I started working professionally, I was a complete geek who was very good with computers and nothing else. I had no idea how to talk to people or how to deal with my own or others’ emotions. I remember an incident where I passed a “funny” remark about one of my team members in front of the entire team.
I thought I was only adding humor, but the remark was belittling to the person. Obviously, I had no idea or concern about that. In the next few days, I noticed the other person suddenly quiet and reserved at work, despite them being a good performer and socially active otherwise. I was so unaware of the important role our emotions play at work that I didn’t even realize that the sudden quietness could be because of something I did.
It was only a few days later when I asked her in a 1-on-1 conversation that she opened up and told me how my remark had hurt her. At that time, I realized the importance of my actions as a leader, and ever since, I have been learning and getting better at dealing with my own and others’ emotions. And it has made a massive difference in the kind of results I have been able to produce — both at work and outside of it. The work which I do today is impossible without emotional awareness and skill.
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?
To a young person, I would advise them to follow their passion and to be true to their heart. Do what you love, let your curiosity drive you, and don’t take life too seriously. Have loads of fun, and look for opportunities to maximize learning rather than money.
At the same time, take some time out for reflection over your results, dreams, and ambitions. Think about your life and what all would you like to achieve. Is there any dream you would like to pursue? Are there places you would like to travel and explore? Don’t get caught up in the flow of life and ignore your dreams. If there is something which matters highly to you, go after it, even at the expense of your career or comfort. You won’t regret it.
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?
I am a big fan of autobiographies, and my favorite recent reads are Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey and Becoming by Michelle Obama. Both of these show me that celebrities or famous people are just like us. It is also very humbling to see that these so called successful people have faced bigger and scarier challenges in life than we normal people do.
We like to think that celebrities have easy and glamorous lives, while the truth is that these people have often failed more than we realize. To read the stories of people and what led them to where they are today is one of my favorite ways to absorb life lessons.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite quote is the below one from Theodore Roosevelt,
“It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”
This one resonates with me so much because I think this quote describes what life really can be when one goes out and plays the game of life with full aliveness and passion. When lived that way, life is full of wonder and miracles.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Currently, I am working on establishing Deploy Yourself as a leadership development company in the Netherlands. I have started Deploy Yourself, which is a series of leadership concepts I have learned and developed over the years, to elevate the level of leadership in the world. I am working with leaders and individuals to help them realize how powerful they can be, and what impactful leadership looks like.
Emotional Intelligence is another key aspect of the work that I am doing. Good leaders are good human beings first, and emotions are foundational to being human. Knowing how to understand and deal with emotions — our own and of others — can empower us to work together with compassion rather than animosity, with collaboration rather than competition, and with synergy rather than friction.
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?
If there is one thing I have learned about emotions, it is that there is so much to learn. I consider myself a “constant learner” rather than an “authority” when it comes to Emotional Intelligence. In the last 15 years, I have grown from knowing nothing about emotions to now being able to coach people about it. At the same time, I am aware that there is still a lot to learn for me in the emotional domain.
I consider myself blessed to stumble upon emotional learning when I did in my life, and I see it as a privilege to be able to help others to deal with their emotions. I would be foolish to say that I know all about emotions, and I still learn daily more about emotions as I interact and deal with people.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to listen, understand, and respond to your emotions in a way that works for you rather than against you. When you can use emotions as a tool to take you in the direction of your choosing, you are emotionally intelligent. When you listen to your emotions but respond according to your values, you are emotionally intelligent.
When you don’t let emotions overwhelm you and instead use their energy to empower you, you are emotionally intelligent. When you don’t play victim because of your emotions and moods, and instead can modify your emotional state to suit your needs, you are emotionally intelligent. Emotions can be a very powerful tool for us to produce the results and relationships we desire.
The next level of Emotional Intelligence is to be able to deal with others’ emotions. You can help others navigate and make sense of their own emotions, and that is where you start to produce amazing results in the teams and communities you are a part of.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Usually we associate intelligence with analytical or reasoning ability. The most common test for measuring intelligence was the IQ test for most of the last century. However, in this century people have begun to realize the importance of emotional intelligence.
Most of us believe that emotions and reason are opposites of each other, and it is often presented as a fact that you can’t act rationally if you are emotional. However, research has proven that it is not true. In many workplaces, emotions are frowned upon and an excessive display of emotions (joy, tears, anger) is seen as a liability.
On the contrary, what I have learned over the years is that emotions can be our biggest asset. They can give us important information that can shape our lives if we listen to what they are trying to tell us. The key is to learn how to express our emotions without repression or explosion.
When it comes to decision-making, research has proved that it is impossible to make any decision without emotions. We make decisions because of our emotions first and then rationalize it a split-second later by reason. If we lose the capacity to feel, we would not be able to take any decision, whether big or small, in our life.
Emotions can help us clear the fog of rational choices and reveal our moral lighthouses. They help us choose wisely when presented with two equally good or equally bad choices. Emotions clarify our thinking and help us see rational choices in a new light while pure rationality often makes us run wild with ideas, often at the expense of other people.
Rationality without emotions can look enticing in the short term, but it can be a menace in the long term. Increased emotional intelligence can be a great asset we all can make use of not only to make the right decisions for ourselves but also to create a better world around us. A world which is not mine or yours — but ours. Emotional Intelligence does not replace analytical reasoning. Instead it complements it.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
We walk around the world and make sense of it through our emotions. When we experience an event, different emotions get triggered based on our values and beliefs. Emotions make our experiences good or bad, valuable or not, and pleasurable or painful. If we introspect we will find that every decision we end up taking is derived from an emotion that touched and moved us.
These emotions can overwhelm us occasionally, but without them, we would have no connection with people or events around us. While emotions can sometimes bring pain and tears, it is only through them that we feel joy, happiness, and peace in life. It is very important to realize that emotions are our strength and not our weakness.
It is our emotions that make us human. The little moments of joy when we play with our kids, the smile on our faces when we help someone, the tears in our eyes when we see something cruel and terrible (even if it is on TV) — it is these emotions that connect us all as human beings.
Learning to deal with uncomfortable emotions builds confidence and opens up new pathways that were earlier closed to you. Emotional people are often regarded as weak in certain societies, but I believe that the ability to handle one’s own emotions is one of the most useful skills a human being can acquire.
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.
When I started working at the age of 21, my manager was only a few years older than me. Both of us being very young and passionate about work, we developed a good friendship. As I completed my first year at work, I sat down with this friend (manager) to discuss my performance. I wasn’t ready for what came next.
In the meeting, he was very formal and distant in his approach which I found unfair. Due to our friendship, I expected an informal conversation. Instead, what I got was “feedback” and “improvement points”. When he was done with the performance cycle, it left me in a very bad mood and it affected our friendship. While he was only performing his job as a manager, I was too naive and felt betrayed as a friend. It took us more than a year to mend our friendship, and I am good friends with him to this day.
This incident was very tough for me, and it was not until many years later that I recognized why it was so. At first, I blamed my manager friend for being more of a “manager” than a “friend“. Later (after we mend ways) I blamed myself for being too emotional and developing friendships at work. I came to the (wrong) conclusion that emotions and rationality are mutually exclusive, and I shut myself down emotionally.
It was only much later that I realized that emotions were not the culprit. Instead, it was my inability to handle my emotions which led me to react impulsively. With experience, I have come to believe that emotions are absolutely necessary for doing any meaningful work. They only seem tough when we don’t know how to handle them.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
The more attention we pay to our emotions, the more aware we can be of what they are trying to tell us. We can then reflect upon and listen to what they are telling us, and then still act in a way that is consistent with our values and long-term objectives.
According to Daniel Goleman, the capacity to subordinate immediate gratification to long-term objectives is the most important psychological skill. All emotions lead to one or the other impulse to act, which often are harmful to us in the long term. At such moments, we need to take the driver’s seat and prevent our emotions from taking over. Emotions are very good messengers but very bad masters.
Just like tying a wild horse only infuriates him, repressing our emotions never works. When we do so, we end up suffering inside while putting up a brave face on the outside. By repressing, we are bound to explode sooner or later and it also results in stress which can end up impacting our health. Shouting at others (explosion), or sulking in silence (repression) never solves any problem. It often only makes it worse.
Emotional Intelligence involves expressing our emotions, without repression or explosion. If we can understand our emotions and the stories behind them as a third-party observer, we can accept them fully without abdicating our responsibility to them. We can then choose to act according to our values — even in the face of failure and disappointment. We can’t always control our circumstances, but we can always act in ways congruent with our values.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
A key aspect of building emotional awareness is learning to listen well. When done well, listening creates deep understanding which leads to trust and respect among both parties, even if you were to disagree with the subject at hand. Listening is one of the simplest (not easiest) way to deepen your relationships.
Listening allows the speaker to release his emotions and feel at ease. It reduces stress and helps to ease the situation which creates a foundation — a safe environment in which there are opportunities for collaboration and problem-solving. True listening leaves both parties with a stronger bond than when they started.
Another way to look at listening is like an investment. If you spend 30 minutes truly listening to someone, it can create a connection that will make your relationship stronger. A strong bond with someone can help you avoid stressful situations and make decisions quickly in the future.
Emotional Intelligence also helps you have better relationships as you learn to see things from different points of view. Being able to stand in someone else’s shoes is like a superpower which helps you empathise with others’ and talk in a way that takes care of people’s cares and concerns. When you are able to do that, communication becomes easier and deeper.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
- One of the best ways to reflect and build self awareness is by reading books. I have discovered books to be like ‘power banks‘ that revitalize the human mind. They pack knowledge, wisdom, and valuable lessons from people who have lived life before us. My favorite books are often memoirs of successful people from different fields like business, sports, politics, activism, art, etc. Reading them gives you a whole new perspective of how they looked at life, and their struggles and achievements.
- Learning to communicate better is one investment we can all make, and it will produce compounded results over time. Understanding how human beings behave, and what it takes to convince, persuade, and influence people is as fundamental a skill as any. Make a habit of listening to people and giving them the value they deserve. Understand where they are coming from. Make them feel important. Learn how to put the message across, how to talk to different types of people, and how to express yourself with clarity and purpose.
- Give your energy, time, gratitude, and appreciation to people around you. See it as an investment — in people. Investment in people always tends to come back in life, and in proportions we can’t imagine.
- Accept that being human means being imperfect. Perfection is an illusion. As human beings, we are innately flawed. However, we should always strive to be better. Our imperfections are not something to be fixed. Instead, our imperfections (strengths and weaknesses) make us the unique human being that we are. We are perfect in our imperfections. Pride and overconfidence trick you into thinking you are better than who you are. You can leverage the experience you gain and your unique strengths, skills, and values to go after what you really care about.
- Know your values and what you stand for. When you take action aligned with your values and to take care of what you care about, the result will be a more meaningful and happier life. When you are able to do so, you will find aliveness, joy, and satisfaction even if you have to face some tough challenges on the way.
- Practice meditation. It is one of the best ways to build awareness and notice that you are not your emotions. Meditating allows you to see the space that always exists between your emotions and your response. Just focusing on your breath helps you connect with the wisdom of your body, and results in better physical and mental well-being. This has also been proven scientifically.
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.
- Pay attention to emotions and understand the story behind them. The more attention we pay to our emotions, the more aware we can be of what they are trying to tell us. Every emotion has a valuable story behind it which can help us understand ourselves better. Understanding what the emotion is trying to tell us can reveal our values to us, which can further guide us in deciding a conscious way to respond. We can do this self-examination by asking some powerful questions (why am I angry? What do I want? Which of my values has been violated? what about this bothers me?) which will also help us develop emotional intelligence.
- Emotions are always valid. There are no right and wrong emotions. There are no positive and negative emotions. Our emotions are always valid, and an inevitable part of being human. But we can examine the stories behind our emotions to separate the useful facts from false beliefs. Each emotion can tell us about something significant in our lives, but only if we are willing to examine the stories behind them objectively.
- Give Up Your Need to Be Right. The reason we are so tempted to react impulsively to emotion is that it provides our ego instant gratification. When we shout and explode in anger, it makes us right and the other person wrong. Even if we know it is harmful to us in the long term, it gives us an immediate boost of righteousness. To handle our emotions well, we have to give up our need to be right all the time. We have to give up the temptation to “win” in every conversation and situation.
- Connect with Our Values and Proactively Decide Our Response — Every emotional reaction can be a good opportunity for us to discover what kind of person we want to be? What are the values we believe in? What is the behavior that we must exhibit to close the gap between our actions today and the ideal way we could have behaved? Whatever actions we take, we have to live with them for the rest of our lives. Our values and purpose will help us choose our actions wisely.
- Seek help if you need to. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in seeking help. This could range from asking a trusted mentor or coach for advice or seeking intervention from a trained doctor. Some of us have grown up with several emotional triggers that greatly affect our daily life, and seeking professional help is sometimes necessary to live a more meaningful life.
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?
From a young age, children are taught various things. However, most of the knowledge is centered on academic progress. There are hardly any courses that teach them the skills for leading a fulfilling and joyful life.
Conventional knowledge can make a child successful in the professional world years down the line. But to be happy and content, they need to learn a set of skills that can help them no matter the field they step into. These high-leverage skills are important no matter what you do for work, and can amplify the results you produce.
I found it very surprising that we don’t teach emotional intelligence as part of our formal education. Below are my recommendations –
- Teach children empathy. Empathy not only helps to bring people together but also results in more fulfilling relationships. It is ok for two people to disagree on a subject. But disagreement does not have to lead to a conflict or a breakdown in communication. People disagree when they have different perspectives, and it becomes a problem when they get stuck there rather than going deeper to find shared goals.
- Teach children how to ask questions. Genuine inquiry can bring about so much learning and knowledge rather than having definite answers or ideas. Questions can open the mind to new ideas. On the other hand, the doors to knowledge get blocked once children grow up and eventually stop asking questions. While definite answers lead to the end of learning, a good question heralds the beginning of new learnings and opportunities. Hence asking powerful questions is a very important skill that we are never taught. Instead, we are too obsessed with finding answers that we rarely stop to question.
- Teach children to be ok with not knowing. If we genuinely look at the vast universe around us, we will realize our knowledge is minuscule. When we admit “I do not know” it opens up a pathway towards learning. But I have observed that saying “I do not know” is a tough task for many people, and it is seen as a bad sign — both in school and at work. The competitive themes woven in the fabric of modern society does not encourage individuals to admit their ignorance. It teaches us that any gaps in our knowledge should be hidden or filled up at the earliest. However, the person who knows everything is like the proverbial filled cup that can only overflow and not learn anything new. To let people explore and find the truth like children, we need to encourage the culture of saying “ I do not know”.
- Teach children how to overcome negative emotions. Just like the waste generated in our households and cities is processed to create energy, we can and must process our emotional waste too. If we know how to deal with our emotions, they can be used to generate productive energy. Learning to transform emotional waste into creative energy for a common or higher purpose is a skill. And just like other skills, it can be learned and developed. We can all use our emotional intelligence to make productive use of our emotions. If we can do that, these emotions will stop being “negative” for us. And we will end up with stronger relationships and a better world for all of us — not just you and me.
- Teach children to step out of their comfort zones. Trying out new things and embracing new ideas is a must when you want to enrich your experience of life. Also, it is fine to face failure in your new path. Every failure can add a new chapter of lessons in the book of life.
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.
If I can start a movement, it would be for people to be able to talk without hating or killing each other. I want to create a world where everyone can share their opinions without fear of ridicule, hatred, or opposition. A world in which we know how to talk and discuss important topics despite our differences of opinion and viewpoints. Because unless we learn to talk peacefully and in a way that creates solutions instead of more problems, there is no future progress possible.
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 🙂
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow my work on my website www.DeployYourself.com and I am also quite active on my linkedin profile (https://www.linkedin.com/in/sumit4all/ ). If someone wants to explore coaching or one of my leadership programs, they should leave me a message on linkedin or via my website.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.