Emotional intelligence is the key ingredient to successful leadership. Rarely are two situations identical. Because they are not, there is no “one-size fits all” approach to how a leader leads, in the moment. So, emotional intelligence helps to guide how a leader formulates their approach to influence the outcome.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Hillig.
The business world is evolving faster than organizations can develop leaders, who have the skill and acumen to put the organization on their backs and carry it forward. Andy Hillig knew this because he was a business executive who learned to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing, highly uncertain environment. When it became clear his greatest joy and impact was helping others succeed and advance their career, Andy decided to leave his corporate business career to become a career strategist and leadership coach. Now he exclusively helps individuals develop the career resilience to perform at their best and transform the workplace.
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?
Becoming a successful executive in his early 30’s was never something Andy saw in his cards. Andy grew up in a blue-collar family in a suburban community on the outskirts of the city of Chicago and was always a likable kid with a diverse group of friends. Even as child, Andy had been a natural leader, but never saw himself as a leader in corporate America. He was the first in his family to attend and graduate from college and begin his career in the healthcare field as a laboratory scientist, but it was not long before Andy’s natural abilities landed him a leadership role. In 2009, Andy was selected as the Young Healthcare Executive of the year in Wisconsin.
For Andy, this was the beginning of his journey to evolving as a leader and finding his passion for helping others develop vibrant and impactful leadership careers. When it became clear that Andy’s career path was leading him to supporting others on their leadership journey, he left his healthcare administration career to become a certified professional coach, where he now helps leaders to evolve their careers and have a greater impact in a hectic, ever-changing corporate world.
For Brandon, this is just the beginning even though he knows he will not compete forever, his other plans include to
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Taking a step back and noticing that all my friends, family, and colleagues were struggling to find joy and satisfaction in their work is what inspired me to pursue a career in leadership — and now, leadership coaching. We spend most of our life at work, so going to work should feel fulfilling. But because of overly complex processes, compounding bureaucracy and ineffective leadership behaviors, our professional worlds have become increasingly challenging and overwhelming. So, I was inspired to help my organizations find better ways of working and bringing joy and passion back to the workplace.
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?
My grandfather was always the person I went to for advice and encouragement. Without a high school degree, I watched my grandfather ascend in his career and his life. He inspired me and I always strive to be the family man, friend and professional that he was. How I approach life and the decisions I have made in my career have always been rooted in his advice and encouragement, and I often reflect on the impact he has had on me.
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?
6 weeks into my first role as a corporate executive, I left my cell phone on the table at a restaurant while I stepped away. A few weeks later, in a one-on-one meeting with the COO of the company, he slides his chair next to me and shows me a text message I sent him from my phone. While I was mortified at what it said, I was baffled as to how a message like that would come from me, to my boss. While I learned to never again leave my phone on a table, in public, for anyone to get a hold of, I also learned a lot about how important integrity, resilience and composure in leadership.
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?
Those who aspire to follow in my footsteps and emulate my success should do 2 things:
- Always have a good “personal board of directors.” These can be mentors, coaches, loved ones and friends who always have your best interest in mind. Without these trusted advisors, helping me, guiding me and offering me the space to be vulnerable I would not have the success I have had
- Know yourself; listen to yourself; be open to exploring new possibilities with your career. The career path is not a smooth, straight road. There are a lot of twists, turns, bumps, potholes and detours. Along the way, there will be unexpected moments where you will question the thoughts and feelings you are having about things. It is important to really understand yourself, your energy, and your connectedness to your passions. And it is perfectly fine to change lanes when you discover your passion and profession do not align.
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 do not read much, and I generally enjoy entertainment that gives me a bit of a break from reality. So, I cannot say that there is any book, film or podcast that resonates with me. What resonates with me is having the chance to network and talk with others. There are so many inspirational people and leaders in the world; I love hearing their stories and learning from them. We each have our unique gifts, and I enjoy getting to meet people and learn about what makes them unique and talented, in their own way.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions.” — Adlai Stevenson
I have always been someone who opposed the status quo, in search of a better way. So many things about how we go about completing our work is because of conventional customs, personal preference of past administrations, office politics, regulatory requirements, etc. And all of this has created mounds of inefficiency for all of us, as professionals, that we are overworked and burned out. So, my ultimate quest in life has been to progress and help my teams and others to be progressive in finding better ways to do things.
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 helping individuals to master the energy they bring to the workplace — to drive up engagement and keep their team’s motivated at such an unimaginable point in time. When individuals recognize they bring to the workplace, in normal times and during stressful times, they become more emotionally aware. With this awareness they can learn to transcend their energy levels, to a higher energy level, that brings a higher degree of empathy and emotional intelligence for what is going on around them. What is happening, right now, is happening to all of us. A leader is no exemption to this. However, like it or not, a leader needs to be able to keep their teams motivated through all of us this. Thus, if they master their energy, for their own, personal, situation, they can begin to help move the energy of their team as well.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let us 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?
Personally, many of the leadership and personality profile assessments always revealed that I have a high degree of emotional intelligence. But I do not think that this was something that came natural to me; it was something I have had to work, over time. I happen to think that it is one of the most important traits and abilities of a leader. Thus, I placed great importance on growing my emotional intelligence in the workplace, and in my personal life.
As such, I would like to think that much of my success in my career is attributable to focusing on being emotionally intelligent.
Now that I have become a leadership coach, I have studied emotional intelligence, spoken to large national audiences about emotional intelligence and work with individuals — many of whom are emerging leaders — developing their own emotional intelligence. Last, I have developed and led leadership development programs that emphasized emotional intelligence as a cornerstone of excellence and effectiveness in leadership.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Emotional intelligence is being aware of one’s own emotions and experiences and connecting these with the emotions and experiences of others. Higher degrees of emotional intelligence are associated with an individual’s increased ability to manage their own emotions and feelings, to adapt to the given environment, and be able to manage the emotions and feelings of others in the same environment.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
I like to think of intelligence as what an individual knows about how things are supposed to work, when things go exactly as designed / planned. Think of it like following a recipe to make chocolate chip cookie. Intelligence is when you are following the recipe and the cookies turn out, as designed.
Emotional intelligence is knowing what the recipe is and understanding how subtle adaptations to the recipe can make the chocolate chip cookie better — like adding more chocolate chips for someone who likes chocolate. Emotional intelligence begins with a basic intelligence, or understanding of how things procedurally work, with additional understanding and awareness of the adaptations that need to be made to how you approach each situation in order to manage the situation, manage the feelings and emotions of others, and achieve the desired outcomes.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
- Emotional intelligence is the key ingredient to successful leadership. Rarely are two situations identical. Because they are not, there is no “one-size fits all” approach to how a leader leads, in the moment. So, emotional intelligence helps to guide how a leader formulates their approach to influence the outcome.
- Each moment is an opportunity for us to lead or follow. When we choose to lead, we have an influence over others. Emotionally intelligent leaders can manage the influence they have, in the moment in order to create the outcome they would like to see.
- When used correctly, emotional intelligence can take a potentially volatile situation and create a positive experience for everyone.
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.
The entire COVID-19 pandemic has been an exercise in self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Each of us have reacted differently to a total change of life. Throughout the past several months, I have learned to approach each of my friends and family members uniquely. Some have lost their jobs, some are extroverts who are feeling isolated, some are introverts who are enjoying a change of pace, and all of us have had our mental health and wellbeing affected. Understanding this, I have learned that I need to consider the internal and external factors affecting each individual before I connect with them. For example, my close friend is a frontline healthcare worker who is working long hours, taking care of multiple COVID-19 patients each day, and is balancing this with taking care of her own family. She is mentally and physically exhausted, she is concerned about bring COVID-19 home and infecting her family. Knowing this, I have been very intentional about checking in with her and making sure not to engage in stimulating conversation after she has gotten home from work.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
- People with high EI are not bothered by client criticism; they remain focused on outcomes, rather than feeling offended
- If two job candidates have similar IQs, the one with the higher EI will likely be a better fit for the company.
- In a highly volatile business world, where resilience and adaptability are highly desirable leadership traits, people with high EI are more likely to succeed. People with high EI are not afraid of change. They understand that it is a necessary part of life — and they adapt.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
- The hallmark of EI is being able to relate to others. With an innate ability to understand what others are going through, they can get through difficult times, with others, without drama.
- While extremely motivated, people with EI know that perfection is impossible. They roll with the punches and learn from mistakes.
- People with high EI know every day brings something to be thankful for — and they do not see the world, and those in it, as negative — as a lot of people do. They feel good about their lives and do not let critics or toxic people affect that.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
- People with high EI know the importance of and how to maintain a healthy professional-personal balance in their lives. They eat well, get plenty of sleep, and have interests outside work.
- People with high EI have a sense of wonder and curiosity. They do not judge; they explore the possibilities. They ask questions and are open to new solutions.
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.
- Know thyself! Learn about yourself, understand your own energy (during normal times and while under stress), and how to master your awareness of the energy you bring to every situation. Each of us has a unique energetic profile for how we function in normal times as well as when we are under stress. When we are in our normal state of energy, we are in flow and generally perform well. Often, when we do not act how we would like, it is because we have something blocking us and causing stress. Knowing when we are stressed and what is causing our stress will help us to develop strategies for how we can back out of stress moments and return to our normal profiles that help us to be successful.
- Learn from your past! Take the time to reflect on how you handled every situation to recognize what went well and how you could have done better — and then journal about it so that you have notes to help you the next time you are faced with similar situations. I like to take time to write down things that went well and things that I would have like to have gone better after every important meeting or interaction with a client. I use my journal to study from, almost like “life lessons,” that become helpful reminders as I prepare for future engagements. Often, it does not matter what page I turn to, there is always something relatable to a past experience that helps me to position myself better for a situation I am about to encounter.
- Who is your role model? Identify who, around you, has a high degree of emotional intelligence and identify the things they do that displays their emotional intelligence and ask them to mentor you. The most important and impactful people in my life were ones who I admired and wanted to model myself after. What made them so impactful was how they interacted with others and how their presence commanded a certain calm confidence that people gravitated to and wanted to follow, no matter what. So, I made a point to get to know these individuals and asked for their help in modelling my behaviors after them.
- Practice self-care and self-reflection. When you can, pre-plan your approach to a situation by practicing self-centering and meditation. These techniques help to visualize what you want the outcome to be and develop strategies for how you will achieve it. For me, before a big meeting, I always like to take time to sit quietly and envision how I want the meeting to go, what may be some challenging situations (or people) that I may come across, and how my audience may react.
- Do not go it alone! Work with a professional coach who will be your trusted partner in developing solutions for how you can develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence. Professional coaches are trained to listen and help forward you to action and planning for how you desire to be / act in the future. A coach knows that the answers lie within each individual and are experts in helping you to draw upon your inner wisdom to form a path forward. The most highly emotionally intelligent people work with professional coaches.
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, much of our current educational system is built on teaching children how to make connections between their actions and the impact on the feelings and emotions of others. So, in many ways, our educational system is already cultivating emotional intelligence. However, I think they could do a better job of making sure it is known and calling out when they are teaching specifics things, related to emotional intelligence. This way, it is more evident to parents when their child is learning about emotional intelligence.
That said, I think schools could begin to cultivate what emotional intelligence looks like with social media. So much of what we, as a society, do on social media is reactionary to what others post. Often, it is difficult to understand context, intent, tone, inflection, etc., and therefore posts can be easily mid-interpreted and misunderstood. If our schools could some how develop a way to teach our children about emotional intelligence, through social media, I think there would be more understanding and harmony in society than what exists today.
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.
Oh boy! This is a great question. I guess if I could inspire a movement, the thing I would like to do is to create a “walk in the shoes of others” initiative. No matter who you are or where you come from, it would be tremendously powerful if we all took time to see things from how others see them. In my lifetime, never have I been more disappointed by how much emotional intelligence our elected officials lack and how that is permeated throughout our culture. As a community of people, we have lost the respect for humanity — simply because we have grown so steadfast on our viewpoints and opinions. I personally believe that taking a small step forward, by intentionally choosing to appreciate someone else’s vantage point would create a movement that restores our sense of humanity.
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 fascinated by progressive organizations who are creating highly engaging and motivating workplaces. Companies like Lyft. So, I’d be delighted to sit down with executives like Logan Green and John Zimmer.
At the same time, I am also fascinated by people who are using their notoriety to influence others and create progress. So, I would also be delighted to sit down with influential figures like Dwayne Wade and Jerome Adams.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can follow me on Twitter at @andy_hillig or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/andyhillig-career-innovator/
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.