Be Kind To Yourself: It’s a universal truth that you cannot give what you do not have. Being kind to yourself by validating your emotions, releasing self-judgement, and forgiving yourself is preciously what allows you to do so for others. TIP: Try being your own best friend for a week. Notice when you step out of that agreement and start to bully yourself. Redirect and re-engage as the kind and amazing person that you are.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Saggau.
Linda Saggau serves as chief of staff for R3 Continuum, a global leader in behavioral health and security solutions for workplace well-being. In this role, she is responsible for strategic research, planning and integration. She has more than 15 years of experience in workplace wellbeing and is passionate about helping people and organizations optimize behavioral, emotional, and physical wellbeing and performance. She writes and speaks frequently on the topic of chronic stress and burnout and how to measurably mitigate it. Linda is also a mother to her son, Jack, and her French Bulldog, Ginger.
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 a tiny town of about 375 people in rural Minnesota. Many families, including my own, were dairy farmers and crop growers, so there was never a shortage of hard work. My K-12 school was housed in a single building and I pretty much went through school with the same 28 kids in my class year after year. I was fortunate to spend several years growing up with my maternal grandmother, Elsie, under the same roof. She was born in 1915 and had a great soul, unshakable resilience, and deep wisdom. The Great Depression. World War II. Vietnam. Civil unrest. The moon landing. JFK’s assassination. We’d talk for hours over instant coffee and homemade doughnuts about all of her incredible life experiences — her insights were priceless. Elsie was, and continues to be, the most influential person in my life (even though she’s passed).
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I didn’t intend to end up in a career in wellbeing and behavioral health. Rather, it found me over time. After graduating from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism, I started out in marketing and advertising. Within about 10 years, the internet was just becoming a “thing,” and I was compelled to jump into digital strategy, experience design, and technology staffing. What struck me while working on innovative digital initiatives was the extraordinary amount of cross-functional collaboration they required to be successful. I became fascinated with collaboration and team dynamics, so I developed a methodology to help diverse teams align on complex strategies, integrate them across an enterprise, and rapidly implement them. I facilitated that process for several years until I noticed something interesting: that no matter how highly aligned a team was or how perfect a strategic framework, it was virtually impossible to innovate or gain traction if people were stressed out, burned out, and/or operating without their “emotional radar” turned on.
It was also then that I recognized the extent of my own stress, burnout, and unhappiness. I was cynical, exhausted, and feeling ineffective — no matter how hard I worked. My thyroid had gone haywire, I suffered constant headaches, and I was detached from those I loved most. Sadly, my burnout was so acute that I began to experience suicidal ideation. I share this to help lift the stigma of mental illness in the hope that more people will feel comfortable opening up about their struggles. For me, it was literally change or die.
I began my healing journey by seeking therapy, devouring books, and acquiring what I call “healthy tools to deal with hard things.” My transformation was slow, and hard at times, but worth every step. After my own experience, I decided to try to help others by shifting my career focus into wellbeing, behavioral health, and mental health advocacy. That was about 15 years ago, and I’ve never looked back — helping people optimize and thrive is definitely my core purpose.
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 best friend, Nancy, has been a source of continual encouragement and terrific feedback. I tend to have a lot of ideas. She patiently listens to them and has an incredible knack for telling me which ones are good and which ones aren’t so great. About eight years ago, I had written a manuscript on the value and application of emotions. I was ready to shelve it because I didn’t think it was all that good. Nancy, however, highlighted the really decent stuff and encouraged me to turn it into curriculum. Today, I teach that material to others and use it as the foundation of my coaching practice. I’m so glad she told me to keep going — we all need someone who believes in us.
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?
Prior to starting my actual “career,” I was worked at the college newspaper in advertising sales. Unfortunately, I failed to get a key line ad layout for a national advertiser client shipped in time to the next newspaper publishing it (this was before things went digital). The advertiser’s chief of marketing called me to return the key line at his very large home (which just happened to be in Minneapolis, where I lived). When I arrived, he was waiting for me in the front steps. Head down and ashamed, I handed him the key line. Calmly but firmly, he said, “Linda, I’m sure you’re a good person, but if you want a great career, you’ll need to meet your deadlines — every time.” He really helped me understand that your word is everything. To this day, I appreciate deadlines and I meet them because people are counting on me.
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?
The career-best advice I have is to ask for help. In particular, I see a lot of young people attempting to “prove” themselves by going it alone. It’s a recipe for stress, burnout, and isolation. Life and business are team sport, and we’re not meant to do everything alone. Asking for help, be it feedback, mentoring, coaching, or connections, is an empowering thing to do, and most people are truly happy to help. Believing that you’re worthy of support and respectfully asking for it is something we should be teaching high school and college students so they can deploy those skills once in the job market.
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?
The book that had a major impact was To Thine Own Self Be True: The Relationship Between Spiritual Values and Emotional Health, by Lewis Andrews. It’s about ethical therapy and the connection between responsibility, personal values, and peace of mind. It helped me understand the importance of leading an “authentic life” that’s aligned with who you really are. I read it 28 years ago, but just recommended it to a friend last week.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“This too shall pass,” is what my grandma Elsie would always say when faced with challenging circumstances. It reminds me that everything (good and bad) is temporary, and to release my own rigid notions of how things “should be” so I can more easily adapt.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Only one in six employees feel adequately supported when it comes to behavioral health. This is tragic since anxiety has tripled and depression quadrupled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. To help reverse this trend, the company I work for, R3 Continuum, built an outreach program to ensure organizations provide their employees with proper support. Instead of employees calling in for help (which many resist, even when they desperately need it), we call employees to provide a proactive, friendly, and routine “touch-base” (whether they’re working onsite or at home). We equip people with coping skills and tools (including self-assessments and monitoring) and direct them to clinical support if needed. It’s an innovative up-stream solution designed to prevent acute behavioral health crises by helping people cultivate resilience and wellbeing.
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’m essentially an advocate for and student of Emotional Intelligence (EI). I’ve been researching, writing, teaching, and speaking about EI from different angles for over 15 years — exploring areas such as the nature of consciousness, developing self-awareness, managing complex emotional states, leveraging feelings to inform healthy decisions, and more. It’s all fascinating. And like everyone else, I need to intentionally practice EI, because life tends to throw curve balls that demand using EI in new ways. EI is like a muscle — you must work it, or it can atrophy.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Emotionally intelligent people are “in tune” with themselves to the extent that they can identify the feelings (both positive and negative) that make up their emotional states, then use that “data” to inform optimal decisions that propel the wellbeing of self and others. Those decisions might include making a clear request, moderating or shifting a behavior, reframing a situation, or empathizing to better relate to others. To me, the foundation of EI is self-awareness — both internal and external. If we can learn to tune into ourselves while simultaneously tuning into how others are perceiving us, we then have access to the emotional information we need to be the best version of ourselves.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
“Intelligence” is all about the rational mind. It includes things like fluid reasoning, working and short-term memory, and quantitative reasoning. We quite literally couldn’t live without it. Emotional Intelligence, however, is much more subtle. It’s about knowing how to identify and regulate your emotions, perceive how others feel, relate to others authentically, and leverage emotions to communicate effectively (while giving or receiving feedback, negotiating, resolving conflict, etc.).
We know from research that people with strong leadership skills tend to have high emotional intelligence. That’s why many organizations offer EI training and test for EI when hiring. In my experience, I also find that the more emotional intelligence a person has, the more intuitive they will be. Steve Jobs said, “Have the courage to follow your heart and your intuition.” That intuitive, inner voice, in my opinion, will never steer you wrong if you just slow down long enough to listen to it. Learning and practicing EI helps us locate that voice and listen to 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?
Story #1: To be a great leader, developing trust among teams is essential, and trust is nearly impossible to build and sustain without EI. Years ago, I worked with an intellectually brilliant leader. He was a driven, solutions-focused, and innovative problem-solver. Yet, he often failed to get his ideas launched internally or externally because people didn’t trust him. Why? Because he was emotionally “out of touch” with himself, and therefore, emotionally out of touch with others (that old saying, “you cannot give what you do not have,” is true). Employees viewed him as unrelatable and untrustworthy because he failed to demonstrate genuine interest or empathy relative to them. A couple of years later, he was removed and replaced by a more collaborative leader with far greater EI. Lesson One: EI builds the relatability and trust required to motivate teams to launch big ideas.
Story #2: EI is also essential for healthy personal relationships and family dynamics. Years ago, when my son Jack was 11, we were engaged in a nightly war over homework that was either poorly done or not getting done at all. I would ask, then demand, that homework get done after dinner, and it would only end up in frustration and hurt feelings on both sides. Finally one evening, I decided to deploy my EI tools. Instead of talking, I intentionally listened to Jack. I asked him to share why homework was such a struggle and to share his ideas on how to better approach it. Lo and behold, he said, “Mom, you want me to do homework after basketball practice and dinner, but by that time, I’m exhausted. Ever since I was little, I’ve been a morning person. Would you mind getting up early with me so I can do homework in the morning?” I agreed to his very reasonable request, and within a couple of weeks, homework was getting done, turned in, and my C student became an A student. Our nightly conflict ended, and our relationship flourished. Now Jack is 19 and still a morning person. Lesson Two: EI propels the empathy and understanding to build better relationships and propel performance.
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.
EI has helped me live with my head and heart more connected. I have learned to value both my rational mind and emotions simultaneously, and doing so has helped me build better relationships, tap into my creativity more easily, and optimize my performance.
For example, I do a lot of writing for a living. A couple of years ago, I noticed that I was suffering from writer’s block and resisting writing daily. I used my EI tools to tap into what was going on and located that my internal “story” was, “The process needs to be hard for the product to be good.” I probably developed that notion while growing up on a dairy farm where “hard” work was the valued standard. I reframed my intention to be, “The process can be easy and result in an amazing product.” Boom. There it was, the of end of writer’s block. Lesson Three: EI improves your relationship with others, but also with yourself. And the more you know yourself, the better you can identify your challenges and meet them head on.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
EI can help anyone — no matter what role or sector they work in — become a more empathetic, empowering, and effective leader. Think about public figures with demonstrably high EI: Oprah Winfrey, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, and Zappos founder, Tony Hsieh (who sadly passed recently). All are highly effective and dynamic leaders whose accomplishments speak for themselves, and all three prove out the positive impact of leaders who are not only intellectually intelligent but emotionally adept. A core theme among them? An empowering leadership style versus a controlling one, rooted in empathy and genuine care.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
Listening to yourself and others is a caring act. Care cultivates empathy. Empathy deepens understanding. Understanding builds trust. Trust fosters courage. Courage compels growth. The list of benefits is interconnected and compounding.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
Unacknowledged or suppressed emotions will eventually express themselves, either consciously or subconsciously. Developing EI allows us to consider on a clearer and more consistent basis what’s going on at an emotional level within ourselves and others. Doing so helps to ensure that we not only acknowledge, but process, our emotions in healthy ways that promote behavioral health and wellbeing. EI helps us answer essential questions, such as, “What am I feeling? What do I need? What judgments or assumptions can I release? How can I move forward optimally?” I like to think of it as “emotional hygiene.”
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.
- Develop Self-Awareness: Internal self-awareness (how you’re feeling, what you need, etc.) coupled with external self-awareness (how am I showing up and being perceived by others) is a powerful combination that fosters wellbeing and healthy relationships. TIP: Take a non-judgmental self-inventory of your emotional state before your next online meeting. Then make a point of really listening to others first. When you do choose to contribute, notice how you’re being perceived. Make self-aware shifts.
- Demonstrate Empathy: To me, “holding space” for others is the core of empathy. It means taking an active interest in others’ feelings, concerns, and experiences and imagining what their experience might be like if you were them in their situation. TIP: Hold space. Instead of relating a situation to you, step back, breathe, and open to imagining what you might feel if you were that person having that experience. Don’t try to fix anything. Just hold space.
- Find Your Intrinsic Motivation: Extrinsic rewards such as fame, money, and recognition are fleeting. Finding your intrinsic motivation — what rewards you innately — will keep you growing and flowing in a direction that satisfies and sustains you on all levels. TIP: Ask yourself and journal daily for two weeks: What do you most wish to explore to maximize your potential and why? Identify your top three core motivators and identify even minor shifts you can make to bring them to life personally and professionally.
- Communicate Mindfully: “Self-regulation” of emotions is a much-discussed EI topic. To achieve that on a practical level, I like to emphasize mindful communication, simply because if our emotions are strong enough, it’s very likely that we need to communicate something (feelings, a request, or something else) with others. Mindful communication is, in my experience, a form of self-regulation that helps to keep intense emotions from getting the best of us and doing potential damage. TIP: If you’re feeling intense emotions, take time to identify and write down what they are. Ask yourself if they are based in truth or possibly assumptions. Identify what, if any, requests and needs you have and of whom. Take your time. If you decide to communicate your request, carefully pick your intention, time, and tone.
- Be Kind To Yourself: It’s a universal truth that you cannot give what you do not have. Being kind to yourself by validating your emotions, releasing self-judgment, and forgiving yourself is preciously what allows you to do so for others. TIP: Try being your own best friend for a week. Notice when you step out of that agreement and start to bully yourself. Redirect and re-engage as the kind and amazing person that you are.
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?
We need to reach kids early to provide them with tools and practices to cultivate not only Emotional Intelligence but lifelong wellbeing. I suggest starting in Kindergarten, so children learn not to forget their greatness, and continue to be kind and emotionally attuned to themselves and others.
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.
I would love to partner with a company such as Google, Apple, or Amazon to leverage their platform to deliver a free, technology-enabled Emotional Intelligence solution for children K-12 worldwide to promote current and future wellbeing, innovation, resiliency, and sustainability on all levels. From a brand perspective, it would be a gift to the world, create legacy, loyalty, and a larger pool of emotionally healthy adults to hire in the future.
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 🙂
Jeff Bezos — Amazon’s future largely depends on a healthy and happy workforce. I’d like to hear his thoughts on mental wellbeing and partner to deliver a solution to support the behavioral health of school-aged children. As Steve Jobs said, “We’re here to put a dent in the universe.”
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.