“Emotional Intelligence has greatly helped me in my personal life”, Michelle Diamond and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Emotional Intelligence has greatly helped me in my personal life when I confronted issues head on or asked direct questions. There was a time when I had a cordial, but not a close relationship with someone because I felt that we did not have a lot in common. However, one day, I finally expressed my […]

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Emotional Intelligence has greatly helped me in my personal life when I confronted issues head on or asked direct questions. There was a time when I had a cordial, but not a close relationship with someone because I felt that we did not have a lot in common. However, one day, I finally expressed my true feelings and realized that we had more in common regarding certain aspects of our lives than I had realized. If I had not used Emotional Intelligence to communicate directly and listen effectively, I would not have known this, and would have kept my wrong perceptions, and prevented a conversation that needed to happen, from happening, and would have been kept in the dark about a lot.

As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewingMichelle Diamond.

Michelle Diamond, CEO of Elevate Diamond Strategy, a growth strategy and execution advisory and interim executive firm has 25+ years’ strategy, general management, marketing, finance, go-to-market, audit, M&A, and operations experience.

Michelle is an expert, operational executive, and entrepreneur who worked with 50+ organizations from startup, early/growth stage, small/middle market, private equity/venture capital, to Fortune 50 companies in 25+ industries including CIGNA, Colgate-Palmolive, Elsevier, MetLife, NRG, Constellation Energy, DEKRA, and Daimler — just to name a few.

Prior to Elevate Diamond Strategy, Michelle was the creator and Head, Competitive Intelligence for the 1B dollars+ Group Insurance Division at CIGNA. Prior to that role, she oversaw CIGNA’s 20M dollars Printing & Distribution business, was Manager of Strategy at Accenture, and in Mergers & Acquisitions and Assurance and Business Advisory Services at Ernst & Young. She also held financial roles at Colgate-Palmolive and Citibank, and was selected for Goldman Sachs and Proctor & Gamble camps.

Michelle holds an MBA from Duke University, a BS from Morgan State University (Summa Cum Laude), and attended Wharton Executive Education. She is also a nonpracticing Certified Public Accountant.

Michelle is a former Board President of the INROADS Philadelphia Alumni Association, a member of Extraordinary Women on Boards (EWOB), and has led efforts and volunteered for the United Way, March of Dimes, Boys & Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Habitat for Humanity. She was a speaker and facilitator for the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO), the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW), and a growth expert on radio shows Accelerating Your Business™ (creator and host), Executive Leaders Radio, and The Marketing of Business.

She is also the author of the book, How to Grow & Expand Your Business in Times of Feast or Famine.

Michelle currently resides in Beverly Hills and enjoys sports, dance, entertaining, and travel.

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 in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens, New York. I am the first one to go to and complete college, let alone have a master’s degree. Most of my life I worked hard and always knew that I wanted the best (even when I didn’t know what the best was at times). I had to survive a lot on my own and make things happen from an early age. I remember starting my first business at 10 years old when I sold bubble gum candy at school (until I was shut down by the nuns). I had a balance of being ‘nerd like’ (My babysitter taught me math at a young age, and I began doing basic arithmetic in preschool and was a member of the Math and Debate Teams when I got older), and creative (I know how to dance ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and even kickline-like the Rockettes). I have danced in front of thousands of people and even choreographed as well. I am also usually the first and last one on the dance floor.

While my childhood was not pleasant because home life was tumultuous and I did not get a lot of encouragement, love, and support from ‘traditional people and places’, I was fortunate in that I received a tremendous amount of love and support from friends, their families, mentors, teachers, bosses, and so many others. I would not have achieved as much if it were not for them.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

Growing up, I had always wanted to be a lawyer. I used to love to argue (now I can’t stand it and prefer peace). I went to a specialized high school for prelaw and took an accounting class because I figured when I made money, I wanted to know how to count it.

My teacher at the time, Mr. Dissena, talked to me after class one day and told me that I was not going to be a lawyer, but that I was going to be an accountant. We argued and decided on me being a Corporate Lawyer (even though I did not know what that was at the time). He also said that if I were an accountant, I would always have a job. Those words stayed with me.

I studied Accounting in college and started my career in Accounting & Finance. I worked at several large corporations and then at a large accounting firm, Ernst & Young, where I got my CPA. I loved what I did but got to a point where I wanted to ‘make the numbers happen’ vs. reviewing them afterwards.

Fortunately, a colleague and friend of mine told me about Strategy Consulting. I had never heard of it, but liked what I heard. He then told me if I want to get into a top strategy consulting firm, I would need an MBA from a top business school.

I got my MBA from Duke and worked in strategy consulting and at large organizations, where I began to focus on growth and expansion strategies, marketing, new market entry, competitive intelligence, mergers and acquisitions, finance, and general management.

I oversaw a 20M dollars Printing & Distribution business and built the Competitive Intelligence function for one of the key divisions at CIGNA. After some time, I realized I missed the variety of working with multiple companies and decided to go back into consulting. At the time, I did not want to ‘live out of a suitcase’. I told myself if I could not find a firm that provided the balance I wanted, I would start one myself. When I did not find what I needed, I started my own firm.

In addition, I wanted to serve clients of all sizes, especially small to midsize companies who did not typically retain growth strategy consulting services for their companies and provide practical and implementable, yet innovate strategies that companies of all sizes could execute and achieve results.

I then came up with a business name and registered the business. I also reached out to individuals I knew (‘my informal advisors’), that created and ran successful consulting and other high-end services and advisory firms to gain a better understanding of how they were able to achieve their success. Their advice was invaluable because it helped me to better plan, recognize timing, and overcome obstacles.

After several months of networking, I got my first client. That was more than 15 years ago.

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?

Don Porter. When I was only 26 years old, I got the opportunity to oversee a 20M dollars Business that was housed inside a Business Unit of a large Fortune 100 company. Don was the Head of the Business Unit. When I first came in, we met briefly and talked about his family and other things. He then told me that the Business was stagnant and that there were certain members of the Board and C-Suite of the Parent Company that wanted to get rid of it. He also said the existing management team of the Business had made a recommendation to keep the Business ‘as-is’. It was rejected, as the Board and C-Suite felt it was biased. On top of that, he told me that same management team would be reporting into me.

I listened and knew I could handle it. Even though the existing management team were all a lot older, all male, and thought I was there to make them lose their jobs, I saw it as a challenge. Prior to that, I worked at a consulting firm, and thought getting things done within a company would be a great opportunity, as I had not worked directly for a company for a few years. However, the interesting thing was that I did not have to go into detail or provide Don with a pitch. I simply said, ok. Then Don, said ok. And that was it.

He believed in me. I was not thrown off by his response because I had worked with and been exposed to many high-level executives in my career. I understood that most successful ones know how to operate with both intellect and instinct.

He gave me free reign, yet always let me know that if I needed him, he was there. He showed me how to communicate to a Board in one page or less and pushed me on increasing my executive presence and confidence level. I ended up streamlining and turning the business around, saving 2.5M dollars in six months. Others told me later, that many people in the Parent organization did not believe that I could successfully handle that role. That turned out to be my most challenging ‘people’ role to date. However, I am grateful, because it better prepared me to handle other challenging ‘people’ dynamics going forward.

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?

While I have had always had a personality that was direct and to the point, I did not always have a filter and did some inappropriate things when I look back. For example, I used to blurt things out and laugh a lot (often at inappropriate times) and remember laughing in the middle of presentations or during meetings where people would argue or disagree strongly. I also used to party and go clubbing a lot at night early in my career and would then go straight to work on a regular basis. One day after partying all night, I feel asleep at work and pressed my head on the keyboard. Fortunately for me, the sound was so loud from me pressing all the keys that one of the managers, who I had a great relationship with, saved me and literally dragged me into his cubicle, so other people could not figure out where the noise came from.

I, of course, learned to stop hanging out so much during the week 😊. Regarding the other areas, I was fortunate to have executives and other mentors who cared about me and believed in my talent, coach me on how to communicate more effectively and control my emotions, while still being authentic. I also learned how to be a lot more professional and have a stronger business presence. The lessons were extremely beneficial to my role then and in the future.

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?

I would tell a young person to always work hard and make excellence a habit (in everything you do). Focus on achieving your goals and then after achieving them, make new and greater goals. Opportunities will come in both expected and unexpected ways. Make sure you are ready to receive and remain open to both.

I did not have a traditional career path to get to where I am today. However, when I learned of something and decided I wanted it, I did what it took to get it and be successful at it. I believe if a young person follows that, he or she will succeed.

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, Dealing With People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst by Rick Brinkman and Rick Kirschner.

I remember being in the office of someone from Human Resources when my eyes wandered to her bookshelf. Even though there were tons of books, the title of this one jumped out at me. Something in my gut told me to go to the bookstore later that day and buy the book. It is still one of the greatest books that I have ever read and continue to read it over and over again.

This book had a profound impact because I had never read anything that broke down these behaviors in such a simple, clear, and sometimes funny way in both business and personal relationships. It helps you to see things from the perspective of the person exhibiting the behavior and gives practical tools and steps on how to deal with the behaviors to get results. It even has a section that says, “What if people can’t stand you?”, which is a magnifying glass to our own individual behaviors.

I read it at the time when I was not getting along with my boss. We butt heads a lot because I wanted to change my role and while he did not know what to do with my role, he felt like I was not giving him enough evidence to change it to what I wanted.

I realized after reading the book, I needed to communicate better and speak in a language that he could understand.

Once I did, I was able to gain his buy-in and achieved a great deal of success with my new title and newly defined role.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I actually have two, but they both have the same premise regarding being prepared.

The first one is “It is better to be prepared and have no opportunity, than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.” The second one is “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

These resonate with me because I realize the importance of being prepared ahead of time for both opportunities and issues, not only in terms of business acumen, but being mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically prepared.

There were some opportunities and issues that came throughout the course of my life and in my career that I was not prepared to handle and as a result, I had some regrets or suffered some losses. However, learning from those mistakes and making these quotes my life lessons, has enabled me to always strive to be prepared.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am working on Advisory projects with some startups that are planning to do revolutionary work in SaaS, Fashion, and Customer Experience. I cannot go into detail due to confidentiality and my NDAs. However, I will say that all of them are working to help companies better connect with customers on a personal level and leverage digital to make peoples lives easier and more effective (in terms of their decision-making).

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 am a business leader who uses EQ to achieve success. While I focus on developing and implementing strategies and solving business problems, over 50% or more of my role is using EQ to listen, understand, communicate, position, etc. with the people I work and interact with, who often have different backgrounds, levels, motivations, perspectives, etc.

I would not have been able to achieve success in my corporate and consulting career, as well as on my own for the past 15+ years without it.

In addition, I took EQ classes and an EQ assessment in the past at Wharton Executive Education (testing at a Mensa level) with an EQ Expert and Professor, Sigal Barsade.

For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and understand your emotions and the emotions of others, while managing your own, to listen and communicate effectively to achieve your goals in any interaction or relationship.

How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?

Emotional intelligence uses intelligent ways to identify, communicate, and manage your emotions as well as identify and interact with others’ emotions. General intelligence is the ability to understand, remember, solve, identify, and apply knowledge and skills. Intelligence does not require interaction with others.

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 an important characteristic to have in both business and life. In business, however, it is imperative to have high emotional intelligence (EQ) because without it, it will be very difficult to get things done. Some people work to sabotage others out of fear, jealously, envy, etc. Others are passive or passive aggressive and can slow down projects or initiatives or not get them done at all if they feel rejected or dismissed in some way. In other cases, a company could have low morale or a poor culture because both employees and leaders feel they are in an unhealthy emotional environment or are not being communicated with.

A story I can give is what happened when I first took over the role to oversee the 20M dollars manufacturing business. I was first brought in to evaluate the business and make a recommendation on whatthe Parent Company should do with the business as they were open to all options. However, the existing management team had to report into me. Needless to say, they were not happy I was there.

I am a female and was younger than all of them (all of my 10 direct reports were middle aged males). Aside from that, I did not have any Printing, Distribution, Manufacturing, or Insurance experience at the time. They all thought I was there to fire them and despised the fact that the Board rejected their recommendations and brought me in.

I knew how they felt (or must feel). So, before I started doing any work or introduced myself and presented my goals to the general plant employee population, I met with each one of my direct reports one on one. I listened to them and let them know that I understood how they felt. I also shifted the focus away from me and positioned my role as one that was open and unbiased and let them know if they tried to sabotage anything, they themselves would be on the receiving end of it as my first priorities was to see what should stay and what should go. I also let them know that I would value and incorporate their input, where necessary, and would be as open as I could throughout the initial process. Fortunately, we had a collaborative effort with great results.

Only one direct report who was close to retirement did not fully come on board. However, he also did not do anything to sabotage or annihilate others, which was fine. You cannot always have a great relationship with everyone. At least he did not cause any trouble and ended up taking early retirement.

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.

Emotional Intelligence has greatly helped me in my personal life when I confronted issues head on or asked direct questions. There was a time when I had a cordial, but not a close relationship with someone because I felt that we did not have a lot in common. However, one day, I finally expressed my true feelings and realized that we had more in common regarding certain aspects of our lives than I had realized. If I had not used Emotional Intelligence to communicate directly and listen effectively, I would not have known this, and would have kept my wrong perceptions, and prevented a conversation that needed to happen, from happening, and would have been kept in the dark about a lot.

Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?

Sure. Since the business world is about relationships and people as well as turning great ideas into revenue and profits, having and using emotional intelligence is critical to your success. You must understand people from their perspective and their intentions, so you know how to adjust it to your benefit.

An example I can give was on an interim executive engagement I had at a Fortune 150 Energy Company. Interim executive roles require a high EQ because you must learn a company’s culture and the personalities and intentions of people you have to work with very quickly.

I remember when I started, I had to get the Strategic Planning process done for the entire Company. Almost everyone was on board, but some were missing deadlines, and others were nonresponsive. For the late and nonresponsive ones, instead of making numerous calls and emails, I simply set up time to introduce myself and said I wanted to get to know them and discuss how I could help them. I learned what they were going through and worked with them to figure out a way to get what I needed while taking the pressure off of them or simply becoming their ally by showing them I cared. I also adjusted how I spoke to each one depending on their functional areas and levels as for example, someone from Finance thinks differently than someone from Marketing.

Fortunately, I was successful and was able to lead strategic planning for over 70 managers in the first few weeks in my role.

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?

Emotional intelligence can help people have better relationships because when as individuals we take ownership of our own emotions and feelings and then seek to understand the other person, communication and honesty flows freely. When those two things flow, the probability for rich, rewarding, safe, authentic relationships where both people feel like they can be themselves can happen. There is no greater relationship than that.

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?

I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia over 18 years ago. Fortunately for me, I did not have any symptoms for the past 17 ½ years and still do not, because I was able to heal myself. I used to stuff a lot of my feelings and pretend in certain personal relationships. The stress of it all literally caused my body to break down. When I learned that fibromyalgia is really an emotional and mental condition, I got to the root cause, and changed my EQ in my relationships. I started identifying and communicating my real feelings and learned how to better interact with others. I also learned that not everyone can be in my life, and that is a part of high EQ as well.

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.

  1. Identify Your True Feelings (Without Judging Yourself)
  2. Figure out what you want in a situation or interaction with someone
  3. Communicate your feelings
  4. Ask for what you want
  5. Pay attention and address the other person’s emotions or feelings

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?

Yes! I wished I learned a lot of this when I was in school. Our Education System should focus on teaching students how to identify and communicate their feelings, how to resolve conflict, how to identify emotions in others, how to love themselves, and how to be a ‘thermostat instead of a thermometer.”

Our world would be a better place if this was part of the standard curriculum.

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 end homelessness right away. There is no excuse for anyone on this planet to not have a home and/or food to eat. We live in an abundant country and planet. This is not about reallocating resources or taking it away from those you earned it. It is about giving people the treatment they need or the chance they need to be productive citizens (which will only help our economy and the world at large). Some people will always have more, and some will always have less. However, no one should go without this basic human need.

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 have a Top 5 Wishlist

  1. Melinda Gates (She went to Duke as well)
  2. Warren Buffett
  3. Elon Musk
  4. Jeff Bezos
  5. Mark Cuban

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can go to my website at

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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