Invest in Others: Commit to mentoring, beyond coaching. This is essential if you want to become a high-Emotional Intelligence leader. Mentoring is different from coaching because it involves sponsorship, advocacy, and leveraging your organizational knowledge and experience to create paths for people that they didn’t know existed. It’s about committing to develop people and break down barriers for them because you believe in their capabilities, their potential, and what they could achieve. It’s also important that we don’t only mentor people that look like us. Mentorship is not about applying bias — it is about providing equal opportunities for everyone.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewingMichael Stephan.
Michael is the US Human Capital national managing partner for Deloitte Consulting LLP. Michael is also a member of the US Deloitte Board Inclusion Assessment team, a derivative of his former role on the US Deloitte Board Advisory Council. He most recently served as the US and Global Human Resources (HR) Transformation leader. He previously served as the National HR Service Delivery leader, as well as the Health Care sector leader for the HR Transformation group.
Michael helps business leaders and human resource functions conceptualize, design, and execute major change that can lead to a more strategic, business-driven organization. He helps companies develop and integrate operating models across the operations and technology spectrum, with a targeted focus on optimizing the delivery of HR services to promote improved performance company-wide. Michael’s global consulting experience traverses the Human Capital landscape and includes strategy, operating model design and transition, global technology, global sourcing, and enterprise workforce transition and change management. Michael has led a broad range of projects for global organizations including a significant leadership role on two of the industry’s largest HR transformation initiatives. He is an active contributor and author of points of views, articles, and our annual Global Human Capital Trends report.
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. What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My identical twin brother was my inspiration and primary influence. He started out in consulting immediately after we graduated college. I was accepted into a Master’s degree program focused on higher education, but suddenly realized I was not in a position financially to begin right away. He was having great success in consulting and convinced me that it would be a valuable experience for me. Consequently, I started my first consulting gig six months after graduation. I have now been in the business for more than 24 years, although I didn’t start out in Human Capital. I was initially deployed onto technology projects, and about a year into my career was assigned to a human resources technology project. That assignment became my entrée into the world of human capital and I never looked back. I’ve been fortunate to experience the full spectrum of Human Capital consulting since that time, both through client projects and roles at Deloitte. I have no regrets, especially given the importance of human capital in the world today.
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?
I see this through two lenses — my childhood and my career. Growing up, my parents were my strongest and most influential supporters. My mother immigrated to the U.S. from Italy, and my father was a first-generation German-American. They were so selfless in sacrificing things they may have wanted in order to create better lives for us. What I’m most grateful for is that they allowed us the freedom and flexibility to experiment and to fail. They were always there to coach us, guide us, and occasionally pick us up after the fact. That ability to experiment and experience failure, success, and everything in between is a critical part of who I am today.
Throughout the course of my career, my wife has been my biggest supporter. I have been with my wife since my first consulting job and we have been married for over 20 years with three amazing children. She made tremendous personal and professional sacrifices that positioned me to take on new responsibilities and experiences, while traveling nearly every week for the past 24 years. During this same period, she built a successful career as a healthcare worker focused in respiratory therapy. She has made our family very proud during this challenging pandemic. I would not be where I am today without my wife and family.
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?
First and foremost, don’t follow in my footsteps, create your own! I’ve never liked the concept of following in the footsteps of someone else. I believe it’s important for everyone to create their own path. This is also important in the context of Emotional Intelligence — part of having strong social awareness and the ability to mentor others is having a deep understanding that everyone’s situation and path will have different outcomes.
The additional piece of advice I would provide is — how you show up, matters. Whether it’s how you engage with people on your team, prospective or current clients, people you serve as a leader, or people in your community — how you show up with others will have a notable impact on your long-term success. It goes back to the famous Maya Angelou quote — “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
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 one book that made a profound impact on me in the last few years is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown. In today’s world where so many feel overwhelmed by choices, it creates powerful frames for how to be more selective and clearer about how you spend your time. It’s all about determining the most important things that give you energy and that can create the highest impact, not just for you as an individual, but also for those around you.
A powerful message from the book is that the essentialist mindset “Produces more not by doing more, but by removing more.” As I reflect on 2020, it was an essential mindset that allowed our business to survive and thrive during the difficult times. It became very clear that our most important focus needed to be on the well-being of our people, advancing diversity, equity and inclusion, and helping our clients survive. It presented us with an opportunity to reduce activities that did not directly support or advance these focus areas and enabled us to create more meaningful momentum.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m currently on a team that’s evaluating and designing our own future of work. Like many organizations, we shifted the majority of our work to virtual with the rise of the pandemic. This was a notable shift for our consulting organization, as most of our consultants were traveling to client sites each week. The good news is that we demonstrated the ability to deliver high-quality outcomes for our clients while working remotely during this time. Yet we also learned a lot about the impacts this model has on people and the spectrum of implications and preferences for our employees and our clients.
As the human capital leader, I’m working with our firm to think about our future of work strategy, including the mix of virtualization and co-location with clients. We’re steadfastly focused on the experience it creates for our people as well as creating unique and differentiated value for our clients. Our goal is to push the Consulting industry to new standards.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?
I would not say I am an authority on Emotional Intelligence, but I am someone who’s been deeply committed to personal growth. I learned so many aspects of it in my early years before I fully appreciated its meaning. As a multi-sport athlete, a leader inside student organizations, a worker at my father’s company, and a coach/mentor in my local communities, I started to develop an appreciation for empathy, influence, teamwork, self-awareness, adaptability, and more. I was then introduced to Emotional Intelligence during a training session early in my career. I remember feeling synergies with many things I learned growing up, but never had a name for. I also remember so many people in the room not being ready to acknowledge the importance of it. As a result, I committed early to investing deeply in building strong EI to differentiate myself. As time went on, it became more mainstream in performance management, leadership expectations, and eventually as a key evaluation factor to take on new roles and responsibilities. I have always felt it is my responsibility to impart perspectives on the importance of EI regardless of the roles I’ve played. After all, Emotional Intelligence is innately human and I have dedicated my career to the Human Capital space.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Many different definitions and frameworks have been published, but for me Emotional Intelligence comes down to a set of human capabilities that create high degrees of self-awareness and social awareness to improve overall relationship management. It’s different from the normal definition of intelligence because it deals with the emotive part of who we are as human beings. It’s also different because intelligence on its own is often a measurement of a single individual. With Emotional Intelligence, it is largely a measurement of your interactions with, and awareness of, 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?
I believe that to develop a deeper appreciation of Emotional Intelligence, it’s important to recognize it is not focused on one single characteristic. Instead, it’s a combination of “muscles” you need to build in order to be more effective in your job and life. For example, someone can have a high degree of self-awareness but zero empathy, which certainly doesn’t reflect a high degree of Emotional Intelligence. You can also have a lot of empathy but low self-awareness, so you don’t fully appreciate how you’re being perceived by others or potentially impacting others in a negative way.
The events of 2020 have demonstrated why Emotional Intelligence is so important and why we all need to be committed to it in a much deeper way. Whether it was the pandemic, social activism, or economic challenges, this past year elevated our social awareness and challenged our self-awareness. It also pushed each of us to empathize that each individual is experiencing the pandemic and the injustices in a different way. We must be committed to self-growth. We must be committed to developing personal relationships that more positively influence each other. We must be committed to creating a more inclusive environment to make sure people feel safe to bring their authentic self to work and to life. By doingthese things, I believe we will improve our ability to not only survive, but also thrive in 2021 and beyond.
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.
My father owned and operated a structural steel company for 35 years. I started working for his company doing odd jobs when I was 12 years old. This was in the ’80s — Emotional Intelligence, having an inclusive mindset, and being human at the core was not something that was part of the conversation. Yet, I really feel it’s where my grounding in those concepts started. I have mental images of the amazing mix of diverse people that worked there. I also remember the mix of customers that walked through the doors — police officers, public works employees, lawyers, painters, doctors, etc. Regardless of race, gender, job, or presumed status, my father treated every one of them with the same level of respect.
I spent the next eight summers working with my father and learned two important lessons — (1) you never know anyone’s story (unless you take the time to ask and listen) and (2) there is nothing that you have done that makes you better than the person across from you. These lessons have enabled me to engage with people with a more inclusive and open mind throughout my life and career. I have grown exponentially by listening to the stories of others and learning from the experiences of those on my team. This approach has kept me in a perpetual growth mindset that continues to serve me at work and home.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
I believe business acumen and technical acumen will continue to be important attributes in the business world. However, I strongly believe it will be Emotional Intelligence that will differentiate people over the next decade. These are enduring human capabilities that apply regardless of level, role, or organization and are truly things that can make a difference not only at work, but in our society.
As an individual, the more you invest in your self-awareness, the clearer you will be about your strengths and areas for improvement. This positions you to take specific actions that allow you to grow and can improve your overall success. As a leader or team member, the more you invest in empathy, organizational awareness, teamwork, and mentorship, the more you create an inclusive environment. The more inclusive the environment, the more innovative, creative, and diverse the thoughts are within it — ultimately leading to stronger team and organizational outcomes.
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.
- Be Reflective: Build self-awareness and empathy through self-reflection and dialogue with others. Regularly examine your actions, and not just when things go well, but also when you have a challenging experience or a failure. Ask yourself: What can I learn from this? What can I do differently and/or better in the future? Note that it’s not just about you and what you did. You need to also develop awareness of how your actions impacted others around you. Of course, this takes courage. You must be willing to engage with others, be vulnerable, and admit there are areas you need to improve. You must also be willing to share those areas for improvement with other people who can then hold you accountable for doing things differently or better in the future. Throughout 2020, I counted on my Human Capital teammates and Consulting peers to hold me accountable each day.
- Invest in Yourself: Emotional Intelligence and well-being go hand in hand. Your ability to improve and create your own well-being — physical, mental, spiritual — will enable you to increase your Emotional Intelligence and in turn safeguard the well-being of others. Conversely, if you’re unhappy with how you feel, are frustrated, overwhelmed, or burnt out, your Emotional Intelligence will suffer. Creating space to invest in yourself will ultimately improve your ability to develop higher degrees of empathy, social awareness, and self-awareness, and improve your overall relationships. I know that when I’m actively investing in my well-being, I am a better husband, father, leader, and teammate.
- Invest in Others: Commit to mentoring, beyond coaching. This is essential if you want to become a high-Emotional Intelligence leader. Mentoring is different from coaching because it involves sponsorship, advocacy, and leveraging your organizational knowledge and experience to create paths for people that they didn’t know existed. It’s about committing to develop people and break down barriers for them because you believe in their capabilities, their potential, and what they could achieve. It’s also important that we don’t only mentor people that look like us. Mentorship is not about applying bias — it is about providing equal opportunities for everyone.
- Be Adaptable: Adaptability and agility are important parts of Emotional Intelligence. We never know what’s coming around the corner on a given day — 2020 has certainly taught us this. We can’t assume that Emotional Intelligence skills are static. They need to be dynamic. We need to continuously commit to adjusting our approach and EI-related attributes based on the environment around us. How can we do that? See number 5!
- Remain Curious: I am an avid reader and podcast listener and learn a lot this way. I use these learnings to challenge myself to think differently and to improve my understanding of how other people might be seeing or feeling things. Let me provide an example: the events of 2020 have raised a lot of talk about burnout. Now I’ve heard the word “burnout” for over 15 years, but it wasn’t until I recently listened to a podcast about it that I learned the breakdown of how it is defined. I learned so much that I felt compelled to share it on social media, where I noted that if we as leaders want to be able to address burnout, then we have to take time to develop a deeper understanding of what it is. Be inherently curious.
Bottom line: If you want to develop as a person and a leader — to be a better mentor, to develop more social and emotional awareness, and to be more adaptable — then commit to growth. Invest the time in building stronger Emotional Intelligence not just for yourself, but for the benefit of those around you at work and home.
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.