Julie Locke: “Like forgiveness, gratitude is also a choice”

Like forgiveness, gratitude is also a choice. The research is clear that when we practice gratitude (i.e., when we can look outside ourselves and see that those around us contributed to our success and well-being), we stimulate other positive emotions and support improved physical and psychological health. Start small and pass it on. When we […]

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Like forgiveness, gratitude is also a choice. The research is clear that when we practice gratitude (i.e., when we can look outside ourselves and see that those around us contributed to our success and well-being), we stimulate other positive emotions and support improved physical and psychological health. Start small and pass it on. When we share gratitude with others, we stimulate positive emotions in them too. Together these 5 practices can build emotional intelligence, deepen our relationship with others and ultimately bring us more joy and satisfaction.

We had the pleasure to interview Julie Locke. Originally from Ireland, Julie is a strengths-based Executive Coach who partners with individuals historically underrepresented as leaders in the workforce. She supports women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and immigrants from diverse backgrounds as they consciously drive growth and change in their careers and lives. Over two decades, she has been a Partner in two successful Silicon Valley Executive Search firms. She has a Masters’ degree in International Relations, with a focus on Third World Development and Women and a Masters’ degree in Psychology. She also trained in Somatic Experiencing trauma resolution and she is a Certified EQ-I and EQ360 administrator. She is invested in helping people connect to their unique strengths, values, and passions, to align to careers and roles that bring them joy and fulfillment, and ultimately to step into the life they design for themselves.

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?

Hi, great to be chatting. You know I was thinking about our interview before we started, and I am glad you asked me about my childhood, because in many ways, the foundation of our Emotional Intelligence starts with our early experiences. I am originally from Ireland. My family immigrated to the States right before I started High School. So, I went from lots of green fields and animals to the beaches of Southern CA — quite a culture shock! Feeling like an outsider as a teen is tough. But in many ways, that period of time where I had to observe, read situations and people and figure out how things worked, was very formative.

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

When I was in secondary school, I had an English teacher that I really admired. She had been in the army and then she became a teacher. I can tell you that was certainly not the norm at the time, but she had followed her passions. ☺ She loved literature and telling stories. She was young, smart and accomplished and, as I remember, also about to be married. I loved the idea that she charted her own course in life. I didn’t know then who I would later become but living in an authentic way (meaning being true to myself) and designing the life I want to lead has always appealed to me. Ironically, that is what I partner with others do now too.

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?

There have been many people who have been there for me along the way — some in big ways and some in small. I am very blessed and grateful to still have both of my parents in my life. Life wasn’t easy for them. As a family we experienced a lot of loss, and sometimes I think they were barely able to be there for themselves as we got through it. But they did and we did, and I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for them.

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?

I have made so many I don’t even know where to start! (laughs) Some have been and felt minor. Some have been and felt impossible to come back from. But you know what? There is always a comeback. It may not feel good…but there is always a comeback. Every mistake is an opportunity to learn. We don’t get to go through life without them. What is critical though is whether we face them honestly and learn from them and, ultimately, move on…until the next one. When I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself. I was afraid to take risks because I immediately thought of the worst possible outcome. When fear takes over, we can be paralyzed. When it comes to mistakes, the biggest mistake we can make is being afraid to make them in the first place and the second biggest mistake is not being forgiving of ourselves when we do. I am guilty of both but each time, I learn or integrate something new.

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?

That’s an interesting question. I honestly believe that we cannot follow in someone else’s footsteps — not really anyway. My path is my path and yours is yours. Everyone’s definition and experience of success is unique to them. My advice is this. When it comes to career pursuits, start with who you are at your core. Be honest with yourself. If you don’t already know, partner with someone to help you identify your strengths, your passions, your values and the ways you get in your own way. Then, follow what brings you joy. Following your joy, brings success, because you will feel more alive.

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 voracious reader of almost any book on any subject. I usually have a few books that I am reading at the same time. Many years ago I was introduced to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn. He is an incredible human being, peace activist and teacher. He wrote a small but profound book called “Peace is Every Step”. In essence he calls our attention to the importance of consciously being in the moment and to leaning into what we are experiencing now, with no judgement. In our modern world, this is not easy to do. We have so many ways to turn away from ourselves and our present moment — a million “to-do” lists, emails, screens, work deliverables, kids’ sports practices, homework and so on and so on. There is so much wisdom in always returning to ourselves.

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

Yes, Marianne Williamson said “our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” As you know I mostly work with individuals who have historically been under-represented in leadership roles. For some, not all, in our interactions with the world around us, we may learn that being smaller versions of ourselves, quieter or playing supportive roles to others feels safer. In our world, there are challenges unique to women and diversity candidates. There are obstacles we face as individuals and within the systems we are a part of. I love working with clients who are redefining themselves and choosing to live a bigger life. I literally watch people soar as they lean into their light!

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 particularly passionate about working with courageous leaders who honor the true value of difference — both their own unique talents and those of their team members. I firmly believe that whether we are talking about teams, organizations or even our families, that the whole can be so much greater than the sum of the parts. Too often than not, we start with some model of success — a playbook for how someone else did it, and we try to emulate it. I see this all the time in technology organizations. But when we start from a place of what is unique and lean into what each of us is exceptional at, not only does it spark our individual joy, passion and energy, but we complement each other when we come together. I have a couple of fun workshops in development — “Define your Difference, Design your Career”. Stay tuned. ☺

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?

My career has been dedicated to people development — to helping people move forward in their lives and careers so that they can experience more joy and fulfillment. I have always asked, “How do we drive meaningful, intentional change as individuals, as organizations and as cultures? When we succeed, what elements come together to make it so, and when we fail, why? and how can we recalibrate?” I am a systems thinker, so I am constantly looking at all of the different moving parts and how they come together. I wonder how does an individual impact the system and how does the system impact the individual. My earliest academic interests centered around Third World Development and more specifically for women in Sub-Saharan Africa. I later returned to graduate school to study Psychology, then later to study Trauma and later still to study Coaching. What I have seen time and time again is that when we successfully achieve our goals, Emotional Intelligence is a huge differentiator. We can continue the academic debate on the definition of Emotional Intelligence, but at the simplest level, it is about having greater awareness of who we are and how we are in relation to the world around us. The more we know ourselves and have empathy for others, the more honest and vulnerable we can all be. Ultimately that leads to trust and better communication, gives us faith in ourselves and others and gives us space to dream. And, as corny as it sounds, when we dream, we change ourselves and we change the world.

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

They are quite different, and yet inter-related. Intelligence is generally considered to be a combined measure of our cognitive abilities (working memory, mathematical skills, spatial reasoning, fluid reasoning, verbal comprehension etc.). Emotional intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that together establish how we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain relationships, use emotional information effectively and cope with challenges.

Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Rather than thinking of Emotional Intelligence as a “characteristic” or something that you either have or don’t have, think of it as an array of social and emotional skills that are more or less balanced at different times in our lives. Over the course of my professional career, I have been lucky enough to meet some incredibly smart people — CEOs and Founders who have found creative ways to solve meaningful problems and then build successful companies around them. I am thinking of someone now whose mind works so fast that there are practically sparks flying. Not only does his mind work fast, his body moves fast. He says what’s on his mind in the moment, which sometimes gets him in trouble. He whirls into meetings and people tune in carefully to try to keep up. Most of the time however this person has gotten from “A” to “Z” so fast that others are still trying to fill in the dots along the way. This leader is incredibly accomplished. But what often happened, particularly as stress increased was that when others asked questions about how he arrived at “Z”, or “what about “P, Q, R, S” along the way, he got impatient and outwardly complained about people needing to “dial up their game”. Not only that, but while being asked about the previous idea, he had already moved on to the next one. Each idea came with the beginnings of a plan for resources to be thrown behind them but were not fully fleshed out. His gut and business sense had been right several times, but not every time. He also burned through executives quickly. Inadvertently he created an environment of mistrust. Many people felt he was “brilliant”, but at the same time, they also experienced anxiety working with him, because they were not quite sure what to expect.

We all process information in different ways and at different speeds. This leader made an assumption that everyone should be able to think the way he did and arrive at the same conclusions as fast as he did. In fact, he often made faulty assumptions along the way. He also didn’t realize that he was making snap judgements. The members of his team who were able to slow him down and review those assumptions likely prevented miscalculated actions. But, at the time, that’s not how he saw it. There were a few critical ways that this particular leader was getting in his own way. He did not see how his fast thinking and at times impulsive behavior were affecting his team. The good news is that both “impulse control” and “empathy” can be coached. Increasing our tolerance for frustration and understanding how others experience us and the impact of our emotions and actions on others go a long way to creating a healthy workplace.

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.

Even with the best of intentions and the greatest awareness, we all get in our own way sometimes. It comes with being human. I am an introvert and I naturally shy away from even a whiff of confrontation. While I have many experiences of leaning into confrontation, and or course surviving, I can also readily call up the accompanying feeling of dread and anxiety in my body. Notice that I use the word, “survive”, because leaning into confrontation for many, including me, calls up a “fight or flight” reaction. Just thinking about it now, shortens my breath, raises my blood pressure and makes me feel queasy. Here is how emotional intelligence helps me. I can identify the emotions I am feeling (fear, anxiety, dread). I can identify how I experience these emotions in my body. I can notice how they affect my thoughts and I know from experience how they could affect my actions. I can also use my empathy to understand the emotions others might bring into the room and what may be provoking them. Extroverts process their thoughts out loud. Introverts process their thoughts inside. What may feel like a confrontation to me (raised voices, fast speaking) may actually be invigorating to someone else and may not feel confrontational at all. When we can be aware of these differences, we are using our Emotional Intelligence.

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

We all know a good leader when we see one, and maybe more importantly, we all know how we feel when we are around one. We feel seen and heard in an authentic way. We feel trusted to do our jobs. We feel empowered. We feel motivated. We feel inspired and we feel supported. Arguably one of the challenges I see and hear the most is leaders who micro-manage. What many people who have a tendency to micro-manage say is that they were not getting the result they wanted in the timeframe they expected and that it was “easier, or faster, or cheaper, or generally, more expedient” for them to do it themselves. In that moment, perhaps that is true, perhaps it is not. Nonetheless, for that individual to “lead” rather than “manage”, at some point, they have to learn to step back. Micro-management doesn’t scale well. In addition, not allowing others to experiment with other ways of doing things not only stifles creativity but sends a message of mistrust. When asked, most people believe they have and display empathy. But many don’t read other’s emotions and actions as well as they would like to believe. Those leaders who truly have empathy for those around them and can demonstrate it by the actions they take, including demonstrating that they trust their employees, can create a positive work environment where employees thrive, and success multiplies.

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

At the core, good relationships are built on trust. Trust is built on honesty and open communication. The best relationships allow us to be authentic versions of ourselves — to show up in all our pride and glory and also to show up when we are at our messiest. It is easy to show up when we feel great about ourselves but showing up when we feel messy is tough. Emotional intelligence is about balancing awareness of and expression of ourselves in relation to others. Sometimes it is about getting ourselves out of the way, so that we can be present with the needs of the person in front of us. Sometimes it is about being courageous to speak up and share how we are feeling. Better emotional intelligence allows us to discern when to listen and when to speak. The more we can know about our own emotions, our triggers and how they impact our thoughts and actions, the better equipped we are to have authentic relationships truly built on trust.

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health? There is actually quite a lot of research associating elements of emotional Intelligence with happiness and well-being. One of the things we know for example is that close interpersonal relationships support overall longevity. The greater the awareness we bring to our relationships with ourselves and the world around us, the stronger they are. They come from a place of mutual trust, with an ability to forgive and an ability to move on. Emotional intelligence supports all of the above.

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?

Absolutely! Emotional Intelligence can be increased with practice.

  1. Practice being present. This is harder than it might sound but can certainly be done. We have so many distractions in our modern world. But throughout our day, if we can take a moment to simply notice what is inside us and around us, we naturally slow down and become more aware of where we stop, and the world starts. Breathe deeply, notice, and name it. This is the necessary precursor to ownership and accountability.
  2. Practice curiosity and reflection. Ask ourselves, “how am I co-creating what is happening right now?” “How might I do it differently?” In any given moment, we have multiple choices at hand, but sometimes we operate on “auto-pilot”. Giving ourselves a moment to stop and reflect can give us a moment to make a different choice.
  3. Practice courageous communication. Take time to ask others we trust how they perceive us or understand our actions or words. When we ask the question, we have to be prepared to hear the answer in a non-defensive way. Sometimes we get feedback that is hard to hear, but given and received from a place of trust, this feedback can allow us to see ourselves in a different light. In addition, take time to ask others how they feel. Many people are pleasantly caught off guard by this question. When we ask others how they feel, they experience a sense of value, which in turn deepens the relationship.
  4. Practice forgiveness of ourselves and others. This is a choice we can make. We all make mistakes. Forgiveness deepens our love and respect for ourselves and one another and allows us to move forward.
  5. Finally, Practice gratitude. Like forgiveness, gratitude is also a choice. The research is clear that when we practice gratitude (i.e., when we can look outside ourselves and see that those around us contributed to our success and well-being), we stimulate other positive emotions and support improved physical and psychological health. Start small and pass it on. When we share gratitude with others, we stimulate positive emotions in them too. Together these 5 practices can build emotional intelligence, deepen our relationship with others and ultimately bring us more joy and satisfaction.

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?

Both of my children are in elementary school in the California public school system, and there is a concerted effort to increase SEL — social emotional learning. Emphasis is placed on developing a growth mindset, practicing mindfulness and noticing and naming feelings. Programs are taught on bullying and how to be an “upstander” rather than a “bystander”. Five to ten years ago, these programs didn’t exist, so we are heading in the right direction. I believe we could be better at tracking the data on the results of the programs we have begun to offer. I would love to see more longitudinal studies following cohorts of children exposed to SEL education as they move through the system and ultimately graduate. If I could wave a magic wand, SEL would be a mandatory class for all, like P.E. If we could learn to appreciate difference and see ourselves and others for who we truly are, through a non-judgmental lens, it would go so far in the reduction of conflict. This is true at every level of our society, from our families to our communities to our country at large.

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 call it the “come as you are” movement. If every person could turn to just one other person and feel free to show up as they are, with all the parts of themselves that they deem strengths and successes, and also all of the messy parts with anger, mistakes, and shame, I honestly feel like we would see a giant surge in kindness and empathy. We do live in a society where we often support what I call “the presentation layer”. It’s the part of us that we turn to the world that comes with a smile and a projection that everything is perfect. But, living in the presentation layer for too long can lead to feelings of emptiness and certainly doesn’t promote authentic enduring relationships. When we can experience acceptance of ALL that we are, no questions asked, just genuine unconditional acceptance, we increase our faith in ourselves and our connection to those around us. From that place, the sky is the limit!

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, 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 would love to sit down and chat with Michelle Obama. I only know her through the window of the media, but every speech I have seen or heard is so clearly filled with passion, empathy and resolve, that I feel very inspired. We live in a world with so much injustice. She calls things as she sees them. Like her, I want to not only believe it can be different but also be the difference.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My website is julielockecoaching.com. I encourage folks to reach out to me over email. I would love to hear your unique story.

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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