Patience: Take the time to first evaluate the probable effects of your response: In today’s world, everyone commonly expects an immediate response as well as instant gratification. But is this always true? Wouldn’t you rather get a valuable and thoughtful response instead of simply a speedy reply? When just a little extra time goes into responding to someone, the reward is usually more impactful and memorable.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark A. Pfister.
With a strong focus in Strategy, Governance, and Technology / Cybersecurity, Mark A. Pfister is CEO & Chief Board Consultant of M. A. Pfister Strategy Group, an executive advisory firm that serves as a strategic advisory council for executives and Boards in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. He is also Chairman & CEO of Integral Board Group, a specialized Board services and consulting company. Mr. Pfister is a ‘Board Macro-Influencer,’ and his success has been repeated across a wide range of business situations and environments. He prides himself on being a coach and mentor to senior executives and directors. In Board Director circles, Mr. Pfister has earned the nickname ‘The Board Architect.’
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?
Thank you for inviting me into your interview series. Thinking back to my childhood, it is truly interesting to think about how both positive and negative situations have carved out and formed exactly who I am today. I am at a point in my life where I am thankful for all of the experiences, even the negative ones, as those are the foundational elements for much-needed ‘grit.’ Countless indelible memories were forged when my parents would go to work over the summer months when school was out. I would always find something new and exciting in the house to take apart to see exactly how it worked and understand how it was made. Learning how it functioned was exhilarating to me. I just had to know. Washing machine — disassembled and reassembled in 8 hours (the time my parents were at work). Dryer — disassembled and reassembled in 8 hours. Furnace — disassembled and reassembled in 8 hours. Clock radio, microwave, lawnmower engine — all on the list. Turns out, this insatiable appetite to know how something worked didn’t just apply to mechanical devices, but also peoples’ emotions and motivations later in life — the essence of leadership. Additionally, as a very shy kid, this had a profound impact on my ability to read body language. What someone was saying verbally didn’t always align with how it was being presented physically through body language, so at an early age I was able to initially identify and then more-deeply evaluate these indicators. Were they in alignment? Were they misaligned? What did this really say about the person? Over time, was my initial assessment correct? These personal “case studies” have proven invaluable to my leadership approach as well as in my leadership coaching of others.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My background by education was quite technical, focused in the disciplines of science, engineering, and technology. Looking back on this, I likely initially viewed it as just another chance to take things apart and understand how they worked, albeit without having the 8-hour critical timeline to avoid being grounded. In my early technology career, it was my time working at American Express when I realized that the physical and technical world had obvious parallels to the management and leadership world. Everyone, by means of their experiences, had ‘parts and pieces’ that made them who they were and influenced how they operated. It was essentially their ‘design.’ This realization was one of the most profound of my life, still influencing me to this day. Knowing how someone works and what motivates them allows you the unique perspective to properly support them during their journey, identify and assist in areas requiring change, and positively impact the outcome. The people skills cannot be overlooked or disregarded, as these are what ultimately form the bonds of respect and trust — paramount considerations for effective leadership.
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?
It would be hard to list all of the people I am deeply thankful for in my life and who have made a positive impact. I would feel terrible if I listed a few and left off others! What I can say is those that took the time to be present, involved, and really care about making a difference in my life have inspired me to do the same. As it turns out, helping and supporting others returns the greatest rewards. There are so many who I owe my deepest gratitude for taking the time to care. I thank them wholeheartedly.
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 am very much open to admitting my mistakes and acknowledging situations where I could have taken a different direction or approach. After all, honesty in admitting your mistakes is a key component in honing your emotional intelligence (EQ) and mindfulness intelligence (MQ). Additionally, you will find that in most cases when looking back and sharing your mistakes, they not only have a comical element to them, but can also motivate others to try new things and not be scared by potential failure. Prior to my management positions and leadership career, there was a mistake I made early in my career that had a profound effect on me personally and professionally. I worked for a small airflow controls company as a field service technician performing their controller installations and also doing some of the controller programming. On one service trip to a large and well-known hospital, I set up in the mechanical room to swap out a malfunctioning electronic controller for airflow supply & exhaust to a large portion of the hospital. The fan equipment was massive with huge ductwork connected to it. During the new controller install, both the supply and exhaust fans started to ramp up, reaching higher and higher speeds. Something didn’t seem right. They didn’t slow down and continued to accelerate. The danger in this is that too high a pressure on the supply ducts could cause them to burst. Too low a pressure on the exhaust ducts could cause them to collapse. The ductwork then started to make straining and metal-popping sounds as the fans continued to speed up. I went from zero to fully stressed in 5 seconds! I had to suppress the anxiety of the situation to allow me to think clearly, allowing me to race over to the local fan controls putting them on manual. Turns out I had loaded the wrong software code on this particular controller. It was for a different hospital — I named the code file wrong. Ugh. I still get sweaty thinking about this today! After calming down on the ride home, and extremely thankful that no permanent damage occurred, this situation forced me to think about risk and risk mitigation more deeply. From that day forward, I think differently when getting involved with anything. What are the potential scenarios that could happen? Am I prepared if something fails? What is my back-out plan? Are there valid scenario planning exercises I can create in advance to test? This is another lesson that would cross over from the technical realm to the leadership realm.
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?
Learning to embrace challenges and setbacks is not easy to do, but it goes a long way in your personal and professional development. Many leaders today seem to lack grit and the ability to overcome adversity in ways that set positive examples. If you can change your mindset to understand that there will always be setbacks and disappointments, accepting that this is where the most learning comes from, you are positioning yourself correctly as well as opening the door to so many opportunities. As the saying goes, it is easy to evaluate someone’s true character during a crisis. In the military, there’s a saying that urges everyone to ‘embrace the suck.’ In military jargon, this means to consciously accept or appreciate something that is extremely unpleasant, but unavoidable. There is truth in this belief and the character it builds is indisputable.
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?
There is a recent Netflix documentary I just can’t seem to get out of my head. It’s called ‘The Social Dilemma’ and it focuses on how social media is conditioning every aspect of our lives. Without being a spoiler for those who haven’t seen it yet, it is absolutely incredible to realize how much of our decisioning and the conclusions we reach on countless topics are guided by forces beyond our current comprehension or control. For me, it has likely made me more skeptical of all things I read or hear, begging the question of how much additional research I should do myself to form an unbiased conclusion. From a larger macro-societal viewpoint, it forces far-reaching questions to be addressed of how prepared today’s youth are in dealing with this onslaught of data. Highly recommended to watch.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Without hesitation, the “Life Lesson Quote” that comes to mind and to this day influences my thinking was stated by Henry Ford. He famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This quote oozes truth at so many levels. It is not to say that input from others isn’t valuable, but more so that others will knowingly or unknowingly push their fears and limitations onto you. Thinking differently is a gift not to be wasted. Its OK to dream and think a little crazy sometimes. Those who do seem to single-handedly change the world. It is interesting to think that this quote in today’s world of flight and space travel would likely graduate to, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster cars.”
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 passionate about my work in the Board Director vertical for so many reasons. The number of Boards I work with allows me a unique viewpoint into leadership trending across multiple industry verticals. Boards of Directors, previously impervious to change or outside influences, have undergone incredible changes in recent years with the expectation of greater transparency and larger focus on all stakeholders, not just shareholders. Much of my work comes from the challenges of these transitional elements. When organizations commit to doing this correctly, the positive impact Boards have on their companies and society is immense.
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?
As it turned out, those possessing deeply developed emotional intelligence acumen are the best leaders. This was very obvious early in my career and a quality I strived to attain. When digging deeper into this topic over subsequent years, it became clear that if there was a way to measure or assess someone’s emotional intelligence, this would be another evaluation point in selecting the right executive candidates, especially as it related to Boards of Directors. By including emotional intelligence evaluations into existing interview and vetting processes, the percentage of successful Board seat appointments skyrocketed. As it turns out, emotional intelligence is a great indicator of future success.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Emotional Quotient, typically called Emotional Intelligence, EQ, or EI, refers to a leader’s ability to recognize, understand and manage their own emotions along with the ability to recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others. EQ importantly contains the major component of empathy. A Harvard Business Review study, ‘The Most Empathetic Companies,’ fortifies the importance of the empathy trait by stating, “It is this ability to recognize and understand the emotions of others that is so important. It is also the ability to understand that our emotions have impact on others and making change as a result is more important to a successful business than it has ever been.” The term EQ was created by two researchers, Peter Salavoy and John Mayer, and popularized in Daniel Goleman’s 1996 book, ‘Emotional Intelligence.’ A key point in the book was Daniel’s assessment that EQ might actually be more important than IQ when considering an individual’s chances of success. I write often about EQ in many of my articles due to what I believe is an uncompromisable trait for true leaders and Board Directors.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
The rating of an individual’s overall IQ, or Intelligence Quotient, has been around since 1912, with many evolutions and enhancements since that time. However, when we are speaking about IQ in the leadership sense, it is more so an evaluation of intellectual and cognitive abilities as applied to critical thinking. As important as IQ can be, it is helpless without proper EQ. We have all worked with a ‘brilliant jerk’ or someone who left their manners at the front door. No matter how smart this person is, they will always struggle in getting others to support their ideas and direction, not to mention form meaningful and respectful relationships, when lacking EQ. This begs the question, how truly smart is someone who doesn’t consider the emotional component of relationships in their personal and professional lives? When talking about overall IQ with its inextricable link to EQ, it is worth also mentioning MQ. Mindfulness Quotient, typically called Mindfulness Intelligence or MQ, is the latest groundbreaking intelligence system that we’ll see much more of in the near future. Mindfulness is the process of bringing one’s attention to the internal experiences occurring in the present moment. In other words, are you looking deeper within yourself and in those around you to better understand their actions and responses? Thinking of your EQ as more of a reactive response and your MQ as more of a proactive response, this combination can be extremely powerful in your self-development, your relationships with others, and your leadership success.
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.
By personally focusing on EQ principles, I am confident that I have become a better person, better husband, and better leader. There is something about the inherent practice of constantly evaluating yourself from an EQ viewpoint that is powerful. Your awareness is heightened. Your purpose is clearer. The simple ability to recognize, understand and manage your own emotions along with the ability to recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others is extremely liberating. In a recent debate I witnessed between two client Board Members, it was clear that they weren’t coming to agreement anytime soon. As if on a synchronized timer, they both swiveled their heads towards me and asked for my opinion. The room got very quiet. I proceeded to describe how both of their ideas were actually not that far apart and offered a few suggestions on how they could come to agreement. Their conversation was quietly finished in 5 minutes and they were happy to announce that they had agreed on a mutual outcome. I realized that my calmness made me a logical mediator for them. They knew that I would listen carefully to both sides of the argument. They knew I would keep my emotions in check. This is just one example of how EQ has such a profound leadership connection.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
Practicing EQ is hard. It is very easy to revert back to emotional responses and forget all you have learned in a heated moment. However, something I have learned in the EQ world of curiosities is the power of listening. Truly listening. Being present. When you commit to truly listening to what someone has to say, drowning out all other distractions, it becomes the catalyst to recognizing and understanding exactly where the person is at. The mere act of intently listening to someone sets the tone that you care and you are present. I often use this as my entry point and foundational act to get into the proper EQ state. It works. In any relationship, of first and foremost importance is to be heard. Practicing the discipline of EQ with this as a first step will absolutely elevate your relationships.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
By definition, EQ firstly forces its power inward by making one aware of their ability to recognize, understand and manage their own emotions first. Emotions have a profound effect on mental health. We all know someone who is easily rattled by small setbacks, not able to effectively deal with even the smallest of crises. This is their emotions getting the best of them. However, when EQ principles are applied, it allows for an immediate review of your planned or actual emotional response. This awareness can be enlightening and prevent uncontrolled emotions from overtaking a more in-control response.
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.
I am a big fan of ‘top 5’ lists as they are commonly easily remembered and implementable. When it comes to developing and honing a greater degree of EQ, the following focus areas I find extremely helpful:
- Patience: Take the time to first evaluate the probable effects of your response: In today’s world, everyone commonly expects an immediate response as well as instant gratification. But is this always true? Wouldn’t you rather get a valuable and thoughtful response instead of simply a speedy reply? When just a little extra time goes into responding to someone, the reward is usually more impactful and memorable.
- Reaction: In many cases, our knee-jerk emotional response wants to win out over our logical and empathy response. This is what you are battling when it comes to EQ! Question your first reaction before it comes out of your mouth. It may feel odd at first to suppress your first response, but you (and your audience) will appreciate it.
- Listen: Strive to become a better listener. This is not as hard as you may think. Put your hands flat on the table. Drop anything else you are doing or thinking about. Only engage your ears. The person speaking will greatly appreciate it.
- Evaluate: At the end of each day, think about what you could have done better or differently. Think about what you did or said and how it could have been perceived. Think about what would have motivated someone to do something — did you miss a covert cry for help? Were they actually asking you for something different based on their body language?
- Grow: Remember that EQ takes time to hone, and it takes work. From your previous Evaluate step, apply what you have learned daily. You will be amazed at how universal this concept is.
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?
Although EQ and MQ matures with applicable experience, initially knowing they exist is absolutely the first step. The earlier the better. By being aware and understanding how others are judging you or making decisions about you (consciously or unconsciously) based on your supplied impressions is a big step in honing great leadership skills. I personally believe that this should be taught at a very early age, and if not possible, at the very least in leadership classes. The effect on someone’s personal relationships and professional career is just too great to ignore.
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 am extremely lucky that I have been able to combine my expertise with my passion for helping women and minorities package themselves properly for Board appointments. In my coaching program, I share all of the components of how to properly present yourself for consideration, and yes, it includes the EQ component! I am convinced that the drive to create diverse Boards will have a huge impact throughout the world.
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 not a worshipper of fame by any means, but I do appreciate those who think differently and change the world. I would have to choose Elon Musk, but it would only be over coffee. The elimination of the need for chewing would allow for more discussion time!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
There are a few ways my clients and readers follow me online:
- Joining my monthly newsletter (https://www.pfisterstrategy.com/articles) — Started in 2014, ‘Across The Board’ is a free monthly Board Director, Board Advisor, C-Level, and Business Leader Newsletter reaching 26,500+ exceptional business leaders in over 70 countries with articles focused on leadership, strategy, Boards, and governance topics.
- Attending my webinars (https://www.pfisterstrategy.com/webinars) — leadership, strategy, Boards, and governance topics.
- Connecting with me on LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/markapfister/
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.
Thank you for the opportunity to share some of my insights in your article. It is most appreciated. Best regards, Mark A. Pfister