Tag Archives: Emotional Intelligence

The one with influencing chess

There is a lot of talk both on and offline about influencing CEOs with regard to the talent agenda. Whether that be the (so called) War for Talent, the need to invest and retain, developing better leaders etc, etc

What’s interesting to me (at least) is the focus is always influencing the CEO and I must confess that given the number of things the average CEO has to think about the idea that the focus is influencing them and not about even getting a meeting with them….

Earlier in my career, my influencing style was described (in a performance review) as that of a petulant 5 year old cheating at draughts. It’s quite a ballsy comment but I had a good relationship with my boss which allowed conversations of this direct nature but good relationships aside even I coloured a little at this comparison.

If you think of the rules of draughts, every piece carries equal value, has a limited ability to move and until a king is formed can only move forwards.

What she went on to describe was my influencing style as go into a conversation/meeting present at a given (or taken) opportunity my idea/solution and wait for everyone else to agree with me. When they didn’t I would metaphorically (or in one case literally) pout, take my toys and retreat to my private sand pit to sulk and think of mean names to call those involved.

Returning to drafts she likened it to the 5 year picking up one piece, moving it straight down the middle of the board and shouting “King me!” When a King was refused, moving the piece back and refusing to play anymore.

What she described to me was that building influence within an organisation was more akin to playing chess. You needed to build your position through thoughtful positioning with people in different parts of the organisation who could influence those at the top of the business who ultimately made decisions.

If you think of the rules of chess, it is by nature far more strategic, different pieces have different abilities and perceived value are more or less useful in building to an eventual checkmate.

She then coached me through a process in attempting to land a major change we were both working on. Both of us knew we would have little support from the certain teams (who were effected most by the change, let’s call them operations), finance would be behind us as it saved money, but the commercial and marketing leads could go either way.

Working up to a crunch meeting I worked with a senior member of the finance team to ensure the case was attractive and airtight. I worked with senior players in both commercial and marketing to build cases for its attractiveness to our customers and was even given the opportunity to speak to a couple of them. I worked with senior members of the (mythical of course) Operations team who, as it turned out, were grudgingly supportive of the outcome if not the process but I better understood their objections and could craft rebuttals and work arounds for most of them.

4 weeks later the crunch meeting came, I delivered the slide deck (including all my supporting evidence), took the questions, offered the rebuttals and sat waiting for the jury to deliver its verdict. 5 minutes of chatter, beard stroking, calculator pounding and conjecture followed but without input from the CEO who had sat watchful at the other end of the table. I must confess I feared the worst until in minute 6 the CEO uttered a phrase that made my day, week, month and bonus “Well….we’re going to do it, right?”

I was a converted Chess player from then on and although it has taken me some time (and on occasion I still fail) to control the rush of blood to the head when the objections fly, I think that conversation in that performance review probably had more of an impact on my career than most others.

So to bring this back to where it started, maybe people need to stop asking how to influence the CEO but rather ask how to influence the people who influence the CEO and how to influence those the CEO turns to when they want to validate something.

In the meantime, bishop to queen’s rook 7


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The one where he’s a school teacher

Last week I wrote a post which talked about leadership in the context of Daniel Goleman’s work on ‘Emotional Intelligence’. He describes six styles of leadership that can be used to maximise connection and resonance with those being lead – visionary, democratic, coaching, affilliative, pacesetting & commanding. I used Kenneth Brannagh’s depiction of Lt. Col. Tim Collins to illustrate the commanding style and thanks to all of you who read it.

The Tim Collins clip was the first I found that illustrated one of Goleman’s styles and over the past few years I have been on the look out for clips to illustrate the others.

To summarise Goleman’s description of the style he calls ‘Affiliative’ he talks about creating harmony by connecting people with each other. He alludes to this being useful for healing rifts in teams, strengthening connections between individuals and to motivate during stressful times.

The clip I now use to illustrate this is:

Clip courtesy of Dreamworks SKG

For those of you who don’t know the film “Saving Private Ryan” firstly – watch it! Secondly, this part of the film follows the squad’s attack on a gun, losing one of their number to german fire and Tom Hanks playing Captain Miller, allowing the remaining live German solider to go free much to some in the squad’s dismay.

Hanks’ performance is incredible as much for it’s understatement as anything else but if you suspend the fact that it’s a film and think about Captain Miller as a leader he is both very brave in that he lets the tension build before intervening but also connects with those he leads on a very personal and authentic basis. The risk he takes in waiting and also the potential consequences of a wrong intervention make it in, in my opinion, very powerful. To me it is a great example of someone either consciously or subconsciously assessing the situation and choosing how to diffuse and lead the situation within their own values and to move toward the objective. You could argue he only did what was in the script but I did ask you to suspend that fact!

On a personal note, we took my Dad to Normandy for a significant birthday and had the privilege to stand in the American cemetary where Private Ryan opens overlooking Omaha beach. If you ever get the chance, do it. Not only is it an awe-inspiring place but as you stand on the bluff overlooking the beach it only takes moments to realise what kind of courage and fortitude it must have taken to run up that beach.

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The one where our business is now is north

I am an easy mark for good oratory I really am. I think what some people can do with the composition and delivery of words is incredible. I think, with a few exceptions, the art of oratory has been replaced by the art of spin and sound biting. As Rob Lowe (as Sam Seaborn) in ‘The West Wing’ says “Oratory should raise your heart rate. Oratory should blow the doors off the place.” Rare indeed!

If you have read any of Daniel Goleman’s work on “Emotional Intelligence” (he literally wrote the book on it) he describes six styles of leadership that leaders can apply to build resonance. My intention here is not to get into a debate about emotional intelligence or application thereof…  The six styles he describes are visionary, democratic, coaching, affilliative, pacesetting & commanding, and the inference is that we each have a default style that comes most naturally but by being more conscious and aware of what is going on around us we can focus our behaviour and communication to make what we do more effective.

I have used this on several programmes to try and help those in leadership roles understand their impact on people and why they sometimes don’t get the results they were intending. What makes it difficult to illustrate is getting examples of leader behaviour that are familiar to a cross functional group is really tricky, so I resort to using video clips either from films or of oratory (or both) that go some way to give an example for discussion.

The style that often gets misapplied (especially, in my experience by people who are insecure or feel their control is limited) is the commanding style. According to Goleman is builds resonance by soothing fears and giving clear direction in a difficult situation but is often used in inappropriate circumstances thus having a negative effect.

It was actually a consultant I worked with who suggested a piece of oratory that really fit the bill to illustrate this style and to give you a little background…

Lt Col Tim Collins was the Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment. On the eve of the invasion in Iraq in 2003, he gave a speech to his men which was recorded in shorthand and published by a journalist (you can see her in the clip). In 2008, the BBC made a series of short films called ’10 days to War’ and one of the shorts was entitled “Our business now is North” where Kenneth Brannagh played Lt. Col. Collins to great effect.

What fascinates me about what he says is the way he is able to calm and motivate whilst at no point making a request or making what they have to do seem any less intimidating or perilous. Having watched it numerous times it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end.


I must add an aside that made me laugh – lots. The first time I ever played this as part of a workshop was with a number of senior people in the business I worked for. I overheard someone say “doesn’t Brannagh do an amazing Northern Irish accent” to which her colleague responded “he should do, he was born in bloody Belfast”.

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