Saturday, June 2, 2012

Emotional Hijacking-The Career Girl Murders

One sultry August afternoon in 1963- it was the same day that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the famous 'I have a dream' speech to a civil rights movement in Washington- Richard Robles, a seasoned burglar broke into an apartment in the swanky Upper East side of New York. Just paroled from a three year prison sentence for over hundred burglaries he had committed to support a heroin habit, he wanted, as he claimed years later, to do just one more before giving up crimes. He desperately needed money for his girlfriend and their three year old daughter.

The apartment belonged to two young women-Janice Wylie, 21, a researcher at Newsweek Magazine and Emily Hoffert, 23, a grade-school teacher. Robles hoped no one was home. But Emily was home. Threatening her with a knife, he tied her up. When Janice came in, he started to tie her up too.

As he told years later, Janice warned him that he would not get away with the crime- she would remember his face and help the police track him down. He who had promised himself that this was his last burglary, panicked at her warning completely losing control. In a paroxysm of fury, he grabbed a soda bottle and clubbed them unconscious. Then, he slashed and stabbed them with a kitchen knife.  

Recalling the murders twenty five years later, he bewailed 'I just went bananas. My head exploded' Robles had more than enough time to regret those few minutes of rage. By 2002, Robles still remained in custody at Attica state prison in upstate New York for what became known as the 'Career Girl Murders.'

What happened to Robles who had just resolved to renounce his criminal life that goaded him to perpetrate such horrendous murders? As Goleman writes in 'Emotional Intelligence', it was a neural hijacking. It was that he reacted before he could fully register what was happening.

These hijackings, it is important to understand, are by no means isolated, horrific incidents that lead to heinous crimes like the Career Girl Murders. In less tragic form-but not necessarily less intense- they happen to us with fair frequency. "Think back", writes Goleman, "to the last time you lost it, blowing up at someone-your spouse or child, the driver of another car- to a degree that later, with some reflection and hindsight, seemed uncalled for."

As a leader or a manager, it's necessary that you watch out for such emotional hijackings in yourself and in people in the workplace because we're all more or less prone to it. Although we can't change our neural circuitry, we can learn to stay aware of the triggers of such neural hijackings and protect ourselves from them.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Shooting of Matilda Grabtree

It was a tragedy of errors. Fourteen year old Matilda Grabtree was just tying to play a prank on her parents. When her mom and dad returned home around the wee hours in the morning, she jumped out of her hiding in the closest in her bedroom, 'Boo!'

When they reached home, Bobby Grabtree and his wife assumed that Matilda was staying with her friends. Hearing a faint noise inside the house, Bobby drew his .357 calibre pistol and went to investigate Matilda's bedroom. When the playful kid jumped from the closet 'Boo!', he took her for the imaginary intruder and shot her in the neck. He was so quick to react that he couldn't register what was happening or recognize his daughter's voice. Twelve hours later, Matilda Grabtree died in the hospital.

How did such a tragedy occur? What drove Bobby Grabtree was fear, one emotional legacy of evolution. He wanted to protect his family from danger. In itself, fear isn't necessarily an unhealthy emotion. In fact, it has protected us over the long course of evolution and ensured our survival. Automatic reactions like this, evolutionary biologists assume, have become engraved in our nervous system because for a long and crucial period in human prehistory they made the difference between life and death. Even more important, observes Daniel Goleman in 'Emotional Intelligence', they were critical to the main task of evolution: being able to bear progeny who would carry on these very genetic predispositions. What a tragic irony given what happened at Grabtree's!

Read the full story of the Grabtree Tragedy at

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Story of the Black Driver

"Anyone can become angry-that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way-that is not easy." Aristotle,

The Nicomachean Ethics Opening the prelude titled 'Aristotle's Challenge' to his best seller Emotional Intelligence:Why it can matter more than IQ,Daniel Goleman narrates a personal experience. In one unbearably clammy afternoon in the New York City, Goleman who was heading back to his hotel boards a bus up Madison Avenue.The driver, a middle aged black man with an enthusiastic smile takes him by surprise as he greets Goleman 'Hi,how're you doing?' And he extended the same greeting to the other passengers too. It was the kind of weather that would make people sullen with discomfort. So in that morose mood, few returned his greeting. 

As he drove up Madison Avenue, he started an interesting monologue about the attractions around the city,about a terrific sale, about a new movie opening at the theater down the block. His delight in the rich possibilities the city offered was so infectious that most people cast off their sullen shells they had climbed onto the bus with and when the driver shouted out 'So long, have a great day, each gave a smiling response. 

Writes Goleman, "....The memory of that encounter has stayed with me for close to twenty years. When I rode that Madison Avenue bus, I had just finished my own doctorate in psychology-but there was scant attention paid in the psychology of the day to just how such a transformation could happen. Psychological science knew little or nothing of the mechanics of emotion, And yet imagining the virus of good feeling that must have rippled through the city,starting from the passengers on his bus, I saw that this bus driver was an urban peacemaker of the sorts, wizzardlike in his power to transmute the sullen irritability that seethed in his passengers, to soften and open their hearts a bit"

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Synthetic Imagination and Creative Imagination

Just yesterday I came to know that there're two types of imagination, namely Synthetic imagination and Creative imagination. The revelation came to me through Napoleon Hill's classic 'Think and Grow Rich'. According to Hill, synthetic imagination is what we create in the mind through our experience, education and observations. 

It immediately struck to me that I got an abundance of synthetic imagination. Nope, I'm not blowing my own trumpet. The vast majority of people are endowed with plenty of synthetic imagination. Suppose, for example, you want to design an advertisement. It's a breeze if you already have experience in creating an advertisement of the same kind. It's a snap because synthetic imagination kicks in as soon as you begin to find a solution.

When compared, far fewer are gifted with Creative imagination. Where synthetic imagination cannot rescue you, Creative imagination is what you can rely on. But, one should be a genius to draw on Creative imagination. That's because it comes in the form of hunch, inspiration, intuition or what we commonly call gut feeling. Vague as it is, Creative imagination is highly useful in business. Admittedly, I got little creative imagination. But it's something, I believe, we all can cultivate in our lives with a little effort.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Feeling isolated in the workplace?

Upon the recommendation of one of his closest friends, John Andrews, one of the smartest traders on the Wall Street decided to quit CitiBank to join Morgan Stanley. A week into his new job, Andrews started to feel isolated. Of course, his friend did go to his office to welcome him. But, none of the other managing directors did not seem to bother to introduce themselves to him. Also, his request to have an assistant assigned to him went unheeded which worsened his sense of disappointment. He felt neglected. One month into the new job, he quitted Morgan Stanley to rejoin CitiBank, his former employer. In a telephone conversation with his friend, he did not mince his words in saying that joining Morgan Stanley was the worst career decision he had ever made.

Ambitious professionals like John Andrews often tend to feel isolated. Or at least that`s how they perceive. As long as they believe that they are on the outside looking in, they are naturally tempted to withdraw and ruminate about how they have been excluded and abandoned. No doubt, this`s a devastating feeling. In the case of Andrews, it assailed him with so much force that he decided to go back to his previous employer. 

Obviously, where organizations fail to implement continuous effective programs that improve the employees` sense of connectedness and belonging in, it is small wonder that they develop a false sense of isolation. Still, there are a few things one can do to restore the sense of connectedness before it all moves beyond the point of no return.

Do something before your sense of isolation deepens

In the case of most employees, this feeling of exclusion originates from some incident occurring early in their term with a company, team, or group. However, it won`t be healthy to leave it unsettled. Where one feels it is just an inconsequential remark, he needn`t be consumed by anxiety right from the beginning of his tenure. Where someone influential gets a negative impression, it is even more crucial for one to set the record straight early. Where one has made a mistake, he should know it so he can fix it and feel included again.

Step back and put things in perspective

It is also possible that one may be over-reacting and taking the perceived or real feedback too personally. Also it is important to discover whether one`s organization, particularly the CEO considers inclusion as a value. In most cases, it has been found that companies tend to follow their CEOs in this matter. Where the top executive models behaviours that make people feel empowered and connected to the corporate community, there is what is called an inclusionary organization. Unless the CEO has made inclusiveness a company value, most people in the organization feel more or less alienated.

Communicate with the isolating party clearly, concisely, and honestly

Well, it is not too easy to start these conversations whether you are a recent recruit or an old hand. In the case of high-need-for-achievement individuals, they constantly fear having their worst fears confirmed- that they are indeed on the outs with their boss or have fallen off the fast track. In most situations, the most effective solution is to express oneself honestly and clearly to the bosses. That will lay most of one`s doubts and fears to rest. Don`t go for a long-winded speech or get defensive. Just stick to the facts and state simply and clearly how you are feeling. Probably the bosses` reaction will almost always be a reassuring statement about your value as a member of the company and/or some helpful suggestions dissipating your feelings of isolation.

As they stand on the edge of a group, people ask these basic questions: Am I in or out? Am I a member of the club or not? Will I ever fit in here? The truth is that the majority of us feel like we are floating towards the outer edges of the circle a lot of the time. The challenge is admitting to our feelings of isolation and dealing with them before they start affecting our productivity, our relationships, and our sense of fulfillment. When it comes to isolation, obviously, our perceptions become reality, which we`ve got to realize above all.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Freedom & Knowledge Workers` Performance

Too many managers today are so obsessed with increasing productivity and guiding innovation that they virtually kill creativity and passion - the intrinsic motivation that keeps people deeply engaged in work - by refusing to give people autonomy. As a result, too many professionals with enormous talent, experience and drive to do meaningful work feel practically suffocated.

Let`s take an example. Sara, a marketing executive with an MBA, works as a product manager in a consumer appliances company. Her team is technically in charge of developing the next generation household appliances. Recently, they built a new electric kettle that consumed less power and had an ergonomic handle. Apparently, the product was an excellent innovation and deserved to be recognized as such. But, she found that the top management who included the Vice President-R&D was too skeptical. They had her change the product several times before they gave approval. She felt that they, the top management, kept all the important decisions to themselves and wavered wildly in those decisions seldom explaining and never consulting with the team. She also felt that their behaviour caused them to start, stop, and re-start etc sapping their creative energies.

When people have a say in what they do, they feel intrinsically motivated and acquire a sense of achievement when they progress in work. Also, when people have the freedom to decide how they accomplish a particular task or reach a particular goal, they become more creative. There is autonomy where people can make meaningful decisions and feel confident that those decisions will hold, that is excepting grave errors and dramatic shifts in conditions. Where management overrides their decisions for no fair reason, people will no longer feel motivated to make decisions, which seriously undermines progress. Work gets inordinately delayed if people are compelled to wait for approval irrespective of the scope and potential implications of a particular decision.

There is ample research evidence suggesting that the profound expertise of many knowledge workers went untapped and that their initial excitement about tackling challenging projects soon got evaporated. This resulted from those managers` persistent belief that to do a good job, they had to direct the work - tell people exactly what to do and how to do it, changing it as they alone saw fit. These managers failed to comprehend three things:
  1. Managers themselves almost never have the specific knowledge that well-trained, experienced professionals have about the work they are doing. Failing to make use of that knowledge is a terrible waste of resources. 
  2. Professionals become demoralized and lackadaisical if they don`t have the autonomy to at least co-direct the work they are doing.
  3. Organizations will see spectacular failures if their professionals become disengaged. Even if those professionals don't quit the organization for greener pastures, they're not performing at their best.
So, managers have to understand that it is counterproductive to ignore professionals` ideas and micromanage their projects, that they should be given specific, meaningful goals and be allowed to decide how to achieve those goals, that they are passionate about their expertise and creativity, that they deserve to be believed in and that if they are respected as professionals worthy of autonomy, they will perform even better.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

It`s all about losing yourself in a job…

Flustered? Not to worry. It`s quite natural to feel confused when you find upon such a weird caption staring you in the face. Let me throw a bit of light on it.

Writes The New York Times Pundit, David Brooks, “College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities…. Today’s graduates are also told to find their passion and then pursue their dreams… Finally, graduates are told to be independent-minded and to express their inner spirit. But, of course, doing your job well often means suppressing yourself…”

What Brooks says is nothing foreign to us. You must have been told umpteen times to pursue our heart`s passion or do a job that we are passionate about. Similarly, you must have imparted the same piece of advice to the younger people. Of course, you must have assumed the air of a tremendously successful man who has been pursuing his heart`s dreams all his life.

But, it`s not about what you can achieve for yourself. Rather, it`s about what value you can create as a member of a team in realizing the mission of your company. Even the most independent CEOs will say that the mission is bigger than the self.

As Brooks says you are called by a problem. Probably one that defies solution. You are hired to fix it. In all fairness, it may not be something you are passionate about. But if you are willing to make a serious commitment to solving that particular problem by drawing on your education, experience and maybe intuition, it defines your success and growth in the company.

If you lose yourself in your job finding a solution, striving for a cause, then you have the edge that helps you succeed in whatever job you do at almost any company.