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How Inc. Columnist’s Response to Criticism Displayed Wonderful Emotional Intelligence.

I held my breath and opened Twitter today. I scrolled around and somehow landed on a tweet from Casey Toner of a media watchdog group in IL. He saw something that seemed a little odd over there at Inc. It seems there were a bunch of articles with similar headlines. All seemingly having to do with the same formulaic method: “How [Big Tech Billionaire/Company] [Doing something] [showed/displayed/etc.] [adjective] Emotional Intelligence.” They were all written by Jason Aten, a (prolific) columnist for Inc and Business Insider and has a podcast and is active in other media.

A columnist writing for the same publication about the same traits about the people those publications often write about and throw on the cover? Not really that big of a deal. Emotional Intelligence is probably an oft-searched phrase. It’s a noble pursuit. It matters. And, let’s face it, folks are wanting to read articles about the “exemplars” that the magazines put out there. The diet and fashion magazines put the folks who don’t need their products on the covers – not the middle-aged, balding dudes who are just trying to get in shape and starting to fall in love with kettlebells. The business magazines are competing over the clicks (clicks pay the bills) for the stories about Musk, Bezos, Zuckerberg, FAANNG (or whatever the smart investors call that group of tech companies – Facebook, Apple, Alphabet, Netflix, etc.). You aren’t going to find that same balding middle age dude on the cover who built Straight Path Solutions out of a love of consulting, a desire to treat clients right, and a desire to build intentionally around culture and sort of figure the rest out as we went… Not only would my ugly mug not sell the covers, but the dreamers and schemers out there aren’t going to click on that. They want to figure out how to be Elon Musk, Andy Grove, Safra Catz, or Bill Gates. So they read those stories. Not the “rags to nicer rags” stories.

Normally, I’d ignore such a back and forth on Twitter. What, someone complaining about something someone else said or did. Then a bunch of people grabbing pitchforks and torches and piling on? Some carrying on and on, some rushing in to defend? That’s just Saturday afternoon (I’m writing this on a Saturday, if I were writing it on a Friday, I suppose I’d call it just Friday afternoon…)

I was drawn to the replies on this one for some reason. I’ve been listening to some podcasts right now that have me thinking a lot about groupthink, letting us be influenced to join a pig-pile, and our love of cognitive dissonance (I highly commend the Martyr Made podcast by Darryl Cooper. They are long, but they are worth it and approach history from how textbooks, movies, and groups don’t get into… But it may challenge your perspective… You were warned.) I’m glad I did keep clicking on the replies aimlessly while eating a quick bite, though, because one of my goals on this sabbatical was to try and write more. About SQL Server. About business. About life. Maybe even about the emotional intelligence required to be a Founder/CEO and grow from 1 to 2 to 6 to 18 FTEs in a few years. And Jason Aten, the original “offender,” replied to the tweets. And, well, his tweet is a masterclass in Emotional Intelligence… (At least, I’m going to say it is. I’ve read way too many books these past few years of being a SQL Server geek turned SQL Server consultant turned Entrepreneur turned CEO… But I’ve always skipped that small little book in the airport bookstore from Harvard Business on Emotional Intelligence. So maybe I’m wrong…)

The Exchange:

Casey Started it –

And he replied with more examples. Those were just a few (and for the record, Jason Aten has published a TON of articles in a short time working with these publications. About 1 to 2% of the articles probably have anything to do with Emotional Intelligence – and while the headlines feel formulaic and SEO-friendly, the content is unique, thought out, and worked for in each.).

But then Jason replied:

Now his reply didn’t just appear as the only reply. No, no, no. This is Twitter!!! You have to wade through swears, through insults, through assumptions about Jason. Because. Well, pitchforks and torches. People stop being people once they start becoming the object of attention and derision and a group out to get them. Desperate for wanting to be a part of something, we latch on and join the group and do whatever the group signal seems to be.

So he waded through some noise, some hostility, and some outright anger (about his headlines, on 1-2% of his columns). And he said, “Nope – you’re totally right. That doesn’t look good. That’s all my bad.” He said, “WOW! Yeah! That’s embarrassing!” and he’s probably doing something about it.

My wife and I are raising a family. We’ve not read the books on Emotional Intelligence – but it seems to me that this reply embodies it. A quick google search tells me that according to one person who is credited with founding the term (I don’t know if it’s true or not, and am not an authority here, do your own research.. I like these five traits, though, and understand them) says it consists of these traits:

  • Self-awareness.
  • Self-regulation.
  • Motivation.
  • Empathy.
  • Social skills.

And yeah. I think that reply is a check on each one of these.

Self-awareness

“That’s all my bad.” “That looks pretty bad.”

Self-regulation

It appears as though the trolls weren’t dealt with. The innate desire to defend oneself didn’t cause a defensive and ugly reply but a solid, heartfelt response.

Motivation

Looking quickly at Jason’s profile – wow, he has it! He was tenacious in applying for the role, and he’s been persistently putting out the kind of content his employer wants, which means those who buy the ads approve because readers keep reading.

Empathy

He just got called to the carpet in public by another columnist and author. Both even have their little verified checkmark things – and he was like, “yeah, that’s a great point. Thanks for the feedback!” (And Casey also had a very humble and empathetic response, btw right below these words… And the camaraderie, the empathy, the humility continued.)

Social Skills

I don’t need to add anything here. The whole interaction and way that Mr. Aten handled himself displayed social skills.

Emotional Intelligence Matters

It really does. One of the things I’m reflecting on my sabbatical here from this company that “I built” but that took off despite all of my mistakes, oopses, misunderstandings, and accidents is why do I always say “I accidentally built this” and when will I say I did it on purpose? And as I reflect on that – I think the one thing that I was super intentional on – and remain intentional on is – culture. You could sum it up as Emotional Intelligence (and no, I have the self-awareness to realize I’ve not achieved it fully). We sometimes call it “Hungry, Humble, and Smart” (We send every new hire a copy of Patrick Lencioni’s Ideal Team Player (and Jocko Willink’s Extreme Ownership). But we were and are intentional with “who” we hire. Whether we’re bringing in a Senior DBA or a support team member, we care first and foremost about their “EQ” (we never call it that, see – I’ll never be featured in Inc or Business Insider 😉 ). We can hone technical skills. But we can’t teach someone to display those traits bulleted above. I mean, we can model them. We can help our children, and the young folks in our life see the importance on them. We can help folks new in their careers learn their importance by emphasizing them – but some of these things are more critical for long-term success than technical skills. With support hires and all, there are many small things to be said about who, what, when to hire – and lots to be said about a need for full speed intentionality on mentoring, training, and coaching to get those technical skills taught. And, in time, I’ll write those posts – but the point remains. We were intentional about culture. Building a team that cares for one another. Showing the team I care for them with pay, benefits, bonuses, time off; our new sabbatical leave policy after five years of employment, our “FAMILY WAY FIRST” policy, our Christmas/New year week shut down even though we provide managed services (we rotate around for daily checks and support for priority issues since our clients can’t all shut down.) Through modeling a love for the team and emphasizing living out the principles that go along with those bullets or our values (Generosity, Humility, Integrity, Ownership Mentality.), we, I guess, have been intentional about this area. And perhaps that’s why we’ve doubled year over year and have added to the team consistently, and have clients who feel like family in a diverse set of clients.

Emotional intelligence, I guess, matters. And Jason Aten gave us a masterclass on it. And I trust he won’t even mind me borrowing his headline style for this here post. (And, for the record, I think Casey Toner did as well.) Nice job.

And Jason’s Pinned Twitter thread about how he landed one of his gigs is a great read. Reminds me of my old post “Your dreams, they don’t come looking for you” about jumping into the pool. I wrote that just as I was transitioning to independent consulting life.

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Article by Mike Walsh

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