Emotional Intelligence on an Aircraft Carrier

I attended two industry conferences last week and was struck by the similarities of the underlying theme of two of the keynote address speakers.

The first speaker was Brent Darnell, a noted author and trainer on developing Emotional Intelligence in the workplace. The second speaker was John Bourneman, F/A-18 Fighter pilot, Top Gun graduate, and CEO of the Corps Group, a consulting firm made up largely of former military officers with a focus on building high performance teams.

The underlying commonality of the two presentations was that effective team leadership is based on communication of well-defined expectations, training in how to meet those expectations, and a system of measurements and consistent feedback to enable the teams to gauge how they are measuring up to the expectations.

Two takeaways that merged for me were first, the knowledge that unlike IQ, Emotional Intelligence can be improved and developed; and second, that in order to continuously improve team performance, consistent feedback is critical. Here’s where the merger takes place:

Emotional Intelligence is critical to an effective feedback system, and an effective feedback system can improve emotional intelligence. 

When you think about a project team involving everyone with designated accountabilities on a project, there are often various levels of accountabilities and expectations on that team. There are members with different levels of seniority and responsibility, with different skill sets and experiences. The common denominator is the overall success of the project and the passionate need to realize that success.

Bourneman talked about the Blue Angels and showed a video of a post-performance debrief. The key elements in the debrief that impressed me were that rank had no place in the debrief, no one was hesitant to criticize another, and they first did their own self-critique. The first one to do a self-critique was the squad leader, and each criticism was met with a commitment to “take care of it.”

Underlying all of this is a discipline, and more importantly, a passion for debriefing in everything they do.  If you do not assess what you could have done better, how will you focus on doing better? 

So the foundation for continuous improvement is building emotional intelligence at all levels of the organization; establishing a culture of communication and training that provides the tools, the training, clear expectations and a consistent process for measurement, and feedback all centered on a common set of goals that unites the team. While there will be disagreements and differences along the way, effective team leaders will drive through the conflict and use it to build improvement.

I think it all starts with taking the time to debrief after every event, a meeting, presentation, submittal of a major milestone of deliverables, etc. Begin the process of assessing what we could have done better and documenting it.

I am excited to see how momentum from this activity can be created.

“I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”

Mia Hamm

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

Andrew Carnegie