Leading Emotionally & Intelligently

PERKS Editorial Team

PERKS Editorial Team


April 27, 2022

The Building Culture Podcast - Episode 5.3

Marc McCann, "Leading Emotionally & Intelligently"

We know what EQ is, but do we know how to lead with it? Marc McCann, Founder & CEO of Step Outside, talks to Building Culture about the differences between empathy and compassion and what that looks like in the workplace.


You can download the episode here.
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Show notes:

  • Marc McCann, Founder & CEO, Step Outside
    • Started career in high school teaching
      • Learning tools to help people navigate their experiences, trauma
    • Joined a high-growth startup
      • Realized the leadership skills he was learning were helpful for engagement, empowerment
    • Practicing the skills he was learning in the outdoors
    • Step Outside builds the emotional skills to navigate our experiences in new environments
  • The human component of culture
    • Building relationship and understanding how supporting the needs of the person impacts the work you do
    • Step Outside website: "Companies run on human connection. Without it, businesses bleed internally."
      • Think back to your life experiences. When did you feel most alive, energized in what you were doing?
        • In a personal or professional context?
      • When I feel like the parts of myself don't need to be separated based on the environment I'm in, the more fulfilling and meaningful those experiences are.
      • For a long time, not acknowledging the lack of human connection has resulted in high costs.
        • What makes you unproductive? Many times, issues between people
    • Current conversation in People & Culture: moving toward work-life integration
  • Role of leaders and admins in creating a culture of belonging?
    • In groups, we look to the behaviors of those who have influence
      • Follow what we see them acting on
    • Leaders determine so much of the behavior at the management level
      • No matter your values, if your behaviors don't align, will result in quite different outcomes than what you expect
      • #1 factor in behaviors you see throughout the company
      • Leading by example
  • How does Step Outside help? Is there something special about being in nature that builds relationship?
    • We build habits within the larger environment we're in
      • James Clear's Atomic Habits
      • introduce new ideas
      • intentional
      • Step Outside is unique in providing coaching and skills-building to bring these new ideas back into the workplace
    • Team bonding activities are powerful in creating shared experiences
      • Critical to build connection
      • Sometimes we want team building to be more than a morale boost - but you need many of them over time to maintain trust
      • Why building skills is also important
  • The difference between empathy and compassion?
    • HBR: Sympathy, empathy, and compassion often used interchangeably
      • We get stuck feeling with people and it clouds our judgment for decisions
      • Connect with empathy, but compassion takes it one step further
        • Not asked to take on the other person's experience
        • Compassion acknowledges we are not that person and we are not having that experience
        • We step back into ourselves, but are present with that experience: how can I support?
          • Many of us jump to problem-solving when we ask this question ("how can I solve your experience?")
          • Instead of saying "I'm sorry," say "I'm here with you and see the experience you're going through. Are you simply needing me to hold space, or looking for ways to problem-solve this?"
        • vs. empathy: "You're right, I don't know what to do about this"
      • Platinum rule: treating people how they want to be treated
    • How do we move from empathy to compassion?
      • Empathy: I feel with you
      • Compassion: I am here to help
      • Getting more practice being with our own emotions - making space for them, identifying them, naming them, allowing them
        • The times I'm most compassionate are when I'm making enough room for myself and acknowledging what my needs are, setting right boundaries
        • If I don't do those things consistently, turning to self-protection
          • "I can't hold what you have right now" - not advocating for yourself can lead to trying to problem solve for others
    • “compassion is an intention vs. an emotion”
      • Compassion is a practice or an action
  • Sounds good. How do I become a more compassionate leader? Examples?
    • E.g. healthcare vs. non-medical businesses
    • Ask the team member what they need (helps you help them)
    • Sometimes giving someone space is powerful
    • See it as an opportunity to coach and empower the person to take on their problems
    • Be aware of emotional labor - the act of managing your own feelings while managing others
  • As far back as the last 20 years, I’d say there’s been a shift toward developing emotional intelligence (EQ) in leaders instead of counting IQ as the ultimate ideal. Forbes talks about compassion being the same as EQ: it’s cognitive compassion - “sensing another person’s emotional state without allowing it to affect your own”
    • But hmm, is this realistic? How do you support your team members in the way they need while not getting stuck in empathy/feeling?
    • Maybe a follow-up question - if you do get stuck (because sometimes leaders do get stuck), how do you get unstuck?
  • It’s often presented that you’re either a results-driven leader or a compassionate one. Can these two successfully coexist? Understanding vs. professionalism - how do you do them both well?
    • Conservative settings will tack on image
    • What do you think? Appropriate observations? This is obviously a very surface-level assessment. Shed some light on this
    • Audience, tweet us what you have seen
    • Something interesting from my experience. Does it differ across industry (tech: casual, camaraderie, get the work done vs. healthcare: do you dress the part)?
  • Every person is different. Emotional intelligence probably comes easier for some leaders and admins than it does for others. Do you have any advice for the group who feels like these qualities don’t come as naturally? (who)
    • My personal opinion: Training (before the situation arises and emotions get high)
    • Treat it like a conversation between people and not necessarily like a meeting between a manager and direct report. Of course keep it professional, but connect on a human level.
  • Can we sometimes overdo it? Is it possible as a leader to sometimes care too much? Do you have any stories about this?
  • Can you tell us more about Step Outside and your vision? Maybe also the ROI (Return on investment) calculator? :) 
  • Concluding thoughts?
  • I’m going to wrap this up the same way we began: it all comes back to the human component of culture and creating real connection or relationship. We spend so much of our adult lives at work and just can’t afford to overlook this aspect of what it means to be human, especially as leaders & administrators.