Caution: Trendy “Emotional Intelligence” Can Cause You to Fail Your People

I was born with an amazing gift: emotional intelligence. Empathy, intuition, and discernment have always come so naturally to me that, from some views, it borders on telepathy. I can see where a person is at in their life-journey, communicate with them in a way that makes them comfortable, and make them feel understood and enabled. Often, I will reach out to check on one of the few people in my inner circle at the exact point of a tragedy, which shocks my closest friends most of all because of the consistency at which it occurs over the course of a decade. 

I was also born with a terrible curse: the self-same trait. For the majority of my life, I have read peoples’ emotions so well – have been so connected to them – that I never wanted to disagree, say no, or let go of their problems. Instead of carrying the weight of my emotions exclusively, I’d stay up well into the night just trying to digest everything I’d perceived throughout the day…and throughout the months and years preceding it.

I carried pain not only from the people I’d met, but from the articles and books I’d read, from stories I’d heard, or even from strangers only seen from a distance. And I didn’t only carry their pain, I also carried their guilt. If a complete stranger didn’t act in a way that was “right,” I perceived it as a collective human failure – as my failure. I was also so concerned about peoples’ comfort level during communication that I developed an intense social anxiety by trying to read every conversational tone and interpret every subtle movement during interactions.

I’ve read dozens of articles of late – many with studies and science to back them – which say that emotional intelligence is more important than any other leadership attribute. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s amazing that many (often introverted) unrecognized leaders are being given the chance they deserve to grow into leadership roles. But unchecked – unbalanced – emotional intelligence can quickly lead to personal burnout while also preventing us from making our people undergo uncomfortable but necessary growth.

The key to being a great leader isn’t one definable trait, but a balance of many traits. It’s not about understanding and placating people – it’s about understanding where they are now, where they need to go next, and how to get them there in a way that is most impactful to the individual in question. Sometimes you have to confront hard truths. Sometimes you have to operate outside of your box. Then again, sometimes qualities are so engrained in people that it isn’t productive to try and force them to operate outside their nature.

A holistic approach to leadership is more effective than exulting a single quality. Emotional intelligence is profoundly important, but we also need to know how to develop future leaders who have that attribute as a defining strength. Teaching them self-care and delegation are a large part of that. Emotionally intelligent people are givers with no boundaries – but you can’t take care of your people unless you know how to take care of yourself first. In order to properly build a team, we have to consider every person on that team – which includes ourselves.

In short, Emotional Intelligence is an attribute that will largely contribute to the success of modern leaders. But unlike the trendy articles going viral of late, I don’t believe that it’s going to be the most valuable currency in the human landscape moving forward. Leaders still have to have grit, authority, and presence to balance their empathy, and they have to learn to funnel the emotions they perceive into focus in a way that does not overwhelm them.  

On Rejecting Self-Imposed and Cultural Growth Constraints

It’s a lesson I’m still learning, no doubt, so don’t take this as advice from a success coach. I do sometimes write to give advice, but I also find writing is a solid way to explore and express thoughts that are still being developed in the subconscious. Writing, for me, is one of the senses – it’s a part of myself that I use to perceive things from the world while contributing to it. This article is one that I’m writing for my own growth, but I hope someone finds it relevant.

I try to stay pretty self-aware, and lately I’ve noticed a weird phenomenon in my life. I keep being smacked in the face by opportunities that, upon first consideration, I would consider out of my league. After three or four iterations of that cycle though, I finally asked an important question.

Why do I feel like this is too much for me?”

How many people have to tell me that my experience, my story, and the growth I’ve endured are valuable before I start to believe them?

And then after some contemplation, I discovered an exciting answer.

None of the opportunities are too much for me. None of it is out of my league. I’m not intimidated by the six-figure salary offers, or the opportunity to write for an actual profit. I’m not afraid to work with people who are smarter than me, or more experienced. I was caught up in the cycle of being so sick of a mundane life, but simultaneously being programmed not to take necessary risks to break away from it.

I had to stop and take a look at why I felt the way I felt. For starters, I was raised in an area of the country where a solid 80% of the population is living a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle. The ones who could own a nice house were considered to be in an entirely different social class, and anyone who owned a vacation home was a rich snob.

The idea of social classes was keeping me locked into mine.

Secondly, my own ideology was contributing to the problem. In a desperate search for a life of simplicity, I was complicating everything. I don’t want 150k annually. I want a piece of land and a chicken coup. A log cabin and a small garden. In my commitment to that, I limited my job searches to opportunities between 40-65k. Jobs where I’d have to bust my ass and spend my evenings thinking about the next day’s task load. Any more of a salary, I thought, would mean sacrificing what little free time I had remaining.

FALSE.

Increasing your salary doesn’t mean sacrificing balance. It just means accepting more for the significant efforts you already contribute to your work. 

Another contributing factor was the idea of readiness. As an easy example, I’d constantly received advice that I shouldn’t reach out to any agents or publishers about my book until its completion. The other day, I disregarded that advice, and now there’s an agent going over my work for me. Had I chosen to wait, it would have delayed progress toward my ultimate goal. The only one responsible for that delay would have been me, for not following my gut instinct to reach out sooner, when the intent of the book was already made evident in the first hundred pages. Sometimes, you have to disregard sound advice in pursuit of your passions.

Finally, we must surround ourselves with people who believe in our dreams. If your friends, family, or boss constantly beat you down, it might be time for some distance. Hearing people constantly speak negativity works its way into your mind whether you know it or not.

When I say, “I can change the world,” the ONLY appropriate response from people in my inner circle is,

“I know you can. How can I help?”

And you can be damned sure that that’s the response I’ll give when all of you world-changers reach out to me. But first we have to learn to reject unnecessary restraints in order to become all that we were meant to be.

The Whole Person Concept

During my six years in the Military Intelligence community, I learned a great many lessons. One that remains near the top of the stack is this: two seemingly opposing ideas can both be truthful simultaneously. I experienced yet another example of this phenomenon this week, as described below.

Truth number one: reading and interpreting government publications, programs, and policies is some of the most mind-numbing work on the planet.

Truth number two: I always try to learn from whatever I’m doing, particularly with a goal of broadening my life’s philosophy, bettering myself, or molding myself into a better leader.

Now, if you’d have told me last week that those two ideas could exist in unison – that I could learn something that would make me a better leader while studying one of the many documents I use to accomplish my job duties, I’d have probably laughed at you or asked you if my boss sent you to manipulate me.

But it happened, man! After being honorably discharged from the military, I did a short stint running a guard force for a contracting company, and then found myself landing in PERSEC. Recently, I was studying the adjudication process, trying to round out my knowledge in a holistic sense, and I came across a concept that I’ve been unable to escape since the moment I read it.

“The Whole Person Concept.”

Essentially, it states that, when adjudicators are trying to determine whether someone is worthy of a security clearance or a trusted government position, they should understand that all people are different, and that people are they way they are for reasons. You aren’t trying to see if you find them morally relatable, but rather, adjudicators are meant to balance the positives with the negatives, and to see whether the subject of their investigation can continue to A. Contribute to the government mission they’re set to serve in, and B. Continue to grow in a holistic sense while doing so, without being susceptible to coercion and the like.

It equally holds people accountable for their actions, while understanding that people make mistakes and grow over time. The federal government, in other words, doesn’t necessarily care about the joint you inhaled when you were 15 years old; they care about who you are today, and how you are managing your past experiences.

Of course, adjudicators view the concept in a limited scope. As leaders, we not only have to understand who someone is as a “whole person,” we also have to contribute to it. We have to observe their strengths and weaknesses, and learn to incorporate them into the workspace. 

My own boss impressed me the other day when I told him that, while I’m a grown man and can handle anything I need to, group events like “Taco Tuesday” or other functions tend to set me on edge because they’re full of surface level, placating conversation. I’d honestly be thrilled to meet and engage with anyone on a one-on-one level, but the group element takes me back to some uncomfortable life experiences. It’s an entirely different scenario if it’s “my group” – if they’ve gathered for a reason and we can get to business. But awkward conversations about the weather or taco seasoning just make me anxious.

“No worries man, it’s not the military and this isn’t ‘Mandatory Fun.'” 

He also uses my passion of writing to let me contribute to our mission by reviewing and editing our own security policies. It makes me feel useful because of the things I naturally love to do, rather than just grinding through the day to day, “Mowing the grass.”

Applying the whole person concept to our own lives also gives us the ability to cut ourselves some slack. We have good days, and we have bad ones, but as long as we seek to understand who we are while being empathetic to the journeys of those around us, there’s not a doubt in my mind that we can remained balanced and grow together.

Best government instruction I ever read. Happy Tuesday, folks. Hope this helps you through the remainder of the week.

Terrorist Generosity Gave Me PTSD

People have to be held accountable for their actions. You put me on a post to protect American lives, and I’ll be the first to put a bullet in the head of a suicide bomber, regardless of whether it’s an apparently pregnant woman or a twelve year old child. And that’s not something that I just say – I’ve spent a thousand restless nights living out the scenario.

But that’s not the end of the story. If you haven’t unfriended me yet, or assumed that I’ve converted to radical Islam, maybe there’s a small chance that you can hear me out. If I’m not on a government watch-list as someone with anti-American tendencies, then just maybe we can use the perspective I gained during a complete cultural immersion to try and understand the root of the problem rather than simply perpetuating it. If not, that’s okay too. I’ve still gotta say my piece.

The problem is this: I’m so pissed off by the things I’ve seen in the world. I’m pissed off that people try so hard to fight problems without ever seeking to first understand the problem.

It’s 2012, and I’m a 19 year old “Force Protection Liaison Officer,” charged with making sure that I do what I can to ensure no American lives are lost in a shitty corner of the world. I’ve been through nearly two years of the most intense training that I personally have the capacity for. I’ve watched videos of terrorist atrocities and beheadings of American soldiers and journalists. I’ve been filled with hate by other people who began their indoctrination when they were younger than I was, but who never escaped it.

“Indoctrination: The process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.”

Pretty much sums it up.

“Muslims are terrorists.”

“The Middle East should be blown off of the face of the map.”

“Islam caused 9/11.”

“You’re a patriot if you kill towel-heads.”

Before my first deployment, I was convinced that I was going to meet the enemy. Something far worse happened to me though – I befriended them. I arrived set on disrupting some of the most evil actions I could imagine: in the Horn of Africa, I was to learn about human trafficking and tribal atrocities. I’d studied the area before hand, and learned about all the evil violence committed against Americans there. It’s a well accepted fact that human trafficking networks are often used to ship weapons into the hands that fire them at our nation’s heroes. I never learned anything to the contrary. Indeed, I only validated that fact in my own mind. But I learned so much more than that.

I learned that human traffickers are really just desperate men who are absolutely committed to ensuring their children can eat enough to survive until adulthood. I learned that a week of food turns into a month of food if instead of trafficking people you add a bundle of rifles to the mix. And what risks those men took for their children – at times, trucks packed full of people desiring escape would crash while traveling at too high a speed. Roadways would be littered with bodies and pieces of bodies whose owners just wanted their wives and mothers not to be hungry anymore. I learned that America’s enemies are indoctrinated from an even younger age than we are, but that they are indoctrinated in places where having clean water to drink means that you’re among the most blessed in your society. Desperation makes you look for a way out – it’s human nature. People are naturally inclined to rise up against their own fears, and events experienced by long-dead men grow with each telling of the tale. I also learned that, by and large, an overwhelming percentage of Americans validate that indoctrination in the minds of foreign youth by acting entirely without regard for the culture they’ve invaded.

I lived in an Islamic village intermittently for six months. My position demanded that I keep my prejudices hidden so that I could better understand the region, but the longer I kept them hidden the more they disappeared entirely. By showing some false respect, I gained actual respect. Among the poorest places in the world, I was consistently invited into peoples’ homes, where they shared the very best they had to offer with me. Once we’d established an initial respect despite our differences, we discussed religion, and politics, and war. We did so peacefully, with the intent of understanding one another. The most extreme Muslims were angry and full of hate for the same reasons that the American’s who had indoctrinated me were: because they’d lost loved ones at the hands of men who believed in a different God.

That’s the problem with a religious war. You can’t kill a God, you can only punish his servants. If the atrocities on both sides had been committed by a man instead of a deity, we’d simply execute the tyrant and end the violence. But Gods live as long as men worship them, and without people who are willing to boldly stand up for the fact that God desires peace and love and acceptance, the wars will never end. How can anybody seek to truly understand God when they are so preoccupied with hating each other?

It’s fear that drives it. Fear, and the need for revenge. The task of translating my experiences into a language that people can grasp is an impossible one. I can’t adequately describe how the vast majority of Christians and the vast majority of Muslims aren’t driven by violence. And I can’t do anything to make people experience it first hand.

I can’t take back the fact that thousands of Americans have been blown up by improvised explosives, or that an even greater number of more poorly equipped men have been blown up by our own larger bombs.

The world doesn’t have time for discussions anymore. I met so many young people during my time in the military who would tell you out-right, “I joined for the college benefits. I joined because my parents kicked me out. I joined because I needed to escape.”

How much more would you seek to join an organization you were told was honorable – an organization that fought to keep your culture alive against the hands of men who want to control and eradicate it – when you’re joining for food instead of college credits? How much more, when you don’t have any options for work, and your day regularly consists of following a shadow as it travels around the trunk of a tree?

And once you’ve joined, you become the one who perpetuates what our world has become. And the people who learn that lesson aren’t allowed to talk about it because to do so is to betray the world they left behind.

How does this end? How do I carry out the responsibility of making people love one another as I do? As God does.

These are the issues life should be focused on, not on mortgages and child support and car payments. When I look at the world, I see so much needless pain. Regardless of what it means for my own reputation, I have to take bold steps to become involved in progress.

Thank you for reading along. There’s so much more to come.

An American Patriot, and a human who understands that people are the way they are for reasons. Most importantly, that love reciprocates.

Assalamu alaikum.

-Dustin Stitt, April 2019

Radical Authenticity Can Change the World

At my worst, I was fighting a hotel fire with a marine who was a lot more prepared for it than I was at 19. I imagined a Djiboutian man burning alive because of his own mistake, and wondered whether I would risk leaving my own family alone to save his from the same fate. He had been chewing an opiate leaf when the fire began, and all I could see was my future daughter’s face. Decisions like that are made in the slowest seconds imaginable, and it takes decades to process them afterward. The answers I came to in moments like that are my own burden to bare, but some of my brothers and sisters were there with me as I learned to live with them.

At my best, I learned pieces of foreign languages and to truly LOVE people who were different than me. I did everything I could to get clean water, toys, and food, to children who couldn’t possibly grow accustomed to that lifestyle. I often wonder if I did it for their sake, or for my own conscience.

It’s time for veterans (and others) to stop thinking that their “demons” are something to hide from. Your perspective on the world is something that the world itself needs. It isn’t fake. It isn’t a joke. It doesn’t matter one BIT if you went through more or less than what others did. Your story can help people. You are dynamic and whole. You have dark memories and you deal with them. Some moments are worse than others, but you have more to contribute to the world than you can possibly imagine. Fierce authenticity is the only way to share those lessons with the next generation. Your pain is what gives true life to your compassion.

Here’s a song to take you back. It gets me every single time. And you know what? I’m not sorry for sending you to that place. Stop compartmentalizing. Stop running from it. Use the emotion it provokes to change the world. If your employers, friends and family don’t see your holistic value, they don’t deserve it.

It’s a dark humility that comes from having your world shattered time and again. From thinking that you can’t over and over, and always managing because that’s the one choice you’re presented with.

Just send it, man.

If you want something more lighthearted, take a look at my previous blog post about hiking and mountains, which (along with writing) are the only medicines I’ll ever accept to numb what some people call “pain” (It’s really just perspective).

What you think is your greatest weakness is actually your greatest strength. Know your worth.