Emotional intelligence

TheCaseOfTheMissingCutleryYou can buy a leadership book today for about $25.

Or you can get an MBA for about $30,000 or more.

But learning about leadership from a few decades of everyday experience and mentors? Priceless.

Kevin Allen was the pitchman for the “Priceless” ad campaign for MasterCard, which launched in 1997 and continues to influence people today.

Kevin wrote the Wall Street Journal best-selling The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way to Win Business and Create a Following. And now he’s back with a new book, The Case of the Missing Cutlery: A Leadership Course for the Rising Star.

The book provides simple (and profound) leadership principles, primarily from an emotional intelligence perspective.

The big idea in Missing Cutlery is a concept Kevin calls “buoyancy.” Each person in your organization makes a decision about whether to buoy you up after they have assessed your authenticity, empathy, and connection with their true desire.

There are two primary steps to creating buoyancy as a leader.

  1. Uncovering the hidden agenda of your people. The hidden agenda comes in three forms: wants, needs, and values.
  2. Connecting your leverageable assets as the means to ignite the hidden agenda. These assets are: your real ambition, your credo, and your core.

To illustrate the principles, the book follows a true story from Kevin’s own life, in one of his earliest experiences as a young, new leader at Marriott. In addition, Kevin shares several other stories from his leadership at Marriott, McCann Erickson (the huge ad company that developed the “Priceless” campaign), Rudy Giuliani’s campaign to run for mayor on a platform of making NYC safe again, and now as founder of ReKap, a consulting and software firm that created Planet Jockey, an online leadership development game.

On the topic of communication, I have long tried to learn from the masters of advertising — which, like communication, is all about understanding and influencing people.

But on the topic of leadership, Kevin’s book may be the first time I’ve realized that advertising also has much to teach us.

We tend to think of advertising as manipulating people — and perhaps that works for some short-term relationships (how else can you explain all the awful TV ads for used cars?). But that could never explain the 15 years of continued success behind a campaign like “Priceless.” Clearly, that campaign taps into powerful emotional motivations, which can only happen when you truly understand and ignite your target audience’s wants, needs, and values.

I liked Missing Cutlery … a lot. In fact, I liked it a lot more than I expected. It’s a very fast, enjoyable read. It provides ideas and big concepts we can put into practice immediately.

Like a business parable, the main story made it easy to understand the principles being taught. Better than a business parable, it was a true story, with real people that we ended up really caring about … a story we’re more likely to remember.

And the book is also chock full of shorter real stories, told in a fun way, by a leader and advertiser who is well practiced at using stories to simultaneously entertain, educate, and inspire.

Jesse is the host of the Engaging Leader and Game Changer podcasts and managing principal of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.


Flexible ThinkingIn the past, leaders who made fast decisions inspired confidence and often produced excellent results. In today’s more complex, rapidly changing environment, great leaders use and encourage a different skill that Jesse calls “flexible thinking.”

Flexible thinking is a leadership secret uncovered by David Burnham and other researchers at the firm Burnham Rosen, through studies involving hundreds of thousands of people beginning in the late 1990s. Flexible thinking recognizes that in the 21st century:

  • Situations tend to be complex rather than black-and-white
  • Information is widely available (the leader no longer has a monopoly on information)
  • Both situations and information frequently change.

New research from University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business confirms the importance of flexible thinking, one of the five principles behind interactive leadership. Most people will be surprised to learn that the starting point is emotional ambivalence.

In this episode, Jesse discusses how flexible thinking can improve your leadership ability and outlines five ways to inspire flexible thinking in your team:

  • Recognize your own ambivalent feelings. For those of us trained to emphasize logic and downplay emotion, it can be helpful to see a list of feelings. Sorry guys: in this context, neither “hungry” nor “horny” qualify as feelings.
  • Give voice to your ambivalence. Specifically name two emotions you feel that seem to be conflicting. “I’m worried that we’ll lose money on this deal, but I’m excited about being the first in this market.”
  • Encourage team members to share their feelings (not just their rational thoughts). You don’t have to get touchy-feely about this (“Gee, Bob, tell me how you’re really feeling”). Usually, leading by example is all that’s necessary (recognizing and giving voice to your ambivalence).
  • Take care not to squash their feelings. The worst thing you can do is slip into “Lord of Logic” mode, and discount the emotions expressed by your team. Bite your tongue if you feel tempted to say “No, that won’t happen,” “That’s silly,” or “Yeah, but….”
  • Demonstrate a healthy attitude toward mistakes. Acknowledge up front that the group may not always get the answer right. Occasional mistakes are a part of doing business, and many mistakes end up not negatively affecting the outcome.

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