Do you fantasize about the day you can show up for work feeling centered, creative, and calm? If this describes you perfectly, congratulations! If not, perhaps you struggle a little (or a lot) to stay inspired and confident when you deal with stressors, change, or overwhelm. Managing and overcoming these less-than-ideal feelings can impact your health, the health of your family or coworkers, and even your company culture. With so many self-help tools and resources at our fingertips, knowing the first step on the road to peak performance can prove challenging. Sarah Kivel, author, Emotional Intelligence Executive Coach, and Founder of eiFOCUS™, sat down with us to share her expertise on using emotions and emotional balance to succeed in life.
Kivel is the author of SWEAT – Success With Empathy and Trust and the host of the podcast, the Focused Athlete. Kivel shares, “On the Focused Athlete, themes that often come up are how to stay motivated and positive in the face of pressures and challenges, and managing and overcoming fear, all of which can apply to the corporate world. So much comes down to the company culture around your health and the health of your employees.”
Pacific Crest Group: As an executive coach, what are the top issues CEOs grapple with in their leadership?
Sarah Kivel: One of the main themes in leadership is balancing the need to care for others. Whether you’re a leader of a company or the leader of your household, you tend to focus on others, which is absolutely what we all do. But sometimes, it comes at the expense of caring for ourselves. How will we care for others and do it well if we don’t care for ourselves? Another theme I see a lot is imposter syndrome. Both men and women grapple with this in equal amounts throughout all professions and levels of leadership. They might say, “I don’t know what I’m doing. Who am I to do this? I don’t belong here.”
PCG: As an emotional intelligence coach, how do you help people balance caring for themselves and others?
Kivel: Emotional intelligence is a skill that you have to practice. It’s a conscious effort for the people and relationships that matter to you. It can be tough to put your best foot forward, whether it’s emotional intelligence, taking a test at school, a big boardroom meeting, a big game, or a presentation, unless you are fueled and have the energy to go. Imagine running on fumes and trying to have empathy for someone. It’s like the perfect storm for a disaster. When you’re fueled and rested, you have a much better chance of managing scenarios. You’re coming from a place of fullness rather than depletion. When you’re hungry or tired, you can only go so far. That’s why I created eiBoosters. They provide ways to fill our tanks, give ourselves energy, and keep ourselves feeling good, so that we can show up to practice, in this case, emotional intelligence. But really anything in life.
PCG: So it’s like fueling your body before a workout, practice, or a game?
Kivel: Exactly. Whether you’re going in to do the strenuous work of running a company, managing your team, or giving a presentation, it’s crucial to take the time to learn what works for you. For example, what types of food give you the most energy that sustains you through these endurance races? Or maybe it’s a sprint, and when you’ve tuned in to your body, you know what makes you feel at your best. And, it doesn’t start on the day of the race. It’s all part of the training plan that leads to the big day, whether that’s facing your employees or facing your clients, so that you can manage yourself in the most effective, meaningful way.
PCG: How does this practice open paths to creativity?
Kivel: When you’re depleted, you can’t be creative. You can’t think of business solutions for your company, a client proposal, or becoming a better negotiator. You lose the ability to adapt to different situations.
PCG: Tell us more about the eiBoosters.
Kivel: I created five that resonated most in my life, and I have found they resonate for others too. The first one is sleep. The book Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker, was a game-changer for me. I now understand why I feel the way I do when I don’t sleep eight hours. And, similar to the caffeine analogy, you can’t just superficially cram it in at the last minute. It’s a lifestyle, and it carries forward. Of course, no one is perfect, but setting yourself up for good sleep in ways like defining your work hours, eating dinner with time to digest, exercising, and making time for meaningful conversations with a family member are all things that can affect sleep.
And, in no particular order, a second EI Booster is movement. Another book I love is Move by Caroline Williams. When we’re moving our bodies, we open up channels for creativity. Movement tones down the amygdala, the part of our brain that can get hijacked when we are under pressure or stress. It’s also the area that can inhibit creativity. Besides the physical benefits, the mental benefits are great for people who can’t sit and meditate. Being outside on my bike or walking, hiking, or running, I focus on my feet, the road, or nature. That’s where I brainstorm. It’s a great way to practice what I call focus training. How many people brainstorm really well at a specific time, in a particular room, or with a group? Another thing to remember about movement for busy people is that when you have a packed schedule, what’s usually the first thing to go? Your workout. I would not cancel on a client or anyone else like that at the last minute. So, why would I do that to myself?
Booster number three is gratitude. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Taking a few minutes to recognize the goodness in our lives and the benefits we enjoy due to the actions of others trains our brains to look for the good in all parts of our lives. In athletics, it’s associated with higher self-esteem, team cohesion, and better quality relationships. So why not practice this at work?
Booster number four is focus. We touched on this earlier in the movement section, where focus training is like strength training for the mind. You can also refer to it as mindfulness. It strengthens our awareness and attention. To build emotional intelligence, we need to pay attention. It’s like when an athlete makes a mistake. By pausing and noticing what you’re feeling and why you have a moment to choose how to move forward. If not, you stay stuck in that feeling, which is typically negative. By practicing this skill as a CEO, manager, or team player, you can better manage stress and model this behavior to others.
Booster number five is awe. When you get out of your head, you can see and appreciate things more significant than yourself. Watching a fantastic sunset, walking among the trees, or realizing you’re just a tiny part of this enormous universe minimizes stress. When you reduce stress, you can manage your triggers, difficult conversations, and challenging scenarios as a leader. Allowing yourself to feel wonder and awe has fantastic health benefits!
PCG: Your eiBoosters are like when flight attendants say to put your oxygen mask on first before we help others.
Kivel: Yes! Self-care is essential to know, but it’s also about learning more about yourself and what you need. Some people need more self-care than others; some need less. Without knowing that about yourself, you can burn out quickly. Your teammates or coworkers may not realize it, and maybe they do, but with all due respect, they don’t want the exhausted version of you around. This work takes practice, research, humility, time, and attention to the feelings that drive us. And, once you’re feeling rested, healthy, and focused, what could eight minutes of support look like for someone else? Being direct and balanced in your action can result in higher levels of performance from yourself and others.
Are you looking for ways to incorporate executive and team interpersonal training into your work culture? Contact us to learn how Pacific Crest Group can help your team balance and succeed.