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Gavin Pommernelle of Chasm Partners: Emotional Intelligence; What It Is, Why It Is So Essential, And How We Can Increase It

February 25, 2021

By Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gavin Pommernelle.

Gavin Pommernelle is a member of the Chasm Partners leadership team managing Chasm’s Talent Management Advisory Services, while also serving as CEO of Talent Driven Value. Gavin understands how leadership and organizational development are critical to scaling high performing organizations and a key enabler to existing teams facing the challenges associated with commercial growth. As an International Coach Federation Professional Certified Coach (PCC), Gavin works with leaders across the healthcare, technology and knowledge sectors to develop personal capabilities and team effectiveness.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in South Africa during Apartheid with the usual white privileges. My father is German and I was fortunate that it gave me an opportunity to travel to Europe as a child and get exposed to different perspectives which stood me in good stead back home in South Africa.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I started out studying engineering but struggled to get truly engaged by the field. Out of curiosity, I joined a friend in one of their psychology lectures and was instantly fascinated by the science of human behavior. That led me to change track and I majored in Industrial Psychology and Economics.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been fortunate to have had a few people who believed in me at various stages in my career and each time I stepped up my impact significantly. The first was the Southern Africa CEO of a chemicals business where I was HR Manager. He asked me to take over the lead of a quality initiative that had stalled. At first couldn’t understand why I was right for the role as I had no experience in that field. The big lesson for me was that he saw that my approach to work, my relationships with people and the structured methodology that I’m naturally inclined to as what was needed, not expertise itself. That project turned out a success for the business and for me it opened my eyes to the breadth of the role human resources can play in a business.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Even after many years of leadership experience, and maybe having a bit too much self-confidence, I let myself get sucked into the politics between the Board and CEO of a previous company. I found myself picking a side, rather than using the credibility I had worked hard to build, my clear perspective and my unique position as the HR leader to facilitate a resolution or at least a better outcome. The lesson to me was that losing objectivity in such a situation is likely to result in lost credibility with at least one of the parties, and the end of your ability to make a difference.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Put yourself in the way of opportunity, be open to these and focused less on what’s in it for you. My biggest steps and shaping experiences have come from being visible, getting out of my comfort zone and giving my managers the benefit of the doubt by trusting their intentions.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Conversations with Myself by Nelson Mandela is particularly memorable to me. It goes further and deeper than his more well-known publication and gives an insight into his thoughts, perspectives and relationships with the people who were supporting him, opposing him, undermining him and even his jailers. If there was ever a lesson in Emotional Intelligence and personal impact from this, then his story is one to take note of.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Maya Angelou’s quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel” really resonates with me. I see it in how I remember others through my career and it’s my guide for how I interact with people every day.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Although Emotional Intelligence is core to most of my coaching work, I’m excited by a collaboration to help organizations assess resilience in teams and to use those insights to create a plan that involves the whole team to apply emotional intelligence skills to increase their resilience and to become or remain top performing teams.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?

Through experience as a leader in global businesses, personal development and as an Executive Coach working with senior executives for many years, I’ve learned what makes the difference between those executives who thrive and those who fail or simple never achieve their potential. I’ve been a certified psychometric test practitioner for over 20 years (the British Psychological Society), a Genos Emotional Intelligence practitioner, and a Professional Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation.

For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?

Daniel Goleman defines it as “… the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.” In practice, I see Emotional Intelligence as the ability to be open-minded, achieve perspective, be personally resilient and to ultimately develop productive relationships with others and highly effective decision-making.

How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence is learnable which makes is accessible to anyone and at any stage of their life if they choose to make the effort.

Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?

The types of emotions that we experience ourselves or cause others to experience have a direct impact on the way we perceive a situation and think about the choices we make multiple times each day. Positive emotions stimulate chemicals in the brain that make lateral thinking easier, allow us to be more creative, present and engaging with others. Negative emotions have the opposite impact, causing us to narrow our thinking and be defensive in our positioning. These both impact relationships and decisions. Remember a moment when you were challenged publicly in a meeting by someone in a position of power over you: your manager, a board member or even a client. It’s likely that you became hyper-focused on the “threat”, possibly even noticing a physiological change such as and increase heart rate or your face flushing. Whatever way you responded, it’s not uncommon that you will have reflected afterwards and wished you had responded differently in some way such as being calmer, or providing a particularly important bit of information etc. That was your emotions being triggered by someone else’s style, whether intended it or not.

Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.

In the early days of my business, I put a lot of pressure on myself to win new business. There was a lot at stake and that came across in my meetings with potential clients. I was focused on telling them what they needed to do and why I was the best to support them. Needless to say, most of the time I failed to convince them. Even worse, I blamed their inability to “get it” on my not having success with them. This changed when I started to look more inwards. I realized that my hard sell approach and telling style was putting them off. I learned to listen, to be curious and to create the space for them to express what they needed. My success increased directly as a result.

Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?

Two of the most critical success criteria for almost any level and type of job are the ability to influence others (team members, boss, clients. etc.) and the ability to make good decisions and choices (and to learn from those that are not great). As already described Emotional Intelligence creates the conditions for you to do both of these effectively, leading to success in your job, no matter how technical it is in nature.

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?

We all respond positively to others when we feel that they value our thoughts and ideas, when they recognize our contributions, and when they consider the impact on us when making decisions. That applies as much in personal life as with business relationships. Furthermore, when we have a well-developed Emotional Intelligence, we recognize when we’ve behaved in a less optimal way AND we acknowledge that openly. That level of consideration, authenticity and even vulnerability makes us more trustworthy and able to develop strong relationships with others.

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?

The combination of self-awareness, perspective and the taking of control over one’s own emotions are powerful contributors to our personal resilience. As we focus on our emotions and our responses, we become better at recognizing them and adapting them.

Ok. Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.

These 5 items help you develop your Emotional Intelligence through a recognition of key principles and specific actions i.e. not just what you do but acknowledging why it matters:

-You are able to develop your Emotional Intelligence and it's not limited to certain personality types etc.

-Developing Emotional Intelligence is like practicing any skill. If you don't practice it, simulate it, do it, evaluate it and fine-tune your approach, it's only theory and not a skill.

-Make an effort to understand the elements and skills of Emotional Intelligence. It's not a single "thing" but an interconnected set of competencies and behaviors. Use this to choose what you will focus on, and don't try to do it all at once.

-Engage in structured self-reflection on a regular basis. Using your focus areas, build a routine where you can evaluate yourself on the impact you've had on others and how you feel yourself, especially in regard to specific events during the day. Track these insights, look for themes and choose to apply what you learn from them.

-Get support from other. Involving others in your own development is a powerful Emotional Intelligence statement in itself. The skills needed to listen to the feedback from others, understand it and not defend yourself are the same skills you're looking to develop to use in other contexts.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

My dream is that there is a greater recognition that everyone has an impact on everyone else in some way and that caring about this impact helps everyone, including ourselves. It may be in our direct interactions or it may be in a very indirect way through the choices we make in what we do, buy, eat etc. It’s not a new idea but one that needs greater momentum.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

It’s less about who I’d like to meet and rather about the type of people I’d like to be interacting with more and the types of organizations which mission is to have a positive impact on society. I want to partner and collaborate with likeminded people to show that doing good is not an alternative to business success but an accelerator of success.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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