BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

cultivating relational health ...

I have a very deep ambivalence about this one. On one hand, I actually bought it (OK, used) from Amazon, having seen it recommended highly in some other book I was reading (forgot which), so it wasn't a “serendipitous” addition to my to-be-read piles coming from a chance encounter on the shelves of dollar or discount stores. On the other hand, having read through some of the reviews/promo material on-line, I was a bit nervous about it. As regular readers of this space no doubt appreciate, I'm fairly antitheistic, and am cynical (at best) towards the “major monotheisms” … so when I saw that the author was an “Executive Pastor” at a evangelical church, and had run an evangelical outreach “community”, and there were comments about how this was written “with the gospel in mind” or that it was required reading in a seminary course … I was concerned that this was going to be one of those books where the writer, fearing being damned to Hell for all eternity, feels the need to make a “profession of faith” every 3-4 paragraphs. Needless to say, that would have been something which I'd be unlikely to opt to interface with. One review, however, brought up the question “Is it Biblical?”, which had me scratching my head over how people with enough capacity to operate a computer and compose a coherent sentence could demand that not only they, but everybody else, live their lives according to the fire-side musings of bronze-age goat herders. I figured that if the extreme fundies were finding fault with this, maybe there might be some actual thought in play.

I was pleased to find that Steve Saccone's Relational Intelligence: How Leaders Can Expand Their Influence Through a New Way of Being Smart at least limited the preachy bits. These were certainly still there, but not so much that it would have me throwing it across the room at regular intervals (and there have been books I've read which have elicited that response) … with a considerable number of them being involved in the author's personal stories, which, naturally enough, were in churchy settings with churchy people doing churchy things. I did, however, wish that somebody had taken a “Jefferson Bible” X-Acto knife to this and just cut out the others, because the book that would be left behind (heh!) after such an edit would be quite a respectable positing of this “RI” thing.

Perhaps telling of how worthwhile the “book within the book” would be is that, even as it stands (at the pulpit?), I have about a dozen of my little bookmarks pointing to the stuff that stood out to me in here. The first of these pretty much “cuts to the chase” where Saccone offers up a working definition of the book's topic: “Relational intelligence is the ability to learn, understand, and comprehend knowledge as it relates to interpersonal dynamics.” … which he follows up with a further clarification (also used in a sidebar): “Relational intelligence is a hybrid of developing social skills and cultivating relational health.”. He uses abbreviations throughout the book, with RI being the obvious one, and early on he introduces the concept of RQ, or Relational Quotient, which “measures not just your knowledge of relationships but how well you understand and engage in relational dynamics”. How in the world, you're no doubt asking, can I figure out what this “RQ” thing is for me? Well, there's bad news and there's good-ish news on this. The bad news is that the book is several years old at this point, and the link that is provided for “the online assessment tool” now just re-directs to Saccone's business site, where I wasn't seeing any such resource. The good-ish news is that the wonderful has cached copies of the intended site that appear to at least have all the questions involved (and the rather clever sliders for putting in one's responses), but (and I've not dedicated a lot of time on this) it does not appear to be functional so as to generate a response. It is possible that there's another source for this out there (perhaps at the Mosaic organization that Saccone was involved with when he wrote this), but after some poking around, I only found dead pages or “different” approaches than what had been on the original site. Such is the web.

Another abbreviation he uses is MSS, which is not “manuscripts”, but the “Michael Scott Syndrome”. As I have never seen the TV show “The Office”, the concept of a syndrome based on the Steve Carell character was sort of vague. Since one probably has to know this character to really appreciate what Saccone's getting to with this, I'm just going to throw in a couple of sidebar quotes here which apply: “Our inability to see our own limitations will stifle our ability to build and establish smart relationships.” and “Our inherent challenge is that we're acutely attuned to dysfunction when we see it in others, but significantly slower to recognize it in ourselves.”. There's a bit of swerving into God/Jesus “commercial message” territory, and then a very interesting bit on a Stanford business school study, which came up with “self awareness” as the single most important capability for leaders to develop. “If we want to gain an accurate view of ourselves, we must constantly invest in our internal growth potential, not just in our external success.”. Spinning off this “self-awareness” concept, he presents “three life habits” that will help “cure the condition of MSS that we all have”. These are:

            Habit One: Learn to Access the Perceptions of Those Around You
            Habit Two: Learn to Activate the Reflective Mind Within You
            Habit Three: Write Clarifying Statements

There's quite a bit involved in these (some preachy, some not), and I've tried to pull out a sentence or so for each … for Habit One: “In choosing whom we bring into personal and honest conversation, we need to look for people who are willing to be honest enough with us to say difficult things that might be hard to hear.” … for Habit Two: “I try to walk away from every leadership team meeting I lead reflecting on what I could have done differently.” … and, for Habit Three: “If we want to increase our relational intelligence, we must learn how to identify our blind spots clearly and specifically, while also paying attention to how they affect out leadership and relationships. Naming our specific blind spots can help us know which specific prescription or treatment is needed.”

The second part (and 3/4ths) of the book is taking a look at the “Six Defining Roles of a Relational Genius”, each being the subject of a chapter. These roles are not exhaustive, but
“are essential to the quest to increase your relational intelligence and develop a new kind of genius. Some traits may not be what you expect, but they all have a profound impact on your leadership effectiveness and your ongoing interpersonal world.
These roles are:

            The Story Collector
            The Energy Carrier
            The Compelling Relator
            The Conversational Futurist
            The Likeable Hero
            The Disproportionate Investor

I found “The Story Collector” particularly interesting as I've been a “moody loner” all my life with more than a little sociopathy underlying that, so I have a hard time caring enough about other people to ever get around to asking them questions. Here (again, from another sidebar, which are proving quite handy), Saccone notes: “When it comes to being interested in people the goal is not to be interested in every detail of their lives, but rather to discover what is interesting abut them and draw it out.”. He compares the diamond industry's “four C's” (cut, color, clarity, and carats), with a list of three categories that a story collector needs to draw out from those they're interrogating chatting with: “dreams, life history, and personhood”. Each of these is looked at in detail, with an eye to “the art of good question asking” – which I found to be quite informative, and potentially useful, given the baseline level of misanthropy that I operate with! This includes sample questions, both “generic” and “open ended”, which can be extrapolated to templates to use in one's own interactions.

I didn't have any bookmarks in “The Energy Carrier” chapter, but there are a number of very interesting ideas here. Again, I'm using the author's own highlighting here (via the sidebars),with a couple that I thought were worth sharing: “The energy we carry within, and the force of its strength, is determined by how alert we are internally.” and “If you wonder how to gauge your own internal alertness, one sign is revealed in your forgetfulness.” He notes two “Energy Killers”: The Appearance of Alertness (with those quotes), and Distraction; plus two “Energy Catalysts”: Externalizing Your Internal Energy, and Capitalize on the Moment. These are fleshed out with some stories of people he's worked with, but, obviously, I wasn't making much of a connection with this part.

The next role is “The Compelling Relator” (which I have to admit I was constantly reading as realtor, which would no doubt be a big selling book in that niche), which has the somewhat surprising “hook” of boredom, and initial data about stuff like web site visits, how many navigational clicks people will use, and even the likelihood of a URL being typed in due to length. He posits an “epidemic of boredom” and references it in the first of these sidebar quotes: “Maybe there's not just an epidemic of boredom out there, but an epidemic of 'boring'.” which is followed by the reasonably inspiring: “The simple truth is this: the more interesting we are as people, the more compelling we become as leaders.” … and name-checks Seth Godin's Tribes. There are quite a few “stories” here, including one in the fascinatingly titled section “Refuse to be Irrelevant” which features that J. guy from the Bible. One bit that I found worthwhile bringing to you was set in relation to that “faith community” the author was involved in (hence the “protégés”):
      One foundational element that we emphasize with protégés is for them to stop assuming what most people assume in conversations: that people inherently want to listen. Too often speakers don't work hard to capture an audience's attention because they presume they have it. Just because someone shows up to a team meeting, an event, a one-on-one conversation, a class, or even a church, doesn't mean she or he inherently wants to listen to what we have to say, regardless of our position or status.
Saccone goes on to point out how much information we all are bombarded with on a daily basis, and how it tends to be the “interesting person” whose message actually gets across … and how these people typically are the ones with the most passion.

Next is “The Conversational Futurist”, and I didn't have any bookmarks in this chapter either. The author wasn't much reaching me with this, but that's no doubt due to my own conversational deficits. One of those sidebar quotes says: “To become conversational futurists, we must learn to listen to the questions people are asking even it they aren't being spoken in question form.”. This has a bunch of stories (including referencing Bible quotes), but most of them sort of blew by me – one of the issues that I was seeing in the book was that to do what the author's talking about, you probably have to be somewhat of a “people person” at the outset to have much of this seem plausible.

The following chapter is “The Likeable Hero”, and it starts out with a quote from another book about how it takes work to be likeable, and has a sidebar bit that says: “Likeability is a fundamental characteristic of relational intelligence, and we tend to underestimate its effect in our leadership endeavors and everyday lives.”. Fairly early on he jumps into the objection that the “mission” is more important than the “leader”, but without the leader's likeability, the odds of the message getting through are substantially reduced. He maps out “Five Signs of Likeability”, which are:

            1. Approachability
            2. Stickiness
            3. Rapid trust formation
            4. Friendliness
            5. Flexible optimism

Oh, and #2 up there isn't in the sense that a 4-year-old is likely to be “sticky”, but being able to maintain long-term relationships. Interestingly, he uses the example of Zappos creator Tony Hsieh for #1, which seems to me like it would have been better served as an umbrella for all five, with different aspects of that operation. He brings in comic books (as well as stories about people he's worked with) in #2, a mentor he had in college (and beyond) for #3, how they have “headhunters” at these big recruiting parties for that “faith community” that are specifically tasked with seeking out and being extra friendly to vulnerable newcomers as the illustration of #4. Number 5, flexible optimism, is more technical, and involves “identifying when a pessimistic inquisition is required” within a generally optimistic outlook … this because overly optimistic leaders tend to lose the respect of those they lead if that optimism isn't tempered by a strong dose of reality.

Finally “The Disproportionate Investor” looks not at financial investment but that of the time and effort required to lead people. This is broken down in the following:
People are relationally unintelligent, even foolish, when they don't choose how to spend their time in a discerning manner. They fail to consider the future implications of their choice of whom they invest in, and they end up wasting their time on consumers who take, rather than spending their time on investors who give.
He divvies up people as either consumers or investors, and details some examples from when he mistakenly spent a year trying to develop a fellow he had hoped to have been a future leader, who took up a lot of his time, and ended up being “only in it for himself”. There are also, of course, a bunch of Bible stories (after all, you don't want to get into something as “coldblooded” as this math without having that sort of back-up), and a list of characteristics (which he notes are extracted from the Gospels) that he looks for “in assessing who is a true investor”: Generative, Grateful, Teachable, Missional, Strategic, and Resilient.

Again, I might not have ordered Relational Intelligence if I'd known going in how much “preachy” stuff there was in here … however, despite my serious dislike for the Bible-thumping, there is quite a lot of quality theory going on here (although I'm sure I would have much preferred reading the “secular humanist” version of it!), which makes it a worthwhile read. I suspect that most folks out there are unlikely to share my deep antipathy for the evangelical spin here, so won't have the level of negative reaction that I kept coming up with.

If you'd be interested in picking up a copy, it's still in print in hardcover, paperback, and ebook, although you're not going to be saving much on cover price on-line on these (maybe because it's evidently a seminary textbook), but used copies can be had for about 1/3rd of what you'd be paying at a brick-and-mortar book vendor. As noted up top, for all the reasons detailed, I'm quite ambivalent on this one … the theory's good, but it's stuck in a fundie matrix that's hard to ignore.

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Tags: book review

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