Leadership, Self-Leadership & Emotional Intelligence – an Interview with Jonathan Forrest

Posted on February 22nd, 2018

At LDL we are always on the lookout for exceptional individuals to join our consultancy team. With his last major corporate role as a Director at Goldman Sachs, Jonathan Forrest is one such individual, and we are delighted to announce that he has recently joined LDL as a leadership and personal development consultant.

Jonathan F

To introduce Jonathan to our clients we thought we’d ask him a few questions about his background, including his experience designing and delivering an in-house leadership development programme at Goldman Sachs, and for his thoughts on a range of related topics including self-leadership, leadership and leading others, motivation, psychometric testing and the importance of emotional intelligence…

LDL: Welcome Jonathan, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us. How has your week been?

Jonathan: Yes a pretty good week, I was out yesterday with a client as part of an ongoing project I’ve been working on with a colleague, and yesterday we did a day on influencing others, providing them with some learning on consultative selling skills and how to build trust with their clients, so yes it was challenging and fun.

And today I’ve been doing some development work for another project, because on Saturday I’m flying out to Germany to work on the end of a nine-month leadership programme. We started with a week in June last year together with twenty participants, high potential people, who we left to work on a project, a real business issue. Then we got together in October and will again next week to give them some final coaching and learning – because on Thursday morning is the “big event” when each of the three teams have to present their project to the executive board and invited guests in a large auditorium, and effectively sell their proposal.

LDL: So Jonathan, tell us a bit about your background and how you became involved in training?

I’ve been in training and education for thirty years now. I started as an IT trainer, but if we go back before that I had an office job in Leeds which is where I grew up. I left school at sixteen, so I’ve been working since 1979!

I started in an office working around PCs. And I was working in accounts, an area revolutionised by PCs in the late 80s, and was one of the people who was happy to use spreadsheets, databases etc – I’d done a bit of computer studies at school and was always interested in computers. But I quickly realised that I was better at helping people to use PCs rather than programming spreadsheets myself, so I ended up working in a role as a PC trainer initially, and so that’s how I started my training career – teaching people to use spreadsheets and word processing and databases and all those sorts of things.

LDL: And then you made the move to Goldman Sachs?

Ultimately, yes. I worked at NatWest bank, Logica and Sungard and then ultimately moved to Goldman Sachs, my last big corporate position. Initially that was to head up a group of trainers, that was in the year 2000, but during a big changeover at Goldman and a restructure, I ended up in the central HR function at a time when we were looking to revolutionise our global leadership development programme. I was part of a small team that created an in-house leadership development programme, which was designed internally by the team I was in, and which was delivered by myself and others, and that’s really what got me into leadership, leadership development and the more soft skills type of training and education. And I’ve now been doing that since 2000, so nearly 18 years now.

LDL: What was it about the leadership and management training which really caught your interest and encouraged you to move away from the PC training?

Well I’d done PC training for so long and, to be honest, you never get any thanks for it. Back in those days a lot of people were completely baffled by it, and came on courses and didn’t really know why they were there.

But I do remember the first time I ran a leadership programme and included some mental models, and people would say, this has changed my life. It has not only helped me at work but it’s helping me outside of work as well. And it was the first time I ever got that kind of response. It was that element of being really able to help people and change people that got me excited about leadership and personal development.

LDL: Can you tell us a little more about the specifics of the programme you were involved in at Goldman and the aspects of it that you really engaged with?

The programme at Goldman started off as about how to lead other people, and then we did a module on self-leadership. Now I work on all levels of leadership but I suppose the area around self-leadership is what I have become clearer about and able to understand more about, in particular emotional intelligence and how we choose our emotions. That’s this idea that at any given time, whatever the weather, whatever the commute, whatever the client or the boss is saying, whatever is happening, I have a choice at that moment as to how I choose to respond to it.

LDL: How do you approach teaching that kind of emotional intelligence on a programme?

So in an ideal environment, with free rein and free budget to create the potential for the most motivating workplace culture in the world, yes a leadership or management training programme for me would start with the discussion of emotional intelligence – specifically around the question of ‘where do emotions come from?’. And to teach that, there’s a model I use a lot called the iceberg model. Emotions are beneath the waterline on the iceberg. Above the waterline are our behaviours – the things that can be seen and heard by others. What many people don’t know is that what creates our emotions are our beliefs and our thinking. So ideally there’d be a whole day around that so that people would get to the point of understanding that their emotions are created and driven by their beliefs and thinking, not by the external world.

LDL: That is quite a powerful idea! Do attendees ever push back?

Well yes, in the UK and Europe especially, more people want to discuss and debate this and say, hang on I don’t believe I can choose my emotions, I’m not in charge. And we get some great discussions around this self-leadership piece which I think is key to being a leader. I admit that I do prefer to teach this sort of model to create provocation and discussion – it makes it more interesting for the attendees – and for me!

But not everyone will instantly buy into this idea. For many it’s ground breaking – based on years of conditioning and a belief that we should blame other things: the boss, the transport system, the weather, the government and so on. These things do have the potential to influence how we feel but it is empowering for many people to start to recognise that each of us have choice.

LDL: Can you give an example?

Rain is a great example. Something we get a lot of in the UK – apparently! If rain was such a horrible thing everyone would feel the same about it. I’ve done a fair amount of work in the Middle East over the last few years. They don’t see rain as a horrible thing at all. Quite the reverse. As and when it does rain, they tell me they all stop work and go and stand in the street relishing the miracle of water coming from the skies. So it can’t be the rain itself. It is the thinking about the rain that gives us the emotion.

LDL: So you’ve said that this self-leadership piece is key to being a leader. Why is that?

I believe all leadership starts with self-leadership. Part of that is recognising, as mentioned earlier, that we have choice over our emotions, behaviours and thinking. I would also say that leaders have some responsibility for creating an environment and culture within an organisation that allows for motivation to thrive. I don’t think we can ‘make’ others more motivated but we can create the environment for motivation and also help others understand that their level of motivation is a choice. And if leaders learn and understand about emotional intelligence then they can help pass that on to others that they lead.

LDL: So if you would start a programme with some learning around self-leadership and emotional intelligence, how would you build toward the question of motivation and how we as leaders motivate others?

So if we start to talk about motivation on a programme, it is important to remember, building on from previous discussions, that as a leader you can’t motivate anybody; motivation is an emotional state and therefore is a choice, and it is up to a person to choose to be either motivated or demotivated. What a leader should be doing in an organisation is creating an environment that is motivating – but the question of whether someone is motivated within that is a personal choice.

LDL: That’s a really interesting distinction.

Yes and it is something that is hard to distill into a few sentences! It takes some layering, discussions, examples and so on and even then people will still need to go away and think about it. In a nutshell it’s about helping people understand “I have choice over how I feel” and then, in it’s ultimate expression, “No one person, situation or thing makes me feel an emotion – I choose”.

LDL: So what can leaders do to create a more motivating environment for their people?

For leaders and managers, the job is, yes, to create an environment that can be motivating. And that would involve making sure you’re setting a direction for your people, that they know what they are doing, they have clear outcomes for their job and the right tools for their job, and a reasonably pleasant environment.

Actually this makes me think of another topic that every leader and manager in this world should know about – and that’s coaching and feedback. Often when they hear people complain about how they are demotivated, managers and leaders will go home and worry about it all night and think, ‘oh, goodness, I’ve got to try to be more motivating.’ But instead, leaders need to appreciate that motivation is to some extent a personal choice that a person needs to take ownership of, and this may mean that leaders may need to be asking demotivated employees: so, what are you going to do about it? What could you do to become more motivated within the constraints of what is available to us? Again, a lot of this may sound harsh in a couple of sentences – during a leadership programme we have lots more time to discuss, unpack and for the attendees to push back and challenge – which I would be definitely encouraging them to do!

LDL: So a crucial aspect of leadership is about encouraging those coaching and feedback discussions around the question of motivation?

Yes, one of our biggest jobs as managers and leaders these days is making sure we are regularly setting aside time to have ‘conversations’ with each of our direct reports. On management training courses I often ask if people are having one-to-ones with their people, and many will say yes, but when we go a bit deeper it turns out that many of these conversations are about progress on projects, about how they’re doing against budget – and fewer people are having those one-to-ones along the lines of: so how’s it going? How are you doing? What is motivating or de-motivating you at the moment? Let’s talk through the development plan that you’ve been working on and let’s see where you are against that. This second type of one-to-one conversation can be very helpful for both manager and employee.

LDL: So instead of being solely focused on progress within projects and against budgets, coaching and feedback should also be about having those slightly more person-to-person conversations?

That’s right, in my experience working with leaders and managers now for many years, most of the problems they cite on training programmes are people problems. Those leaders don’t come for help on pure operational issues – what causes them the most issues is people. And I really believe that if they did more coaching and feedback they’d solve a lot, if not all, of those issues.

LDL: Jonathan, you are accredited in a number of different psychometric tools that you often use on programmes. How do these tie in to the whole leadership, self-leadership and emotional intelligence piece that we’ve been talking about?

Yes, so a key part of self-leadership and leading others is that we should seek to understand about ourselves before trying to understand how we might lead others. So any of these psychometric instruments – whether it’s MBTI, FIRO-B, a 360 degree instrument, Tetramap, business behaviour styles and so on – many of these teach us about ourselves so that we can understand, without stereotyping, what our own preferences are and how our preferences guide our thinking.

It’s important to remember that we are not ever trying to change the core of who we are, we’re just asking people to consider that they sometimes need to flex their behaviours towards others. And of course many of the modules I do around that are designed not only to help you understand what your preferences are, but also to accept that we all have to learn to flex away from our preferences from time to time into areas we are less comfortable with. We’ve each got our stretches.

And these psychometric tests are also helpful with teamwork, for example to understand why different personalities might clash, and also from a leadership perspective, to understand how different personalities might function together or clash on a team.

LDL: Jonathan, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us, you’ve provided some real insights into your approach and some valuable nuggets of wisdom with regards to the whole leadership and self-leadership piece. Is there anything else you’d like to add on the subject of leadership before we close?

Hmm, I think that one of the other things that leaders and managers have to do is that we have to inspire the people around us. I think part of learning to be a better manager and leader is actually about learning how to communicate and how to stand up in front of groups of people, maybe getting outside of your comfort zone, and inspire them through how you talk and how you use your body language – that whole presentation skills, executive presence piece is also very important.

As many of us go on our leadership journey we can’t avoid standing up in front of groups of people from time to time to inspire them. And that comes through how we speak and use our body language and we can learn how to do that.

LDL: But it can be rather nerve-wracking to get started with the public speaking right?

Yes, although another thing that I’m a big fan of is that we sometimes have to act ‘as if’. Doing those presentations may not be comfortable, but we have to act ‘as if’ we can do them, and the more we act as if we can do something over a period of time, the more we become it, and science shows this. Over a period of three, four, five, six years, you become a great presenter if you give yourself lots of opportunities to practise it. You learn how to model someone else and forget why you found it nerve-wracking to begin with.

LDL: Jonathan, thanks again so much for taking the time to speak with us!

No problem!

Get in touch

To find out more about leadership, self-leadership and emotional intelligence, and how a training initiative might lead to improvement in your organisation, please get in touch with our team today. We would be happy to set up a conversation with Jonathan to discuss your challenges and possible training requirements.

Learn more about LDL Leadership & Management Training.

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