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The Trail to the Summit (and New Orleans) is Paved in EQ

The EMBAC Annual Conference (#EMBAC16) was styled as a gathering for “Redesign & Renewal, Piloting the Waters of Transformation.”

EMBAC Conference

Over 450 participants, representing more than 200 Executive MBA programs, gathered from around the world in New Orleans last month. Academic peers--competitors in a very real sense--shared, celebrated and problem-solved around their collective future.

I was honored to attend as a guest and co-presenter, along with our friends at the University of Rochester's Simon Business School. Matrix Insights worked with the Simon Business School staff to co-create one element of an initiative they call, the Simon Edge, an innovative multi-modal program to build leadership, and teaming skills. By virtue of our role in that program, they honored me with an invitation to help tell the story we entitled: “EQ: NOTHING SOFT ABOUT IT, IN FACT IT'S THE HARD PART OF BUSINESS."

Rookie Impressions

This was my first EMBAC Conference, so it was intriguing to meet constituents from all points of the compass: Stockholm School of Economics (East), to Washington University (West), and from Toronto (North) to Tulane (South).

What did I learn? Well, I learned that in New Orleans au gratin is more a lifestyle choice than just a culinary technique. My family being full of enthusiastic and unapologetic foodies, I arrived in NOLA with high expectations about cuisine and caloric intakes, which were all exceeded. I’ll share the culinary review elsewhere, under the (working) title: The Road to New Orleans is Paved in Cheese.

There were a number of lessons and observations from a learning and development perspective, but most striking was the resonance. What I heard at #EMBAC16 echoed many of the themes voiced in the corporate learning and development, and talent management space. The rapidly and radically changing landscape in executive education is a universal and quantum shift.

Kicking and Screaming

I was especially intrigued how many higher education professionals I met who shared a sense of craving. They're eagerly anticipating and working toward more modern, and engaging solutions in this tricky and underserved space where ‘soft skills’ typically take a back seat to more concrete disciplines like Economics, Management, and Finance. One of the educators I met even described his duties thusly:  "dragging the faculty kicking and screaming into the future.”  Our team at Matrix Insights relates to that on a fundamental level, which sparked lively discussion about how to foster change, particularly where not all constituents are necessarily willing participants.

In many sessions, we heard about specific innovations underway now, presented by Faculty and staff from schools like Pepperdine, Temple, and the London Business School. I spoke at length with staff and faculty from dozens of universities, and found new ideas, friends, and kindred spirits.

Disruptive Transformation

Among the many thought leaders, was Alana Dunagan from the Clayton Christensen Institute. CCI is a think tank shining a spotlight on the value of disruptive transformation as a force for social as well as economic good. Alana led a fascinating discussion on thinking about higher education in terms of disruptive innovation. Using examples like the steel industry, where economics, technology and business models converged to transform an industry not through stealth, or sneak attacks, but incrementally, out in the open, moving up market. The disrupted incumbents often play a role in setting the stage for the disruption, as was the case when integrated steel mills conceded unprofitable product segments to the mini-mills, which started an up-market cascade that upended the steel industry.

Read more about disruptive innovation, and CCI

Alana complimented EMBA educators on having already moved into a state of greater awareness. Although it seemed to me that the lesson of disruptive innovation is not simply one of alertness, but one of action. She followed her compliments with a stiff chaser. Alana challenged the EMBA educators to continue evolving, and experimenting, but also to share what they're already doing differently with the rest of the university ecosystem. It would not be overstating to characterize her tone about the state of higher education generally, as one of urgency.

This prompted an energetic dialogue around the many distinctions and degrees along the continuum of knowledge transfer (MOOCs, Coursera, and YouTube), to job training (, all the way up the broader up-market space where universities add a higher echelon of values in the form of things like knowledge creation, research, and community. That discussion will no doubt continue to heat up, and fuel more change.

Neuroscience? For MBA's?!

It was also informative, and satisfyingly consistent with the inspiration behind Matrix Insights that #EMBAC16 started with a pre-conference for Directors, led by Scott Halford (author of “Be a Shortcut,” and “Activate Your Brain”).

Scott's session entitled, “Leader Resilience–The Neuroscience of Success” underscored how universally accepted, and applicable is the value of working to understand our inner workings- Emotional Intelligence and cognition. I spoke with a number of directors who quoted and complimented Scott on the lesson that our mission-critical role as leaders is to strive toward being emotionally intelligent both as individuals, and as teams. One of Scott's enduring messages that this audience carried away was his concept of becoming 'human shortcuts.' Essentially those who make other people’s lives run more smoothly. How: fueled by high EQ, and powered by working into areas where others lack the time, ability, talent or willingness.

Shift Happens

Above all else I witnessed examples of how rapid and expansive are the changes coming in executive education. We knew this to a large extent, after all the conference was styled 'Redesign and Renewal.' But hearing the magnitude, and seeing the illustrations — with data, anecdotes, and innovation success and failures— was an eye-opener. Two other takeaways, though they don't qualify as news:

  • Millenials don’t gravitate to traditional classroom experiences, and
  • Employers don’t approach the Executive MBA the way employers did in the last century

While not new, these persistent dynamics are producing a fascinating effect: (r)evolution. That’s near and dear to what we do at Matrix Insights, and so that became a launching point for a range of conversations where I was able to share back what we're learning in our work.

Top Five Questions

Recounting four days and nights of conversations is a tedious undertaking as writer or reader. Instead, I've found that sharing this sort of journey is nicely summarized through the insightful and frequent questions that came up, and how we respond.

Question #5: “Which Lens on leadership is the best?”
This one typically comes up shortly after I explain that we employ five different lenses in our software:

Emotional Competencies
Performance Five
Personality Type
Interaction Styles, and
Essential Motivators

Learn More about our Lenses

Experienced professionals recognize these as five distinct assessment models, and many quickly yield to temptation. Comparisons ensue. Variations on this question include: “Which lens is most popular?” or “What lens is most efficacious for executives?” or “Which lens should I start my EMBA’s in?”

In this space when applied psychological models come up it’s also common to hear spirited devotions like: “We love Strengths.” “We always use Meyers Briggs.” “I’m EQ 2.0 certified,” or “I’ve used DISC for 20 years.”

These questions, and the underlying devotions all stem from a fossilized idea, whose time has long since gone. The idea went like this: some singular event, exercise, workshop, course or perspective is an adequate model for developing leadership skills. The philosophical 'momentum' behind this idea of off-the-shelf, one-and-done development does complicate the conversation, but here's where the complications end, and the future begins.

A: At Matrix Insights we value all the lenses, each for different purposes, for different audiences, at the right stage of career, individual, or team evolution. In fact, all of our lenses are strength finders, all our lenses build trust, and they all build collective intelligence. Each of our lenses will heighten emotional intelligence as part of a process, indeed a journey of development.

What we found is that all the traditional assessments identified natural strengths. Likewise, all our lenses build baseline self-awareness. What we do that’s transformative, our secret sauce if you will, is that transcends the traditional baseline with mobile, personalized, recursive, and on-demand micro-learning. The specific actionable tips which fuel our learning ecosystem support improved human-to-human interactions (what we call, "Relationship Insights"), and advanced teaming skills (what we call, “Team Insights”). It all comes together in online Action Planing to drive accountabilty. All that functionality lives in the cloud, where educators can access it as easily as students, and layer this new-age learning model into co-curricular programs, or coursework that intersects with leadership, coaching, career counseling, and mentorship.

It’s been our experience that self-awareness is table stakes at any level of management. Leadership development that finds your strengths, and holds up a mirror is the equivalent of making it to base camp in mountaineering. No serious mountaineer aspires to send home pictures of base camp, they want to summit. To summit in the world of teamwork, and leadership, the hard work happens above base camp, where it’s mandatory to choose your guide wisely, dig deep, bring the right gear, apply the right strategies at the right time, and be accountable to a plan of action.

Question #4: “What about Privacy?”

A: Privacy, and trust are critical to any healthy developmental atmosphere. Those will remain cornerstones to any developmental program, and in our software we are innovating by opening up two key areas, but only two: Relationship Insights, and Team Insights. Those shared areas are designed to help individuals and teams to relate, and collaborate better using what they learn together on In these areas, we're advancing the privacy boundary for the greater good.

When an Administrator subscribes learners to a team, those team members all gain Relationship Insights and Team Insights for common team members. The faculty or staff in the role of Administrator decide who is assigned to any given team. On my Leadership Dashboard for example I have personally selected preferences as an ENTJ, In Charge, Theorist, Strategic Driver.

Sample of Team Insights, from Performance Five. Copyright 2016, Matrix Insights, LLC.

Those attributes of my own work on the Leadership Dashboard are shared with my team at Matrix Insights, so we as a group can become more deliberate and mindful about things like our Problem Solving Pattern. But that’s all that my team sees from my profile, and how it impacts the teams, or the relationships I share. Only My coach or my manager will see more. All the rest of any given learner profile is private. Personal Insights (profile reports) and the Action Plan are private as between a learner and their Coach.

If you do have a learner with unique sensitivity, or privacy needs they can elect not to benefit from Relationship Insights and Team Insights with the team. However, it’s well worth noting: I’ve fielded this question about 'opting-in' literally hundreds of time: “Do I have to participate if I don't want to?” But I’ve never actually seen a learner conclude that the risk was greater than the reward.

Question #3: “This Leadership Dashboard sounds tremendous, but can we afford it?”
A: The simple answer is that our subscriptions are an investment of mere pennies per day. Even if you use multiple lenses, to maximize the developmental impact, your students probably spent more on their Economics & Finance textbooks than you’ll pay to enroll them in And as much as we all value Eco-Finance coursework, I can also assure you that what most students learn about leadership and teamwork using will stay with them longer, and serve them better than any macro-economic lessons in unemployment, interest rates, inflation, and monetary policy. Yawn. Apologies to all Keynesians, Marxists, and Monetarists in per-capita portions.

Best of all our software is free for educators, learning leaders, and coaches. There’s no charge for qualified professionals to get started. We get you started with a free consultation, and needs analysis session with one of our expert facilitators. We also have a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If you’re not happy, you don’t pay. We think that’s the best kind of relationship, one based on mutual value, and promises kept.

Question #2: “How do we start?“

A: It's risk free, simple, and it starts repaying you immediately. Most new customers start with a pilot program, typically with their own intact team. You, your direct reports, and even your manager can enroll on the Leadership Dashboard, with our compliments. With an investment of only a few minutes of time (build a profile, and complete a brief discovery exercise) you'll see the power of the Leadership Dashboard at work. We'll even facilitate a workshop to show you how to get the most out of the Leadership Dashboard with and through the people with whom you work most closely. Creating a more emotionally intelligent team is all it takes to illustrate the value of our approach, and that always launches into the next conversation: let's transpose this same dynamic into programs for the students you're developing.

Question #1 “Can you help us change our approach to leadership programs?”

A: We definitely can, and that’s one of the most exciting dimension of what we do. Here are just a few specific ways we’re doing that today:

1) We help educators market their programs through differentiation. and the Leadership Dashboard are innovative concepts. Indeed we regularly use words like revolutionary, visionary and cutting-edge to talk about what we do. And so do our customers. Those are powerful adjectives and all, but in practice they actually help your programs stand apart from the pack, and the traditional approaches. 2) We also help busy program administrators do more, for more students, in less time. Our Coaching Dashboard helps you manage, track, and engage your students and their individual needs more efficiently, and more effectively than you’re probably doing it today. 3) As mentioned above, we've even seen schools creating new co-curricular, and curricular offerings— incremental to their traditional work— using as a component to scale their work with Executive Coaching, Peer Coaching, and Career Services. Let us learn more about your program needs, and we will help you tailor the right future for your team, and your students.

So there you have it: the Top-5 Questions from the professional who run graduate programs in business. I’m eager to hear your questions, and the only thing I’m more excited about is the prospect of sharing my answers, and exploring how we can make them impactful for you, and those you're developing.

At Matrix Insights, Todd Nielsen serves in the role of Catalyst, connecting how our software solutions create user experiences that build EQ for individuals, teams, and organizations. You can reach him via email at: