Theresa May has been cruelly nicknamed the Maybot, for her robotic and unemotional responses to meeting real people in real situations. This is ‘learned behaviour’, she has worked extremely hard to be in total control of her emotions, so much so, that now these ‘emotions’ have become ‘defunct’. After so many years of total control, the un-learning process is obviously extremely difficult. She just cannot ‘let go’ anymore.
Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, was walking into the smart Ministry of Health building in The Hague with his cabinet ministers. He was carrying a large paper cup of his favourite coffee, when the automated turnstiles accidentally trapped him and he spilt his coffee. Without thinking, he looked up and saw a uniformed cleaner holding a mop and he instantly asked if he could have use of it, and to the astonishment of his gathered ministers, he started mopping up the spilt coffee.
He didn’t stop there, he then dried off the wet floor to the delight and applause of the cleaners who were now gathered around him. His ministers were dumbfounded and just stood there open-mouthed.
This 2-minute incident was captured on CCTV film and went viral on YouTube in hours.
It did wonders for the standing of Rutte – Prime Ministers just don’t do this! Do they? Well, with today’s wall to wall coverage, they now have to be ‘always on’. Somehow every act appears to be caught on camera and scrutinised in detail.
Our emotions react to an event so much quicker than our thinking does. This wasn’t planned or thought through, and he was comfortable allowing his immediate emotional response free reign.
Eagle eyed viewers can now spot and determine simulation and at the same time, they know full well when its natural and authentic. Most are forgiving on any missteps when it’s authentic and quite unforgiving when it feels like ‘acting’ or rehearsed.
Don’t think about it
The Maybot was at it again just after she landed in Cape Town, South Africa recently. She was greeted by a happy and welcoming bunch of children dancing for her arrival at their school. Despite all the previous criticisms of her inability to engage, she gave it a good go, but it all came out wrong again. She had thought it through and had the time to prepare, but that thinking it through made it look just awful.
Many have commented on her body language and just how petrified she appears when connecting with real people or being asked for a spontaneous response. It is her inner battle with her emotions that comes through, and we all cringe in embarrassment and sometimes sympathy at her total lack of empathy.
Daniel Goleman, the business psychologist and best-selling Harvard author of the ground-breaking book ‘Emotional Intelligence’, says “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
Goleman nails it very clearly. Some have it and others don’t. Are you just born with it? Or can you work on it? She is clearly working very hard at it but with little progress.
Premeditated is not Natural
Ed Miliband, former leader of the Labour party was another who struggled with an authentic engagement with people. He tried very hard but it never quite came off. The infamous premeditated scene in his kitchen when he tried to appear ‘normal’ by ‘casually’ eating a bacon sandwich in front of the rolling cameras was pure TV gold. His clumsy and mangled approach said so much without him having to say anything at all.
When President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama arrived in Belfast in June 2013, they were accompanied by all the usual (over the top) American protocols and security. The plan was for them to drive through the centre of Belfast before President Obama made a televised address to the people of Northern Ireland.
The streets were bulging with happy well-wishers and with everyone wanting to catch a glimpse of the glamorous couple.
Some just have it in Abundance
The motorcade was struggling to make any headway, when suddenly, President Obama in response to the clamour to greet them in person, decided that he and his wife would step down and continue on foot. His security officers were going berserk, but they had made their minds up and whilst holding hands they walked together as the crowd went wild.
To this day, the people of Belfast will never forget both of them for their humility, courage and most of all their empathy.
Many would say that this is a clear deficiency of Theresa May but that might be a bit harsh in my view, its more about the ‘Special Ones’ that have this gift of natural empathy.
Whilst working closely with Dr Adrian Atkinson, one of the UK’s leading business psychologists, we talked about emotional intelligence. He shared with me his view, with a large glint in his eye, that Daniel Goleman came along at just the right time. The new approach of emotional intelligence had become a fixture amongst the top psychologists and had given a huge boost to his industry. His rather ‘tongue in cheek’ view was that “when you boil it all down, emotional intelligence is just super interpersonal skills”.
Whilst he was being light hearted, there is a strong element of truth to this.
Learning from the Best
The master of emotional connection is of course the late and great Nelson Mandela. There are so many stories of his common touch, his ability to never forget anyone and to go out of his way to ensure that all he meets feel special and recognised.
One of his golden episodes involved a leading South African CEO being driven by his long serving and loyal driver to dinner with Mandela at his home.
They arrived ahead of schedule and the CEO was greeted warmly by Mandela and welcomed into his home. The driver parked the car up and turned off the engine, and proceeded to patiently wait until the dinner was over. Within a few minutes he was surprised to see Mandela come out and head towards the car. He quickly wound down the window and Mandela leant forward and invited him to join them inside for dinner.
The driver could hardly speak. He was not just surprised but nearly overwhelmed with joy and he quietly walked with the smiling and engaging Mandela.
It was an evening to remember as he listened and was invited to give his views and opinions on everything that was discussed. This was more than special and he would never forget the experience.
As he was driving the car home with the CEO clearly still excited at the wonderful dinner, the driver pulled over and came out of the car. He asked the CEO to come out and instantly hugged him and thanked him so much for his generosity and good grace for having arranged for Mandela to invite him in to join them for dinner.
These Mandela stories are sometimes apocryphal but they all feed off and add to the quite incredible and acute emotionally intelligent approach he had to all he ever did.
Start by Becoming So Much More Self-Aware
Back to Daniel Goleman, “I would say that IQ is the strongest predictor of which field you can get into and hold a job in, whether you can be an accountant, lawyer or nurse, for example. But once you are in that field, emotional intelligence emerges as a much stronger predictor of who will be most successful, because it is how we handle ourselves in our relationships that determines how well we do once we are in a given job”.
From Best Practice to Next Practice
- Start to observe and reflect upon how you feel in particular situations
- Take full responsibility for your feelings
- Take the time to celebrate the positive things that happen around you
- Try anticipating how you feel in given stressful situations
- Acknowledge what triggers your negative emotional responses
- Practice how to ‘snap out of it’
- Don’t get mad
- Be realistic about what you can and can’t do
- Work on making yourself approachable
- Cultivate a curiosity about strangers
Be True to You
Theresa May is clearly intelligent, fully committed and talented, but she will never be adept at reacting spontaneously and authentically to any given situation. She has trained herself away from ‘knee jerk’ reactions as she fears making mistakes or being caught off guard.
Given this, and the fact she has really tried and given it her all, it just be time for Theresa May to find her true calling which is not such a public leadership role, and certainly not a Prime Minister in such troubled times. It increasingly will demand for her to emotionally connect with anyone and everyone she may meet, in the most unforgiving public environments.
No matter how clever and intelligent you are, when dealing with people, remember you are always dealing with people and their emotions, not their logic and intellect.