People First! Darren Kanthal, "How Positive Intelligence Will Transform your Leadership"

Sit back, and grab a coffee as Morag and Darren Kanthal talk about the power of Positive intelligence!

Welcome to SkyeTeam's People First! In this series, we explore the people side of successful business and careers. We all have a story to share, a leadership journey that we are experiencing.

We'll be interviewing authors, business leaders, thought leaders, and people like you to uncover the latest ideas, resources, and tools to help you become more effective at work - and in life. As it turns out, the secret is cultivating winning relationships. Business is personal, and relationships matter!

So, sit back, and grab a coffee as Morag and Darren Kanthal talk about the power of Positive intelligence!

Chapter Layout:
0:00 - Open
1:20 - Origin Story
2:49 - Emotional Arborist
5:46 - Increasing Your Vocabulary
8:13 - Transitions
11:44 - Be Present
13:02 - Positive Intelligence
15:02 - Grudges
18:19 - Take Your Own Medicine
21:51 - Contact Info & Wrap 

PQ Saboteur Assessment:

- [INTRO] Welcome to SkyeTeam's People First with Morag Barrett

- I'm excited for this week's episode of People First because my guest is my friend and colleague Darren Kanthal who is an executive career coach combining a passion for developing leaders with deep expertise in the career process and more than 20 years of experience in human resources and talent. He knows people. He's a New Yorker at Heart which I think just means he walks quickly. Darren has a uniquely unapologetic yet compassionate style and an individualized results approach, orientated approach to helping leaders show up as the best versions of themselves at every stage of their career. What I do like though is that Darren describes himself as an emotional arborist. He likes "Smokey the Bear" and believes only you can prevent emotional forest fires. So Darren, welcome to People First.

- Thank you, thank you. That's a very well-written bio. I wonder who wrote that?

- Well, I hope it was you, but if not it was me when I'll take credit for it. Hey but I'm going to come back to the emotional arborist piece in just a moment. But I'm curious when you were a wee lad you're sitting at elementary school and the teacher said Hey Darren, hey, Darren, pay attention. What do you want to be when you grow up? What was your answer?

- So two answers. The obvious answer was a baseball player but I was not going to be a baseball player interestingly enough because I formulated a career in human resources. My grandmother was the personnel manager at my pediatrician's office, and I love my pediatrician. And so I wanted to be a doctor. That's what I wanted to be when I was growing up to be a pediatrician.

- Fair enough. So did you end up studying medicine at all? I mean, how do you make a pivot from wanting to be a pediatrician to now a career coach and a human resources professional?

- No, not at all. I really was not very good at Chemistry nor Biology and it became pretty evident in high school that being a doctor was not my path. And so going into college, right as a 18 year old kid my only idea was my dad was an entrepreneur. And so I was like, oh I'll go after business, I'll be a business major. And interestingly enough my college was so focused on four classes of economics which was yawn boring. But being in business was what I enjoyed. You know, I got a chance to work with my dad and took over his business when he passed away. And that was the runway to being an entrepreneur.

- Entrepreneur, so as I shared in the introduction you describe yourself now as an emotional arborist and along with Smokey Bear that only we, I, can prevent emotional forest fires. Tell me what does that mean?

- All right, so there's a story here of course, right? So for much of my formative years I exhibited really two emotions which was happiness and anger. Those closest to me knew that my range was much deeper and wider but in my immaturity and lack of emotional vocabulary I knew happiness and anger. That's what I had displayed. And it became a joke amongst my friends that I was this rock. Like, you can count on me to be happy or angry, and that was it. And fast forward to 2013, I get divorced happily. It's a good thing. I go to therapy because I'm 50% of this equation. And however much I want to blame my ex-wife I'm still a piece of this pie. And shortly after I started therapy, I cried for weeks. I cried at commercials, at billboards, at songs, driving, sitting, doing nothing. I cried. And I said to my therapist I think you broke me. And she said, no I didn't break you. You're exhibiting emotions you've held in for a long time. And really what came out was I am an emotional being. I have a wide range of emotions. I just didn't have the vocabulary. So that was the first step towards this emotional arborist. Throughout my early career the emotional forest fires that I would ignite were my emotional outbursts. What I've learned is a lot of my actions were to cover up insecurities. And so if I felt challenged in a way I didn't want to be challenged if my control was taken away, I puffed up and I got pointed, and loud and defensive, and accusatory, and all these different things. And those are emotional forest fires. Bridges were burned, I had to apologize, I've been let go or fired from jobs. And it's a difficult place to be.

- It is and it's I listened to that story and I'm thinking, oh my goodness we could be twins because as a British woman, certainly as I grew up displaying emotions was not encouraged. And whilst I don't necessarily have the external forest fires that I've created, I certainly know that they were internal. I tamp them down. And in fact I recently wrote a blog post on LinkedIn that I'll put a link to it, but it was called "if you don't like the show change the channel." Because I had that emotional epiphany the dam well broke only in fall of last year. And I recount that story in that LinkedIn post. So I encourage people to go and have a look because whether we emote them or not we all are emotional creatures. It's just whether we tamp them down or how we let them out appropriately. So for people listening, I mean what are the first steps in terms of increasing your vocabulary from, you know the happy to angry spectrum? What advice do you have for us for even naming, name that emotion?

- Honestly, a cheat sheet. And I'm happy sharing with you, my cheat sheet and it's a pie. And the middle of the pie is kind of the obvious emotion a lot of us feel happy, angry, sad, I said angry already, a couple of others. And then it goes out to the secondary and tertiary sides of that pie to show you, okay, you're angry, maybe you're disappointed, Maybe you're insecure. Maybe you're all these other things. And I didn't have that vocabulary. And so that's how I started. I looked at the primary and the center and I started moving out and realized like, oh my God I'm angry because of these other things.

- So I love that because there are, we're told more than 400 emotions, but we remember the strong ones the intense ones, and I liken it to angry. So is angry incandescent rage that's been my latest phrase or is it miffed? And understanding the degree of anger allows us to think about, and to what reason? Why is it? Is it because I feel disrespected? Is it because I feel that my voice isn't being heard? Is it disappointed because somebody didn't put their mug in the dishwasher? And then once I understand the why and what I'm feeling I can make a choice as to how to respond versus just coming out, fight or flight.

- Yes, and that's the second piece to it is the emotion is the alert signal. My innate way or my old way was to react as soon as I felt whatever. Like I was angry and then I'm enraged and I'm screaming at somebody. Nowadays, if I'm feeling rage or whatever the emotion may be that's on the negative side of the spectrum, there's a pause. And then there's a series of questions in my head. Just like you described, like why do I feel this way? What is happening? Is my body giving me a sensation? Do I know the answer? Am I just feeling annoyed? But don't even know why? And if so, what do I do with it, right? The old way was I would react not in kind. That's what I used to do. And nowadays I pause and I communicate with myself and others. I might say I'm annoyed today. I act out of character my pot not an excuse. It's an acknowledgement that I'm out of character today.

- So in your work as an executive career coach, I mean when people are going through a time of transition whether I'm choosing to leave a career or move to a new role, or it's being foisted on me because I'm being exited from an organization that's a very emotional roller coaster. So what are your learnings and observations from the leaders that you're working with now as to how to navigate that?

- You know interestingly enough, it was kind of what you were saying earlier about, you know the English way is not to talk about emotions and we tamp it down. And it's very similar in corporate America. I mean, I've heard so many times check your emotions at the door. It's business it's not personal. And I call BS on that, right? If you having a bad morning because your kid had a temper tantrum you got stuck in terrible traffic, you got a flat tire, you spilled coffee on your shirt, fill in the blank. How do you just turn that off? I don't know that you really can, I couldn't. Now some people can compartmentalize and I'm sure we can discuss that where I'm going with this is the way it relates to executives trying to up-level or improve upon competencies or in the individuals looking for a new job, It is being aware of how I feel. If I am recognized that I'm the center of my universe and that's not to be self-centered, even though it is right? But we see nothing other than through our own eyes and through perspectives, right? If these things make me annoyed or miffed or enraged or extraordinarily happy or fill in the blank and we're cognizant of the reasons that we feel that way, right now we're looking more clearly. Now we're not tamping things down and bottling up emotions that at some point are going to explode or spill out of our container. And so that's the big thing.

- And I think it's even important more important now because that whole myth of leave your emotions at the door, which I agree with you BS, I talk about that in Cultivate my book, which is business is personal relationships matter. That's what's now when we're all work or many of us are working from home, and it's just a bedroom door or the kitchen door that stands between us and our family then it's not just the emotions we're bringing into the work meetings and our Zoom calls but also what's happening in the Workday. And how do we take them? And how does that impact our family our social and that part of our lives too?

- Yeah, and that's, you know excuse me. that is something that I hear a lot from my clients which is the dissatisfaction, the lack of fulfillment they have at work bleeds into their personal time. There's a lack of enjoyment in things they've always enjoyed being outside, skiing or snowboarding, riding bikes, exercising, fill in the blank. They're not quite as present with their families and think about all the downstream effects, right? If you're not present with your kids or your family or your loved ones, or your friends, right? They start thinking there's something wrong with them. And you may or may not even realize that you're more reserved, or isolated, or impatient, or not quite as funny as you normally are or all those things. That is one of the things that I see most often and that is relatively unspoken

- Okay I love what you're saying there. And of course, what we've shared is we need to be able to name our emotions. We need to be curious as to why am I feeling it? Why am I feeling joyous today? Or why am I feeling like I'm working through peanut butter? And everything's an effort today because then that gives us a choice on how we respond. So what advice would you give to people right now to be present and centered and channel their emotions in a way that is helpful for them and others?

- The big thing for me has been the pause. And I've gotten this advice so many times in my career because I was the guy that fired off the email when I was pissed because something happened. And I had so many managers tell me to pause or to write the email and send it to them or send it to myself or whatever the thing was. The biggest thing is pause, right? Many of us are actually pretty aware of, hey I'm about to lose it, or I'm feeling overwhelmed, or fill in the blank on the emotion. If we can pause before we take action if we can use the emotion as an alert signal, kind of like the pain of burning your hand on a hot stove, right? That's the alert signal that it's hot off. If the negative emotion is the pain of the hot stove and we're like, whoa! let me pause before I react, that is the biggest thing. It's very hard. I'm not suggesting it's a simple thing yet that is a one piece of advice that has been so ignored early in my career. And so adopted and accepted now.

- Now I know one of the tools that you use actively in your coaching practice and we do too is positive intelligence. So give us a little bit, what is positive intelligence and how have you found it useful?

- Positive intelligence is built on the premise or the concept of mental fitness and in the same way that you exercise your body to become strong, in positive intelligence we say you have to exercise your brain to be mentally fit. And we define mental fitness as your ability to handle life's challenges with a positive rather than negative outcome but with mindset, sorry not outcome. The ability to handle life's challenges with a positive rather than negative mindset.

- Does that mean I have to be little house on the prairie skipping through the daisies glass half full all the time.

- You know, it's funny, some of my clients will say that, they'll say, I feel like you're just telling me put on rose-colored glasses And no, it's not that right? It's not to suggest that we don't, we, as in people who practice positive intelligence or we as humans, don't feel negative emotions, don't lose our tempers, don't fill in the blank. What it is saying is that we, if we are mentally fit, can overcome some challenges that may otherwise derail us or hijack us and not get hijacked. One of the greatest outcomes that I've had from positive intelligence is what I call the recovery time from hijack to recovery. I used to hold grudges. I used to beat myself up for mistakes. I used to berate you for whatever I deemed that you weren't good at. And then that was the story. And that would go on for days sometimes. Today currently, the time I get hijack to recovery can be a matter of minutes or hours. It has not been days in well over 12 months. I have not held a grudge for days in over 12 months, where earlier in my life I would hold it for weeks sometimes.

- And what I like about what you're sharing with those stories is my guess is that some of those grudges that you held, you held against me and I had absolutely no idea, maybe ranting at me. But you're ranting at me, you know I'm off screen. You're ranting at me in your head, you're ranting at me with your significant other or the dog or the cat or anybody who will listen but you're not sharing it with me. So I'm oblivious.

- That's right.

- And then the fact that I'm oblivious the next time you and I are in a meeting together just fuels your inner rage Because how could I not know?

- Right.

- And here I am going. Everything's great, you know? So how do you get to understand then what those saboteurs are? And then shorten that time to recovery that you talked about

- Difficult question to answer just because there's a lot to it. Simplistically there is a free assessment to identify what we call our saboteurs. And these are our derailers. These are the characters that play out in life. Things like the avoider, we avoid difficult conversations or uncomfortable situations, or even the discomfort of the emotions we feel, right? There is a saboteur called the pleaser. It's the person that says yes to everything and puts themselves second third or fourth to everybody else's needs and at some point they become resentful. There is one of my top ones and more I know one of yours as well is restless. There was always something better out there. I'm easily distracted. I'm looking at you but my mind is thinking about something else. These are just some of the characters that we call saboteurs.

- I love the little voices in your the little icons on your shoulder that can cause this. And I know for my own purposes you said avoider is one of my top ones. In fact, I don't know if it will show but I scored an 8.8, hey a winner here for avoider. So I will put the link to the assessment in the show notes so that others can go and look at it but here's it coach me now then Darren now that we know the avoider is my top characteristic for those listening, what might that look and feel like? And of course now, what do I do with that information?

- Yeah, my belief and what I coach a lot of my clients on is recognize what you're doing, name it as we said earlier with the emotion, sit there for as long as you need to sit there and then think about the action it needs to take to move. In my coaching I'm a big fan I'm a big believer in, we need to take action to move, move from negative emotion, move from negative situations just move. So the coaching would play out in a sequence of like this of where do you see the avoider showing up? What is the story you tell yourself, right? Is there a lie you tell yourself like, oh, I'm going to avoid this difficult conversation because I don't want to hurt their feelings. Or I don't want to sit in my discomfort or it's easier if I just don't deal with it. And we know typically it's not it's easier in the moment, but then it lingers

- A small hill becomes a mountain when we don't have these tough conversations. And here's the irony as a leadership coach myself as somebody who creates program and teaches others to have effective conversations taking my own medicine, it just proves on human too. But it comes to taking my own medicine. Cause there's all of those reasons that you've talked about. I don't want to upset you well, surely Darren knows, he understands, oh well maybe it will go away on its own.

- Yeah, and it doesn't, that's the thing, right? So there's an identification of the situation. There's an identification of what are you telling yourself? Which is typically a lie, right? Now with that being said sometimes it does make sense not to engage in the fight. That's all we say, pick your battles, right? So they're not always bad, meaning it's not an always or never.

- What I like about that though is it allows me to let it go. Because if I'm choosing not to have the conversation then I can't carry the baggage of Darren's not meeting my expectations because that's a twofer. So if I am going to continue to vent and ruminate on it then I need to have that conversation.

- That is right. Correct, yep. There's also an element and what I say a lot of times is you have to give yourself grace, you've got to be willing to forgive yourself for your imperfections. If you did avoid a battle that in hindsight you should not have, beating yourself up further for not doing it serves no purpose other than to bring you further down. Give yourself grace. I recognize in that moment I avoided, okay what do you do with it now? Do you want to revisit the story and go back to that person? Do you want to say, okay this is a learning spot for me? And I will remember this. Now I have the knowledge and power for next time to say, okay, I avoided that conversation with so and so on this particular day. If we remember that much, I'm not going to do it again. So you got to give yourself grace

- Give ourselves grace. So Darren, I know you're also in addition to being the executive career coach and HR consultant you're a sought out keynote speaker. And you recently spoken for SHRM. I mean recently spoken for The Association Talent Development. What are some of the key messages that you're sharing in your keynote presentations?

- So I do speak on positive intelligence. It has been the thing for me. So much so I think about life before and after PQ. And the main messages are one be able to recognize when your saboteurs come to play when you may be spinning or stuck on negative emotion and stop, recognize it and stop. Two is and of course this gets into the positive intelligence program is do some mental exercise, stop, pause, rest, do whatever you do in the positive intelligence world we call them PQ reps, which are mental exercises which in a functional MRI switches the gray matter in your brain from negative side which is left survivor brain to right side which is our human conscious brain, positive emotion brain. So stop the negative emotion do something to shift your brain energy and then find a different perspective. Now it doesn't mean just pick one out of thin air but what could happen if we take this different perspective, right? What is the positive that could come? What gift might come, right? Yes, I may be uncomfortable having this difficult situation and what may come is they could be really appreciative that I'm giving them this feedback. I am no longer harboring the conversation of this grudge that I've been holding for two weeks. I'm respecting my friend and colleague Morag by saying Morag I'm not happy with you right now. Those are the three main points.

- Well thank you I appreciate that. So Darren how can people learn more about you and the work that you do

- I am the only Darren Kanthal in the United States. Lucky enough really your last name is from Germany, and not a happy story but my grandparents defected Germany during World War II, Jewish, and there's a very small clan of us in the United States. I'm the only Darren Kanthal so easily you can find me on LinkedIn and my website is

- All right, well, Darren, I will make sure all of that information is in the show notes. I wish you every continued success and thank you for sharing the insights on positive intelligence.

- Thank you Morag, nice talking to you.

- [Narrator] Thank you so much for joining Morag today. If you enjoyed the show please like and subscribe so you don't miss a thing. If you learn something worth sharing, share it. Cultivate your relationships today when you don't need anything before you need something. Be sure to follow Skyeteam and Morag on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And if you have any ideas about topics we should tackle, interviews we should do, or if you yourself would like to be on the show drop us a line at That's S-K-Y-E Thanks again for joining us today and remember business is personal and relationships matter. We are your allies.

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