The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) recently identified empathy, a component of emotional intelligence, as critical to the most effective leadership, particularly during this very stressful time when leaders must depend so much on others to help their organizations survive and prosper. Engaged employees are more productive and positively impact organizational profitability, but the researchers who published Closing the Engagement Gap, found only one-fifth of the global workforce fully engaged. And those disengaged employees can become a liability.

CCL researchers have established that a leader’s empathy in the workplace is positively correlated with the job performance of his/her employees . And managers who show more empathy toward direct reports are viewed as better performers in their job by their bosses. Empathy is a core component of emotional intelligence — signaling the ability to put oneself “in the shoes” of someone else.

These findings correlate with the Harvard Business Review’s recent article on the importance of managers adding emotional intelligence skills to their analytical skills. What that means as a practical matter is noticing and attending compassionately to the needs, fears, and concerns of those whom leaders are trying to lead. Those skills are usually different from the skills used to solve pressing business and financial problems. Because these different skill sets come from engaging different parts of our brain — parts that usually can’t both be operational at the same time, it is imperative to learn how to toggle between those two mindsets as appropriate so that we don’t get stuck in either.

For many leaders — particularly those with well-established financial and analytic abilities, the best advice is to take opportunities to exercise that other portion of the brain that can also improve your organization’s engagement, productivity and profits. Establish a caring personal connection with those you are responsible for leading and learn the cues that tell you who needs more support and what it is they need. This is not a matter of being a “soft” leader, but of being a leader who values and learns from the full range of experience that your employees are having.

 

Muir has been interviewed on “Elevating Happiness and Increasing Success with Emotional Intelligence” and her book Beyond Smart: Lawyering with Emotional Intelligence for the Florida Bar Association’s podcast that will be available here and here starting Monday, September 28, 2020. Use Discount Code EIWEB25 for a 25% discount on Beyond Smart!

 

 

The New York City Bar Association panel on Using Emotional Intelligence as a Tool to Improve Lawyers’ Well-Being and Performance featuring Ronda Muir, Natalie Loeb and David Sarnoff  is currently rescheduled as a live webcast on Wednesday, July 29th from 12:30 till 2pm.

The focus of the panel will be on understanding what emotional intelligence means for lawyers and how to use it to improve your communication, client service and leadership skills and to help create a high performance, high functioning workplace. Steps for building specific skills will be reviewed and ways to cope with the stress and anxiety of isolation that we have all experienced will also be explored. Tri-state CLE credit is offered. The program is free for NYC Bar members. Muir’s book Beyond Smart: Lawyering with Emotional Intelligence will be available July 27th through August 8th at a 25% discount with free shipping by using the CODE: ANNUAL20 when ordering on the ABA site.

For more information and to register for the panel, please click here.

We look forward to talking with you about this important topic!

If you’ve been feeling a little lonely lately, you’re not, well, alone. Even before the whole 2020 social isolation thing started, there was good data that “anywhere from 22% to 75% of American adults are persistently lonely,” as more Americans live alone than ever before. Some report rates of feeling lonely doubling over the past 50 years, despite the ability to connect online at almost any time. Loneliness has become, as Vivek H. Murthy, who became U.S. surgeon general in late 2014  termed it, “an epidemic.”  In 2018 the British government was so concerned that it created a “Minister for Loneliness.” And now another epidemic has further exasperated those high numbers, making us all familiar, at least at one time or another, with the pangs of loneliness.

Loneliness doesn’t only make you feel bad – it’s also bad for you. Some compare the number of risks it poses as being similar to those posed by obesity. Loneliness raises the likelihood of developing disorders such as cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, cognitive decline, and metastatic cancer. It also weakens the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections., particularly bad during a pandemic. Loneliness can ossify into a fixed state that permanently changes brain structures and processes, or so says Stephanie Cacioppo, director of the Brain Dynamics Lab at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. She is also the widow of John Cacioppo, who wrote the book Loneliness and died in 2018. So she knows of what she speaks.

The good news from Cacioppo and others is that, with commerce ever seeking a high-demand niche for a new product, there may be a pill on the way. One researcher has suggested that the diagnosis could be called “social isolation syndrome.” Based on various research, the pill might make use of a number of different chemicals, a neurosteroid that eases the hypervigilance that arises when a person perceives social threats and therefore makes it more likely they will venture forth, or a hormone like oxytocin, usually associated with breastfeeding, giving birth, and physical contact, which is shown to encourage social behaviors and trust. And betablockers could possibly reduce some of the destructive physical effects of loneliness.

But is a loneliness pill good news? There are certainly those who question it. Loneliness is an emotion cluster—it can be made up of a number of feelings, such as anger, shame, sadness, jealousy, and grief.  A “loneliness pill” would be part of a growing approach to broadly treat emotions as mental health problems, with interventions focusing on symptoms not causes.  One of the problems with eliminating the symptoms—the feelings that can be so problematic, is that we can become, as one doctor called it, “a medicated, comfortably numb society.” The prevalent use of psychotropic drugs, particularly by young people, has been cited by some authorities as part of the reason for the widespread depression that currently exists—based on an inability to “feel” life’s ups and downs. We are also less likely to take steps to address emotions we can’t really feel.

What to do until the loneliness pill arrives? To help relieve her loneliness, Cacioppo says she’s relying on many of the social fitness exercises that she and her husband validated together, such as making an effort to express gratitude, doing something nice for someone else without expecting something in return, choosing to engage with strangers, and sharing good news with others.  “I am living proof of my science,” she says. “I apply it every day.”

Others have noted research that shows that lonely people benefit from physical interactions with pets., which looks to be born out by the many pets added to households during this stressful time.

Finding ways to help others is particularly effective in combating loneliness. As Steve Cole, a professor of medicine, psychiatry, and behavioral sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine, notes, “There is robust evidence that the neurobiology of helping others is one of the most rewarding things a brain can do.” Actively searching for meaning in your life, whether by joining a volunteer organization, movement, or religious group, has also been demonstrated to relieve loneliness, less because you meet other people, but more because it can be an avenue to taking part in something larger than yourself, feeling like you are living your life with a purpose.

So what is the takeaway for the lonely? Not to denigrate or ignore the pain or dislocation felt. But rather to keep in mind that the feelings we have are valid and should be embraced. And at least for now to take some of the steps mentioned above. And embrace the next round of feelings that follow.

What a few months this has been! We can say with some certainty that emotions have been intensely and widely felt. Unfortunately, many of those emotions have been destructive to our mental health—fear, anxiety, loneliness and depression have accompanied us through this long quarantine and made it harder to persevere and perform at the high standards we set for ourselves. On top of that, widespread concerns about justice and community relations are being voiced around the world, likely upsetting whatever for-the-moment equilibrium we have managed to achieve in new-normal lives.

Lawyers are at high risk for mental health problems to start out with, as the 2016 ABA-Hazelden study made clear. Astronomical levels of mental distress were found among attorneys, with 28%, 19%, and 23% experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress, respectively, outpacing the general population and other high-performance professions. For example, attorneys experience problematic drinking at a higher rate than surgeons, who they are often compared to. And that was before Covid-19, racial injustice and rioting took to our streets.

In addition to the pain and lost opportunity that these mental health conditions impose on individual attorneys, clients risk getting insufficient or even incorrect legal advice from distressed attorneys, and employers who turn a blind eye to their lawyers’ mental states risk malpractice liability.

What are we doing to help combat these discouraging statistics, which must be rising significantly over the last few months? New York has announced that it will no longer ask questions about mental health on bar applications, following Washington, Connecticut and Louisiana, among others. But that is still a minority position despite the rising concern that lawyers don’t ask for help with these too-prevalent issues because of a fear of rejection or stigma. Some of the conclusions made in the ABA-Hazelden study are the need for greater investments in and more interventions available at lawyer-assistance programs, and that “The confidential nature of lawyer-assistance programs should be more widely publicized in an effort to overcome the privacy concerns that may create barriers between struggling attorneys and the help they need.”

What individual lawyers can do to start on a road to better mental health is to recognize and accept their emotional states, regardless of how painful that may be, and then look for help to address them. It is not a sign of weakness to be sensitive to the many dislocations occurring during this difficult time. It is strength that opens our eyes to our distress and prompts us to search for ways forward. Regular meditation, good nutrition and physical exercise are self-help steps that can be taken immediately. Connecting with colleagues, friends and relatives–which lawyers can be slow to do–can also help us recognize the value we have to others and they have to us.

Employers can check in regularly with their lawyers. Yes, lawyers often like to work alone and may be relishing their privacy rather than decrying the isolation, but even committed introverts can have too much of what starts out as a good thing. If a lawyer is not keeping regular schedules and meeting deadlines, their situation should be explored and assistance offered.

As is often repeated, we are all in this together. It is a mantra that is true. Working together, with our colleagues, friends and families, on maintaining our equilibrium will put us on the best path to mental health.

ONLY TODAY! Read during the quarantine about Emotional Intelligence!  Friday, May 1 is Law Day and ABA Publishing is celebrating this special day by offering a promotion of 30% off + free ground shipping on all books and e-books. Take this opportunity to get your copy of Beyond Smart: Lawyering with Emotional Intelligence. This is a one-day sale! The discount code is LAWDAY2020.

The panel on Emotional Intelligence featuring Ronda Muir, Natalie Loeb and David Sarnoff that was scheduled for Thursday, April 16 is currently rescheduled for Wednesday, July 29th at the New York City Bar Association at 42 W 44th St, New York, NY , from 6:30 till 8:30 pm. The program can also be attended by live webcast.

The focus of the panel will be on understanding what emotional intelligence means for lawyers and how to use it to improve your communication, client service and leadership skills and to help create a high performance, high functioning workplace. Steps for building specific skills will be reviewed and ways to cope with the stress and anxiety of isolation that we have all experienced will also be explored. Tri-state CLE credit is offered. The program is free for NYC Bar members.

So that lawsuit we knew was coming has landed.

According to a report last week by Above the Law, Dentons is facing a $25 million lawsuit filed in Calgary by a client that had paid over $34 million to the firm over the last 10 years, primarily in connection with the sale of a division to a private equity firm.

The Venning Group alleges that both Dentons and its partner Shane Stevenson told them that soon after the sale, the partner would come in-house at the Venning Group, and in anticipation of the move, Stevenson became involved as a shareholder or director in a number of Venning’s companies, issuing shares to himself in some instances “without the knowledge or consent of the plaintiffs” and on terms that “were not fair and reasonable to the Venning Group.”

“Dentons and Stevenson represented to [Venning] that it was standard industry practice to grant legal counsel equity participation in the companies for whom they acted,” the lawsuit states.

Citing the failure of Dentons to recommend that the client get independent legal advice in relation to these transactions, the lawsuit claims self-dealing, conflict of interest, and gross over-billing.

Problematic enough. But here’s the part that particularly interests us. Additionally, the complaint alleges that Stevenson has an ongoing substance abuse problem–alcohol and cocaine–that Dentons was aware of. But the firm nevertheless failed to properly supervise his legal work and did not warn Venning that the work done for them by Stevenson might be tainted by his use of drugs.

To add some color to those allegations, evidently the firm had sent Stevenson to multiple stays in a rehabilitation facility and was aware that his substance abuse was re-emerging. Stevenson was charged in 2009 with two separate incidents of impaired driving that were later dropped. And in 2018, he was arrested on charges of impaired driving (with a very high blood alcohol level) in a hit-and-run incident that left a 16-year-old girl dead. His trial is scheduled for October.

“Stevenson was providing advice to the Venning Group while under the influence of intoxicants and narcotics including alcohol and cocaine,” the lawsuit states. Venning Group claims that Dentons owed a duty to Venning to monitor the work Stevenson was doing “given Stevenson’s known substance abuse history and to warn [Venning] they should not rely upon Stevenson’s advice.”

So this is a lawsuit brought in Canada, in the province of Alberta, whose laws we will not opine on. And the level of both addiction and firm awareness of the partner’s issues seems particularly high.

But the 2016 ABA/Hazelden study made it very clear that in the United States the number of seriously impaired lawyers practicing law is heart-stopping: over a third are suffering from substance abuse alone, with depression, anxiety and other emotional conditions magnifying the numbers. Not to mention the effects generated by the increasing use of marijuana and other “light” drugs. All of which geometrically expands the number of claims of professional malfeasance and mismanagement that clients may well be able to make against individual lawyers and their deep-pocket firms.

Of course, Dentons intends “to mount a vigorous defen[s]e to these allegations.”

But the most aggressive and impactful response would be to acknowledge the massive amount of impairment among practitioners today and proactively put in place programs to systemically recognize and support the recovery of those individuals before they tank their own fortunes and those of their firms.

Firms cannot put their heads in the sand when it comes to impaired lawyering. There is too much data out there and the stakes are too high. And unfortunately, so is the level of impairment.

 

An interesting confluence is happening in the area of mental health. Technology is offering ways to recognize mental health issues that could benefit from remediation and also paths along which help can be delivered. And lawyers are in need of just such assistance.

Our last post was about CIMON, the first autonomous free-floating astronaut-assistant robot aboard the U.S. space station, which is programmed to “detect and help alleviate . . . the social issues” that can arise in such close quarters.

Many law firms have the same objectives, particularly in light of devastating data about the emotional state of legal practitioners and the health and liability risks posed. Among the most pro-active firms is Reed Smith, which has launched a global Mental Health Task Force to help address those issues.

“The mission of this task force is to ensure that our lawyers and professional staff have access to help whenever they or their family members experience or are at risk of experiencing mental health or substance use issues,” according to Partner Kimberly Gold, who will serve as the inaugural chair.

The problem that arises profession-wide, however, is the difficulty in identifying who is having those issues and which issues they are having. Lawyers tend to be closed-mouth, particularly when regarding their own vulnerabilities, and supervisors are no more likely to “rat” on their supervisees. “Full steam ahead until death (or disability) do we part” tends to be the unspoken slogan.

Reed Smith recognizes that problem, noting their intention to “cultivate a workplace culture that promotes psychological wellness and positive help-seeking behaviors” and “to develop a comprehensive strategy for assessing and addressing these outcomes.”

That culture and those strategies are in fact the keys to a healthier, more productive legal workforce. And technology may be able to play a part, particularly given that other attempts at reculturations and new strategies have not be able to crack the nut.

A recent article in Time, “Artificial Intelligence Could Help Solve America’s Impending Mental Health Crisis,” is aimed at expanding tools for psychiatrists, who in the near future are likely to be too few in number to care for all those who need them. Artificial intelligence (AI) offers the tantalizing prospect of being able to analyze data and pick up on warning signs so subtle that humans might not notice them, and then alert others to the need for help. In some instances, that can be literal lifesaving, “since research has shown that checking in with patients who are suicidal or in mental distress can keep them safe.”

This is, of course, not a new concept. Apple watch and other wearables are being ballyhooed as a medical assistant on your wrist, able to track your sleep and physical activity and potentially recognize all sorts of physical warning signs from heart arrhythmias to blood pressure spikes. Researchers suggest that AI could also analyze answers given periodically to questions about one’s emotional state, as well as the mood, pace and word choice in a person’s soundbites and written work, in order to identify signs of mental distress. Not that long ago, a Harvard researcher was looking into building a computer mouse that could detect through touch during the work day high levels of stress and that would trigger alarms and suggested remediations.

Some medical apps and programs already claim to incorporate AI, such as Woebot, an app-based mood tracker and chatbot that combines AI and principles from cognitive behavioral therapy. But the medical world recognizes that providing the best mental health assistance requires a level of emotional intelligence that technology can’t yet simulate.

There are a couple of obvious caveats. We are still talking years–perhaps as much as a decade or more–to fine tune these technological helpers. Research has to be completed, analyzed and loaded into algorithms and the end product has to be tested and marketed.

The other caveat is the current one about privacy. Are you really willing to use the firm’s highly sensitive mouse? To have your pulse and blood pressure and skin temperature recorded for Big Managing Partner to look over? Despite its potential good? Hard to answer that question now.

But there is a tremendous need. Let’s not quibble about that. If cultures can be changed–without simply waiting for 30% of the firm to leave or succumb–then now is the time to figure that out. I’m betting that the strategy of marinating every lawyer in principles of emotional intelligence aimed at benefiting their own and their colleagues’ health is the best way forward.