What Color is Your Marshmallow? – Lead With Maturity and Passion

Richard Bolles classic 1970 career advice book “What Color is Your Parachute?”, has provided over 40 years of job seekers with sage wisdom in the art of marketing you and your skills towards a successful job search. It is consistently listed as one of the Top 5 career advice books. In many ways, Bolles’ theories about what makes a successful applicant are more about self-management, self-awareness, and self-discipline as one navigates their way through life. Bolles’ stresses that the path to a happy and successful career (or life) begins with, and is supported by, the degree to which you are willing to honestly conduct a self-inventory. Bolles attempted to create a sense of self-awareness in his reader to ultimately aid in the goal of finding one’s life calling. In 2013, we have a new term for some of the concepts discussed by Bolles. That term is “emotional intelligence”.

One of the areas in which we most need to be self-aware is the knowledge about what creates an emotional reaction, both positive or negative. Emotions influence our thoughts and the decisions we make, such as deciding not to hire someone because “something just didn’t feel right” or “Who’s going to ask the boss for more resources or a pay raise when the boss is having ‘a bad day’?” Emotions also play a large role in our outward displays and behaviors they help define, such as our tone of voice, our body language, and our facial expressions.

Because our emotions play a large role in both our thoughts and behaviors, in the workplace emotions are a defining factor of how we act and perform at work. The foundation for many of these emotions, and our ability to control them, is established early in childhood development. In the early 1970’s, Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel conducted a series of experiments involving pre-school children, who were offered a marshmallow (or other perceived “treat” by an adult. During the offer, the children were told that if they could wait and not eat the marshmallow right away, they could have two marshmallows later. The adult then left the room.
Approximately 75% of the children were able to resist temptation and earn the increased reward. The capper to the experiment was a follow-up study done on the original experimental group 15 years later. The children who were capable of resisting turned out to have done much better on their SAT’s than the non-resistors, and that this correlation was stronger than IQ. In other words, having a higher IQ was less helpful towards achieving a higher SAT score than being able to manage your impulses (and not only impulse management but grit have better correlations to success than being smart).

In high functioning individuals, the two-skill cycle of (1) “I am angry”, and (2) “I am angry but I will not ACT angry” work together in a endless repetitive cycle. To develop self-management, imagine you are coaching someone who “flunked” the marshmallow-test. What would you tell them? Then, imagine how you might benefit from controlling your own impulses. Imagine a scenario where that might be helpful or assist in achieving a positive outcome. Ultimately, unless your job is the loneliest on earth, your human interactions each day will constantly produce a range of emotion, that will be yours to harness, and feed the furnace of personal inspiration.

As a leader, designated or otherwise, ask yourself when your impulses began to shout at you, “Am I eating the marshmallow?”