Oct. 13, 2022

202 How to Become a More Emotionally Intelligent Leader with Amazon Global Head of EPIC Leadership & Chief EQ Evangelist Richard Hua | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

202 How to Become a More Emotionally Intelligent Leader with Amazon Global Head of EPIC Leadership & Chief EQ Evangelist Richard Hua | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Richard Hua, Global Head of EPIC Leadership and Chief EQ Evangelist at Amazon Web Services. In the conversation, Richard Hua shared his origin story, why he became interested in the power of emotional intelligence, the importance of emotional intelligence to individual and organizational success, and how we can all develop our emotional intelligence EQ. Finally, Richard Hua shared leadership practices for leading with greater emotional intelligence.   


Some highlights:

- Richard Hua on growing up in a challenging environment 

- How the people around us affect our happiness, as well as our emotional and spiritual wellbeing

- Richard Hua on transitioning from being a missionary to a role in high tech 

- The main elements of emotional intelligence

- Richard Hua’s thoughts on the importance of seeking advice and the role it plays in greater self-awareness

- How and why Richard Hua started an EQ movement in Amazon

- Richard Hua on the value of training in developing greater emotional intelligence 

- The role emotional intelligence plays in organizational leadership and how to do it well


John Rossman (Listen to John Rossman’s episode on Partnering Leadership here)

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

Bill George, author of Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success 

Connect with Richard Hua:

Richard Hua Website

Richard Hua on LinkedIn

Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:


More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 



[00:00:00] Mahan Tavakoli: Welcome to partnering leadership. I'm really excited this week to be welcoming Richard Hua to talk about emotional intelligence for epic leadership, leading with empathy, purpose, inspiration, and connection. Richard has spent. Decades training and mentoring leaders in emotional and social intelligence. And he now serves as worldwide head of epic leadership at Amazon web services.

I really enjoy this conversation because emotional intelligence is critical to the way we relate to each other in the work environment and how those deepening connections can lead to us having greater satisfaction in the work that we do and accomplishing more.

I learned a lot from Richard and I'm sure you will too. I also enjoy hearing from you. Keep your comments coming. mahan@mahantavakoli.com, There's a microphone icon on partnering leadership.com. You can leave voice messages for me there if you choose. Now, here is my conversation with Richard Hua

Rich Hua while welcome to partnering leadership. I'm thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.

[00:01:52] Richard Hua: Thank you very much. I'm equally thrilled to be in this, so thank you for inviting me.

[00:01:56] Mahan Tavakoli: Love your thoughts on emotional intelligence and what you have been able to do in training 150,000 plus people at Amazon, but before we talk about emotional intelligence and the role it can play both in our professional leadership and organizational success, would love to know whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing Rich impacted the kind of person you've become.

[00:02:21] Richard Hua: Yeah. I was born in Taiwan and I came to America when I was about three and a half years old. And let just say it was a really challenging experience. There are several things against me. One is, I was incredibly socially awkward. Number two is I had attention deficit, hyperactivity, disorder, ADHD, I mean, I literally was a terrorist like the Tasmanian devil cruising around breaking stuff all over the place.

And three, I couldn't speak English and I spoke Chinese at home. So when I went out of my house, I didn't know how to communicate to anyone. So what happened was that I didn't know how to interact. I didn't know how to make friends. I had no friends and even in kindergarten, when I went to my first, several classes in America, my teacher thought I was cognitively impaired because I couldn't speak English. So she literally stuck me in the corner. And I was treated like that for a few months until I figured out, oh my goodness, this is not a cognitive issue, actually doesn't speak the language.

So let's just say my childhood was pretty unpleasant in different ways. Now my family loved me. That was really great. I'm very grateful for my mom and dad and my sister. But I faced bullying, I faced racism, I face a lot of loneliness and anger and disappointment. So what I decided to do was I decided to shut off all my emotion. I'm like, okay, suck it up. These aren't gonna help you. So just go forward and try to be as robotic as possible because most emotions are basically unpleasant, they stake.

I was pretty smart. So I thought, let me be a genius robot. And that was my goal, Mr. Spock on star Trek. And it worked for a while. I got through high school, got straight A's took honors classes. actually got a perfect score on the S A T and then got into every school I applied to.

And you guessed, I studied engineering. Avoid all that, interpersonal stuff. And then something completely messed up my plan when I was 21 and just graduated from college, it was called, I got married. And my wife was like, Hey, wait a minute. I really want the interpersonal emotional side to come out more.

And so she was actually a great inspiration to me to delve more into that. And move more away from the robotics side to more the sort of human side, less Spock more Captain Kirk.[1]  And then the other thing that happened was even though I studied Electrical Engineering, Computer Science at Berkeley I really felt a calling to work with people and I decided to become a missionary.

So, I wound up going to the Philippines, serving there for several years as a missionary, and then wound being an evangelist, actually in the San Francisco Bay area for another 20 years. So from both a personal perspective of my marriage and my family, and a professional perspective, like being an actual minister, I thought that empathy, emotion, social skills might actually be valuable, and so that began my sort of transformation in my early twenties.

[00:05:05] Mahan Tavakoli: What a beautiful transformation it's been Rich. I also want to highlight the fact that I start out every one of these conversations, whether it's with the regional change makers CEOs in the greater Washington DC region, or the global thought leaders, by asking them about their own upbringing and how it's impacted them.

It's interesting how our upbringings impact us. Many people have not gone in as much depth as it sounds like you have in trying to understand what you were like and what needed to change for you to become the new version of you.

So were there moments that helped with that transformation in your mind as you were reflecting on your upbringing?

[00:05:51] Richard Hua: Yeah. I'd say there was a really big moment when I was in college, I'm a very ambitious person. I always wanted to be the best and get the highest grades and don't get me into any kind of competition, cuz I'm like, I will kill myself to win and I hate losing and I remember taking a walk with a good friend of mine, kinda like a mentor.

 He was like, why do you think you're like this? I'm like, I don't know, I'm just like this. He goes no. Think about it. Like, why are you so competitive? Why do you have to win all the time? Why do you almost a jerk a little bit. If you lose, what is going on? I really had to sit and think, and what I realized from that conversation after some self-reflection was that I actually have a bit of a deep insecurity about being accepted and being cared about, and the risk of sounding mushy being loved, because I didn't have a whole lot of that. So I thought, you know, what, if people aren't gonna like me, at least they're gonna respect me. They're gonna respect me cuz I beat 'em and if they don't wanna be my friend, at least they'll envy the Lamborghini that I drive up for my high school reunion that's pretty much how I thought about it.

 So I kind of had emotional and spiritual awakening and I realized what's actually motivating me. And what I actually came to the realization was, what I actually want is what pretty much everyone wants. They wanna be accepted, they wanna be loved, they wanna have a meaningful, purposeful life, and I was just going about in a wonky direction, by trying to beat everyone. And I thought, you know what? Instead of doing. Why don't I actually try to actually care about other people and help people. And that seems like a more successful route to actually get at what I'm truly looking for.[2] [3] 

 So that was actually a big part of why I decided to go from engineering and trying to do the it startup make a, a billion dollars thing to actually being a missionary, kind a big change in my life. And I don't regret it for one minute. It was literally the best decision I ever made cuz I truly found the thing that would make me happier.

[00:07:43] Mahan Tavakoli: I know you have talked to Daniel Goldman and he talks about self-awareness being that first element of emotional intelligence.

You did a lot of self discovery and self-awareness that helped with your own emotional intelligence, whether it is through the question your friend asked you or through serving as an evangelist for 23 years.

[00:08:10] Richard Hua: Yeah. Both for sure. And, it's a foundational thing, right? Cuz at the end of the day, emotional intelligence has different facets. There's self-awareness and then there's self-manage. And then there's emotional empathy and social awareness and then relationship management.

But you can't do any of the other things unless you're like first self-aware. And that is perhaps the most foundational, but one of the toughest things to do. I was actually listening to Bill George, talk about authentic leadership and he says something similar. if you wanna be authentic leader, the first thing you gotta do is be self-aware like, how can you be authentic you don't know who you are. So it sounds so basic it's almost ridiculous, but it is something that we don't maybe do enough cuz we're just so busy or running or doing whatever we're doing, but it pays such incredible dividends if we're willing to do that.[4] [5] [6] 

[00:08:54] Mahan Tavakoli: Since we're talking about self-awareness rich, I would love to get your thoughts on perspectives as both you have done this at Amazon and just been a student of emotional intelligence. What I find in my experience is that, many of us, the more experience we gain and the higher up we move in status within organizations with positional authority.

 We end up having less self-awareness because there's less feedback and genuine feedback that we get . So what do you do and what do you advise to leaders to do in order to continually nurture that self awareness.

[00:09:37] Richard Hua: Yeah. I, I love this question because I talk about it a lot. First for my own life the impact it's made and then to help others. So there's this really interesting balance that's going on. Because the research has found that as you mature and grow in life, you actually tend to become more emotionally intelligent, become more empathetic, become more aware. It's just experiences that teach you things. If you're willing to learn. On the other hand, as a counterpoint, the higher you rise an organization, the more success we become, like you just mentioned, you might get less feedback for different reasons. And so there's a little bit of that balance, right? And from this idea of being willing to self-reflect and being willing to ask other people for some insight into who you are. And if we're willing to do that, then those two things can actually really help us. What the research has actually found is that when people go higher in leadership, it's not that they're less willing to listen to feedback, they have less, fewer avenues to get it, because they're either more removed from the front lines or, let's face it fewer and fewer people are willing to tell you the truth cuz you know, might have career consequences.

And So what I tell people is, always take regular time to reflect. Think about your day. Think about your week. What did I do this week that I'm proud of? What I do this week that I'm not proud of, what are things I feel like I'm really accomplished, what are things I really feel like I wanted to accomplish but I didn't, even fundamental things like were actually my values do I really know what they are and am I living those out? So time of self-reflection is very important.[7] [8] 

But then the other piece is just asking for other people's perspective. You can call it whatever you want. Some people call it feedback, others, call it, feed forward. Other people call it advice, whatever you want is somebody else's opinion, not yours. And what I found is there's actually a secret trick that helps you get better. Some leaders go, Hey gimme some feedback, that's never gonna work or even tell me how to be better. Well, That might work. But if you actually have a little bit of self-awareness and say, Hey, I'm trying to be a better listener. Can you gimme some advice and how I can actually do that better? I'd really appreciate it. So naming something you actually want to grow in gives people a bit more permission to say something, cuz they're like, oh, at least you're like semi aware that's something and that encourages your colleagues and people on your team and maybe people report to you do that.

So I employ that a lot, cuz if I say, Hey, trying to be more empathetic, I'm trying to be a better listener, I'm trying to be more inspiring. Naming those gives people a bit more permission. So that's a secret, but really powerful way to do it.

And the other word I just use is advice. Again the studies have found that advice is easier to give than feedback, cuz feedback is backwards looking and can sound like you're trying to be critical. Whereas advice is forward looking and it's giving you ideas. So people are gonna find that a little more palatable than maybe feedback.[9] 

[00:12:27] Mahan Tavakoli: We tend to, a lot of times give advice, not as much seek advice. So what you're saying is , seek the advice for that self-awareness. I love the way you framed it, it's really important. And I know it's been important in your own journey too, but here you are, you spent 20 plus years on a journey of self awareness as an evangelist time in the Philippines and back in the states, why would a tech company be willing to hire you after all these years away from tech?

[00:13:01] Richard Hua: Okay. This is another wild and crazy story actually. So my life has been full of wild and crazy stories. So, The first one actually was, I went to Cal and I graduated on Saturday, May 25th. And the reason I remember my graduation date is I got married on Sunday, may 26th.

 So my graduation, a, little bit of a anti-climax cause I'm like I'm getting married the next day.

[00:13:26] Mahan Tavakoli: But at least you remember the date

[00:13:27] Richard Hua: I do remember, I remember it was the day before my wedding. And then I went to the Philippines two weeks later as a missionary. So it was like a wild adventure. So 23 years in about 10 years ago we underwent a bit of a personal change in our life.

My wife's health, wasn't doing so great. She needed really take some time to focus on dealing with that. And we were doing, the ministry work together. So we decided to, make a career pivot. And I'm like, okay what do I do? Well, I love technology. I like to learn, you know, I'm pretty smart and I'm good with people.

So how about something technical and how about something sales related? So I basically wound up applying for a job at Oracle as a solutions architect sales engineer, whatever you wanna call. and it was totally wild. I literally had zero experience. I'd never done it before in my life.

But I had a good friend. It was relationships, had a good friend named Jeff who called his friend at Oracle named Ali. And Jeff was like, Hey, I got this really good friend. He's really smart. You might wanna hire him for this sales, engineering role, cuz you've been looking for one for a while and you should talk to him.

And Ali was like, oh, great. What's his experience? What's he been doing? And Jeff's don't worry about it. Just talk to him. So I get on the phone with Ali, we're talking for about 10 minutes. He goes, oh, so what have you been doing? And I said I've been an evangelist and a minister for the last 23 years. Silence, there was literally silence for about a minute on the phone. He, I think he dropped the phone. What the heck am I talking to you for? So anyway, what happened was he said, look as a favor to my friend, I'll bring you in for an interview. You have to deliver a presentation on this technology, this database technology, you have to learn it in a week and just, do it, and we're really looking for some of some experience. So you probably have no chance of being hired, but who knows, if you kill it, we'll maybe give you a chance. So what happened was he set up a sort of a virtual interview, I think, just to humor me, but then I sent him my resume and he saw something in the resume that made him go, oh he's got a degree in electrical engineering, maybe there's some potential. So he brought me in person and I interviewed with him and his colleague manager and their VP. And I killed the interview. I learned the technology, I picked it up and I got a lot of input and feedback from my friends who were in the tech industry. Like they told me, do this, do this, say this, so I killed it.

The VP basically at the end of the conversation says, so how much money do you wanna make? And offered me a job. So it was quite miraculous actually, and of course I have faith and I believe there's a bit of that miraculous element along with the hard work.

I, and my friends are all praying So that's how I got back into the tech industry. But the interesting thing was, after two years a manager position became open and I applied for it and I was competing against two other people who'd been there like 10 years and 12 years, but I was selected to be the because I was actually trying to be a giver. Like when the other two were asked, why manager. It was because of these social and emotional intelligence skills, and it was would you wanna be a manager? They gave different responses. I want to grow my career, different things , that they talked about, but I said, I wanna help my team be more successful.

I wanna develop people and help them become a better version and more successful version of themselves. So VP is I want you to be the manager. So is that idea of the emotional side, as well as the, I wanna help other people's side that actually made me more appealing.[10] [11] 

 So after literally two years in the tech industry, I started managing a team of solutions, architects. And then I came to AWS after four years of being there.

[00:16:56] Mahan Tavakoli: But that's say credit both to you Rich and also the VP and the culture at Oracle. One of the challenges that a lot of leaders and organizations have is that when they talk about the priorities those don't necessarily align with who gets promoted in the organization. So the person that has the best technical skills ends up becoming a manager and doing a horrible job as a manager or the person who's the best salesperson becomes a sales manager and does a horrible job as a sales manager.

So it's credit to your emotional intelligence, but also the VP and Oracle for prioritizing that in promotion, not just the technical skills.

[00:17:41] Richard Hua: Yes, absolutely. it was an amazing company to work at, I loved my colleagues, I loved the leaders I got to work with and I'm eternally grateful. Or even the initial interview and those three people saying, Hey, I'm gonna offer you a job, cuz I'm not sure anybody else would've actually at least not at the level that I got it. It was pretty amazing. So many kudos to them. I'm very grateful.

[00:18:02] Mahan Tavakoli: Now. What got you to move on from Oracle to join Amazon.

[00:18:07] Richard Hua: After spending some time there I saw a lot of my colleagues were looking at Amazon as an incredible company to continue their career. So the person who hired me at Oracle, actually all three of the people who hired me at Oracle are now at Amazon. I'm like, oh, okay let's have a conversation.

So they basically, encouraged me to take a look and I wound up going, obviously amazing company innovation. And one of the most beautiful things I love about Amazon is how we actually really treat customers. Like we have this leadership principle that undergirds everything we do, and it's basically customer obsession.

I can say that I have never met a group of people that are more obsessed with helping their customers succeed than Amazon. It's really true. It's not just a saying, and so it's actually very refreshing to have that meaningful work. So from both a development perspective and a company culture perspective, and just innovation and excitement it really inspired me to come.

So I've been here about five and a half years, and I first started as a salesperson, for a year. And then I served as the global business development leader for Aurora Postgres database of all things. Very technical. But then during that time was basically when I started the EQ movement in Amazon. I basically started teaching people about emotional intelligence, started doing little talks, then bigger talks and bigger talks. And that was pretty much like a passionate side project.

Over about three and a half years, we created a community called the EQ at Amazon community that now has 50,000 people across all parts of Amazon globally. As part of that, we also have a subset of people called EQ evangelists, of all things, and they help me basically give talks. Now it's about 170,000 people have actually delivered some kind of EQ talk too. And then also 10,000 customers. So we're actually doing this both internally and externally to the point I thought, maybe I should do this full time. Like I'm doing this off the side of my desk.

So again, beautiful thing about Amazon is you can make almost anything happen if it can benefit other people. So I wrote a narrative, we call it a six pager and I floated up to a senior leader. I said, Hey, how about we create a new role worldwide head of epic leadership which stands for empathy, purpose, inspiration, and connection. And how about I do it in a higher team and will help elevate the emotional social intelligence of Amazonians. And he said, heck yeah, let's do it. So I've been doing this now for the last seven months.[12] 

[00:20:23] Mahan Tavakoli: That is outstanding in that you married your passion with a need that exists in all organizations. You saw the need within Amazon and then the leadership was willing to let you run with it to make a difference. Rich, I'm very familiar with Amazon for the podcast, had the conversation with John Rossman who had launch the web services as written The Amazon Way series of books and Hyatt, who was Jeff Bezos's first executive partner. So, familiar with some of the leadership principles at Amazon and approaches. I'm sure you had to also communicate a return or a potential return for spending time and effort on epic leadership.

How are you? And how is Amazon looking at that return on investment of the effort that you and everyone is putting into emotional intelligence?

[00:21:19] Richard Hua: There's a really interesting thing that's going on at Amazon, but also in the world at large. I know you're aware of this, the corporate employee employer landscape is dramatically shifting. And the powers that be at Amazon, they're really smart. They're amazing people. They realize that what got us here, ain't gonna get us there. And we've been one of the most innovative and successful companies in the world for the last 28 years. You know what, times they are a change in, so we need to evolve along with them. And the leadership principles obviously undergirded everything we do.

 So last July, we actually had a seismic event by adding two new leadership principles, customer obsession, delivers results, bias fraction, trust, they've all been there. We added strive to be Earth's best employer. And success and scale bring broad responsibility. Within the context of that first, when strive to be Earth's best employer, it says things like leaders lead with empathy, they have fun at work, they make it easy for others to have fun, they're invested in the personal success of their employees.

So many ways we were explicitly saying that we are really gonna be focusing on the employee experience and having that be top notch. Just as much as we're focusing on the customer experience and having that be topnotch. I know so many incredible leaders across Amazon who, serve customers and their employees, but you can also get away with just serving the customer and not do so much for employee if you just focused on certain parts of it. So we made it explicit.

So we're going through this evolution and my program is actually one of the things that is helping drive us so that we can be striving to be is best employer. Really quite exciting time. It's It's really a pivotal time. And of course, so many companies are realizing that as well. And the pandemic certainly was a big thing that drove us to realize that we have to care about the personal and emotional lives, but along with that obviously the drive for inclusion, diversity, equity, and the newer generations that are coming into the workforce who really want meaningful, purposeful work with also work life balance. All those things happening together are quite amazing.

[00:23:26] Mahan Tavakoli: What's outstanding about the program, as you're saying with the shifting landscape, a lot of organizations have made the right statements about the importance of their people and empathy in the workplace, . This is following through with actions, which is really important. So you mentioned EPIC, empathy, purpose, inspiration, and connection, and I know you are also a big fan of Carol Dweck's work on growth mindset as am I, which just to underline for people, I've run into a lot of leaders that don't necessarily believe emotional intelligence can be developed. So it can be developed. Therefore, how do you go about developing some of these competencies, some of these capabilities in the trainings that you offer?

[00:24:16] Richard Hua: I love your call out, that it is developable. The fact is, we have our personality, we have our IQ, we have our EQ. Those are the three things that essentially work together to determine how we think and act. IQ and personality actually are somewhat flexible depending on who you ask. There's varying degrees of flexibility there, but EQ is completely flexible[13] . A majority of it is absolutely developable and I'm actually living testament to that. Let's just say that no one would accuse me of having any in my first 20 years of life. And all of it, over the last 30 years has been developed.

But what we do in our trainings is multiple things. One of them is just making people aware that there's this whole realm of skills it's called emotional intelligence and it absolutely accounts for a big part of your success. Goldman did some research where we found that it can be up to 85% of your long term success, because once you're smart enough, it's all emotional social skills after that.

 So helping people realize there's this whole field of research that can make a difference. And then what we do is we try to activate both the intellectual side cuz you know, we're a nerdy bunch at Amazon's put it that way. We like data, we like science. So what I tell people is, emotions are data. There're like really important data points that we put in. So there's a lot of research to help even the skeptics go, oh, there seemed to be some science behind that. There's Carol Swag, there's Adam Grant, there's Dan Goldman, you name it, Mark Bracket. All these, pretty smart people who've done a lot.

And then we try to get them to experience some of it and put a little bit into practice and see the benefit. I think a really important thing is people have tried a lot of different emotional intelligence initiative in different places, and they've had varying degrees of success. And I would say the least successful ones are the ones that don't align with people's own goals and motives and desires. And maybe they sound a little fluffy. What is it, sitting around a campfire, holding hands and singing Kumbaya. No, I don't think so. That is not going to fly, especially at a corporate environment like Amazon.

So I have talked about, Hey, would you like to manage your stress more effectively? Would you like to be happier? Would you like to increase your influence? Would you like to prevent burnout and be more resilient? Who's gonna say no to any of those things? I'm like, heck yeah. So I go. If the answer is yes, it's emotional intelligence skills that help you actually develop it. So I think having that empathy for the audience and speaking to their felt needs is really the key to really getting anything done. I mean over the past few years, that's what literally everybody's been talking about.

And seeing these skills be employed to help them actually. Wow, I did breathing exercise and I actually was less stressed out, but I was like, felt so much better or wow. I use this gratitude and reframing and it really helped me think more clearly about this high emotion situation that really works. Those things, they see a benefit and they wanna continue on their EQ learning journey.[14] [15] 

[00:27:05] Mahan Tavakoli: I love the fact that you have empathy for the trainees Rich, a lot of times, the way organizations approach this is as if they want people to open up their mouth, like little kids and shove the food in there, it's good for you. And that causes a backlash of people saying, I don't want this. And I've been involved in human skills, training and development. For most of my career. Sometimes people are designated to go and it's almost like an insult to them. What's wrong with me? If I'm sent to a computer class, that's okay. But if it's people skills, then you are saying there's something wrong with me.

So what you are doing is you are approaching it with that real empathy that the entire training process needs to be viewed from the perspective of the attendees. So when you offer this at Amazon, are people opting in or is it that the group heads or VPs decide we're going to have everyone in this group go through emotional intelligence development.

[00:28:08] Richard Hua: I would say the vast majority are people who are opting in, I'll tell you, there's actually many different ways to engage. This may sound a little goofy, but it's really an omnichannel experience that we're actually trying to give people because there's the traditional avenues people have like get a bunch of people together, take a day or two days, have a workshop, do a bunch of stuff, send you home, and everyone feels great. It's not bad, but it doesn't necessarily produce change. Just because everyone loved your training doesn't mean anything actually was different, a month later.

We all know that the dirty little secret of training. And so I'm aware of that. I'm like, I'm not into that. We do provide training, but we have an entire community. And so I think of it of like a funnel. You join the funnel in some way, and my hope is that you continue to go deeper and deeper into that funnel because you see the value that it has for your own life. And the value can have to other people around you, whether you're an official leader or not. So those are the things that, I work on and one of the things that we have is we have the an EQ newsletter that I send out. It goes to tens of thousands of people. And every day there's a dose of EQ goodness that people basically get.

And it's really just from my reading. I read lots of articles a day. I basically find the ones that I think are really great. I put 'em in my queue and I send one out every day and that has become the largest opt in mailing list that I know of at Amazon. There are people who said, this is the best perk at Amazon, and it's not even like an actual perk.

It's is you sending out an email every day? And then midst of hundreds of all these emails, screaming at me, yours is the one I make sure I read because it's like a dose of goodness. Here's how to be better at managing stress, here's how to be more empathetic, here's how to be more successful. So that constantly puts on people's minds. so there's that, and then all the way to a full day workshop that we can run with people to train their skills. I believe that there's different strokes for different folks. So we offer a lot of different things that people can avail of in the fashion that makes the most sense for them so they can grow and succeed.

[00:30:07] Mahan Tavakoli: That's an outstanding perspective. I've seen over the years that there is some value for the one day, two day immersion of people getting involved. However change comes about. Over a period of time, based on repeated exposure, the right intentions of the individuals and repeated action.

 I love the omnichannel way. There is an element of community. There is an element of daily dose of inspiration or insights. So lots of different things where people can develop if they choose to. On that path because it's an ongoing journey. Now, some of the people who are listening to this Rich are inspired, say, fantastic, this is great. However, I don't work at Amazon. I'm leading a team of 20 people or an organization of 200. What can leaders of teams or organizations do in order to be able to encourage the same kind of development that you are doing at Amazon with a focus on emotional intelligence.

[00:31:12] Richard Hua: I love that question, because this is something I talk about a lot and the thing I want everyone to know is that we can all make a difference. We all have a sphere of influence. Some of it is smaller, some of it's medium, some of it's galactically large, but we all have a sphere of influence.[16] [17] 

 So if we start small and we start today, we can influence the people around us in a positive way. Cuz here's the thing, everyone's looking for more hope and positivity. Goodness gracious, there's so much crap flying around and so much negativity, it's oh my gosh. So if you actually stand for something that gives hope and positivity, people are like, oh yeah, that sounds great.

And believing that we can, when I first started about four and a half years ago, it was nothing big at all. It was like, I know a few things about emotional intelligence. Let me do a lunch and learn with the people in my building, about 75 people showed up. And let me give a talk on some skills that might help you. I worked with our office manager who ordered some sandwiches and I gave a talk, we had a great conversation and people were like, this is great. Cause we would have lunch and learns and have like partners come in and different technology leaders come in. It was all like work stuff. Mike, let me give something that might help you with your career and personal life. And then I started sending out a few emails here, a few emails there. But three things I think of are, we all can influence our sphere of influence by making certain things common, expected, and rewarded. If we only just have a small group of people what are the common things that we wanna model, and then encourage other people to do. What do we now say as our expectation? What are maybe our team norms and then what can be rewarded? Hey, great job. Or, Hey I really appreciate that.

I was really inspired, I was delivering a training in Europe and the country leader from Madrid had this incredible idea. She basically sent an optional calendar invite to everyone in the entire country on her sales team. For a 15 minute time block on Friday afternoons to send thank you notes to each other, and you don't have to do it.

You can decline it, but most people accepted it. So now for 15 minutes, every Friday, her entire country buzzes all over the place with each other with thank you notes and I'm like what an incredible example of common expect and rewarded. So we can all do these little things that make a difference and you may think, oh, that's ridiculous, just thank you notes, guess what? When you get one. And you send one, you create dopamine in serotonin, we're all a little brighter. So even simple things like that can make such a huge difference.

[00:33:36] Mahan Tavakoli: I love that perspective Rich. It is within our sphere of control. A lot of times there's a tendency to point up point sideways point down for what needs to change before we can do something ourselves. So whether we lead a team of a few or lead an organization of tens of thousands, we do have control, and love how you put it, make it common, expected, and rewarded. That's an outstanding way to make it part of the culture of the organization. That culture is another one of those buzzwords that everyone talks about. Culture is practice, and this is a great way when you see something to be of value, like emotional intelligence, make it part of the practice.

[00:34:22] Richard Hua: In Amazon culture. We call it mechanism. Don't rely on good intentions because those don't really work because in general people already have good intentions. So tell 'em to have better intentions, doesn't change anything, creating some mechanisms actually cause some behavioral change.

And I will say, I'm pretty encouraged and inspired by the response I've gotten from leaders all around me at Amazon. There are many people who've really begun maybe for the first time in their life, this journey. Delving a little more into the emotional side, as Brene Brown would say being more vulnerable and for a bunch of super engineering type people, this is like scary territory.

But I've been very encouraged by the fact that very senior people have been like, you know what? I'm willing to look at these things cuz I do actually understand the value. And so I do have some motivation to move a bit in that direction.[18] 

[00:35:10] Mahan Tavakoli: That's why I love the way you approach it Rich. I truly believe that the experience that we all shared over the past couple of years to different levels. Our lives were disrupted and our need for that emotional connection became more apparent to us, whether it is in our personal lives and also in our professional lives.

So it's an opportunity for leaders to lead differently. And as you said, whether it's at Amazon at elsewhere, the employees. Want that, deserve it both in terms of how they expect their leaders to behave and how they expect to interact with each other. So this is a great moment for us to reinvent the future of work, making sure emotional intelligence is a big part of that.

[00:36:00] Richard Hua: Absolutely. And it's interesting, HBR actually just came up with this article where they had one of the top executive recruiting firms share their data on essentially job Rex. And what they're looking for in C level executives. They found that from like 2005, and late 2017. There's a pretty dramatic shift in what they're looking. Before that it was how to, financial material, resources, spreadsheets, strategic plans, all that, and those are still important. But what came to the fore was that the most important thing they're now looking for are social skills, which fall directly into the realm of emotional intelligence is basically how to interact with other humans in a productive and healthy way. So it's interesting. And the reality is, yeah, it's shifting we can't get away anymore with either being an automaton or treating others as automaton.

So in that sense, I really believe the pandemic created something good. The pandemic itself, obviously not good, but what it forced people to do was recognize, oh my goodness, every single one of my employees, my managers, my company, my customers actually are human beings. There's that emotional side that we have to consider.

And boy, it's tough for some people, but boy, it is also incredibly rewarding when you're actually willing to start going in that direction. Take some courage, but the dividends are amazing, you really can bring more of your actual, full self to work. You can be more invested, more inspired, by the things that you do.

[00:37:29] Mahan Tavakoli: It takes a lot of courage. And one of the things I say to my girls Rich, because they stress sometimes about what they're going to study and what they're going to do. One of the things I tell them is, first of all, the jobs of the future are not here yet. We don't know what those would be. However, what we do know is that with AI becoming much more capable, a lot of jobs are going to get done through technology and with AI. The emotional part of the connection that human connection and emotional intelligence, at least it's not gonna happen in my lifetime. So double up on the emotional intelligence part.

[00:38:07] Richard Hua: I love that Dan Pink's first book, a whole new mind talks about right brain left brain and yeah, all those left brain things are, kinda being taken over a bit more by, AI automation. And so what makes us uniquely valuable and differentiated as humans is that right brain and those social skills. So yeah very true.

You can just kinda even look at the leadership models that have evolved over the last hundred years from, all the way in world war, I command and control to what we have now, more of a servant leadership type idea, we've been evolving in that direction, along with the technology that's been evolving. I think, just general awareness. So I love it and I love the advice you're giving to your girls. It's great advice, work on those social skills,

[00:38:49] Mahan Tavakoli: Yeah,

[00:38:50] Richard Hua: because they're really valuable.

[00:38:52] Mahan Tavakoli: They are. And I appreciate all the great work that you have done. I know you have lots of outstanding content on your website before we get to that would love to know, are there leadership resources or practices you recommend in addition to some of your own, for people to delve into emotional intelligence deeper, and also understand how to lead with greater emotional intelligence?

[00:39:19] Richard Hua: If I were to say a couple of fundamental things, I'd say number one be a learner, Satya Nadela likes to say, be a Learn-it-all all, not a know-it-all. The two greatest ways to learn are books you read and people, so if you wanna improve your emotional tells, read books that stimulate your thinking, they may be around emotional tales maybe around leadership, maybe around psychology, maybe around just things that help you with your interpersonal social skills.

Dan Goldman's got emotional intelligence. Mark Bracket has permission to feel. Travis Bradbury's EQ 2.0, those are kinda like three fundamental ones. And then have people around you that are willing to help you out. Give you honest feedback. I read one time somebody said, you need loving critics in your life.

People who love you and really think you're great and care about you, but are willing to criticize you and tell you the truth. We need those to be able to help us to grow. And then the second thing that I'd say is learn to be more aware of yourself on a regular basis and be able to manage your stress because a lot of people talk about leadership theories, but if you don't know how to manage your stress, it's gonna be really hard to be empathetic. That's just reality. Stress is one of the biggest killers of empathy. If we can't manage it properly.[19] [20] 

So things like, some kind of reflection, mindfulness, some people like to do some meditation every day. Others like prayer, others, maybe just take a walk out nature on a regular basis, but invest in yourself and take some time to calm yourself and reflect. That's really important. And I think that's one of the things we don't do in this really fast paced world. It's I don't have time. I literally don't even have five minutes a day to think about stuff. How you ever gonna improve if you don't do that. And be a learner, have the relationships around you and then be willing to do some self-reflection. I think those are three keys.

[00:41:01] Mahan Tavakoli: That's outstanding advice. Now Rich, where can the audience find out more about you sign up for your newsletter. I know you've got a lot of outstanding content.

[00:41:13] Richard Hua: So I do have a website and it's richardhua.co . It's just my name. It's nothing fancy, but it's got a lot of great resources. It's got interviews that I have done, Ted talks that I recommend, books that have made a huge influence in my life. And then a repository of some of the newsletters I've sent.

Now, the newsletter I send generally is internal. So it's like to the tens of thousand at Amazon, but I have put some of the ones on the website as well. So if you go there, you'll find a wealth of resources that'll help you along on your journey. And I did just hire my daughter to help revamp my website for top dollars.

[00:41:46] Mahan Tavakoli: I hope you are paying her top dollar now.

[00:41:49] Richard Hua: Exactly. Yes. It's called a college education. I'm paying top dollar, put her through college.

[00:41:58] Mahan Tavakoli: Well, rich, I really appreciate both this conversation and the great thinking and work you've been doing on emotional intelligence making it accessible, not only to people at Amazon, but also beyond talking about the value of it. This is truly an opportunity for all of us to become more aware, lead with greater emotional intelligence, and I love the fact that you are a big advocate for all of us becoming learners. That by itself can make a big difference.

Thank you for helping me learn more about emotional intelligence and the opportunity to share it with the partnering leadership community. Thank you so much, Richard Hua.

[00:42:40] Richard Hua: You betcha, it's been a pleasure and an honor to be on your podcast. I really appreciate it. I hope everyone enjoys. This gets a lot out of it and has a great rest of your day.


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I was going about things in a wonky way. I was just trying to beat everyone until I realized that what I actually want is what pretty much everyone wants. People want to be accepted, they want to be loved, and they want to have a meaningful, purposeful life. So I thought, you know what? Why don't I try to care about others and help people? That's a much more successful route also to get what I want.


To be an authentic leader, you must first be self-aware; how can you be authentic if you don't know who you are? It sounds so basic it's almost ridiculous, but it is something that we don't do enough because we're just so busy doing whatever we're doing. Still, it pays incredible dividends if we're willing to spend time and effort to become more self-aware.

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Video:How to lead with greater emotional intelligence.

Also an image: As Satya Nadela likes to say, be a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all, and the two greatest ways to learn are through books and people. So if you want to improve your emotional intelligence, read books that stimulate your thinking, and surround yourself with people who love you, think you're great, care about you, but are willing to criticize you and tell you the truth. We need those to be able to help us to grow.