After spending more than two decades working in the finance industry, Karlyn Percil was experiencing workplace burnout and knew she desperately needed to make a change. Leaving her job proved to be the right move, reinvigorating her passion and leading her on a path that has allowed her to positively impact the lives of countless others.
The Saint Lucia-born, Toronto-based entrepreneur is now an in-demand Certified Growth Mindset and Emotional Intelligence Coach, speaker and author. She focuses her time and energy on helping other women become strong leaders and has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and in leading publications like Forbes, CNN Money and The Globe and Mail.
We spoke with Percil about leadership, harnessing the power of emotions and why it’s important to raise your hand before you’re ready.
What’s your definition of emotional intelligence, and why is it important to function as a strong leader? How can leaders use emotional intelligence to increase their impact inside and outside of the workplace?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand yourself, your emotions and how to manage them. It helps you understand others and allows you to be more innovative and creative, manage your confidence, self-efficacy and emotional connections. You’re able to think more clearly about your decision making, and it also increases the quality and frequency of your output.
So, why is it important at work and outside of work? Because if we don’t have it, we’re not able to read what we’re going through and feeling. This means that we’re always in a reactive state, which might lead to always functioning at an acute stress level. This isn’t good for us because it impacts our immune system and everything else.
I coach my clients towards seeing emotions as data. When that data comes up – what do you do? You analyze it. You see where best to put it, just like when you get a data report at work. You try to extract intelligence from it and you look for the best possible way to use that information. With emotional intelligence at work or home, you’re able to take the emotional data and decide the best way to use it. Whether it’s for self-management, assertiveness or channeling that energy into problem solving and then using that to build more relationship intelligence in terms of how you interact with others in team settings.
Is there a different kind of emotional intelligence that the leader of a team may need?
I like using the term “effective” when I’m describing leadership intelligence because you can be a people leader, but you might be terrible at managing people. An effective leader is one who has strong self-awareness, knows how to lead others, motivate them and give them the tools that they need. With self-awareness you’re able to read what your emotions are telling you, which increases your capacity to read others.
An effective leader knows how to create safe spaces. If it’s a project that you’re working on and the suggested strategy or approach isn’t working, that leader can create this trust factor in the team where people feel free to raise their hands and say, “How about we try this?” or “How about we look at it this way?” This allows innovation and creativity to be rampant and lowers fear around failing because that leader is embodying what it means to be emotionally intelligent.
How do you use your personal and professional experiences to create innovative programs and empower people to become strong leaders and to maintain healthy lives and relationships overall?
I didn’t always think that you could use the wisdom from your lived experiences to enhance your leadership skills and life, but now I do that through a concept called elephant storytelling. An elephant story is when we don’t have closure in an experience that we’ve been through so our brain just goes back to an old story or old data file in your database. Think of your brain as file folders with different information from your culture, how you were raised, what you were taught – your experience.
What’s cool about humans is that we are the most fascinating piece of technology because our brains are designed to send signals to our bodies, which acts as a notification. That’s where your emotional intelligence comes in. You take that data and try to figure it out, but the brain’s busy making a story that drives our thoughts and perceptions. What you can do with that story is ensure that it’s the correct one that’s running in your head every time you get a notification and that will help you to identify old stories that no longer serve you.
If an old story comes up you can say, “Wait. This part is not me. That story was for the 18-year-old me.” And here’s the current story that I’m projecting for what I’m working towards, “I’m highly intelligent. I treat my staff, clients and loved ones with patience and grace. I treat myself kindly.”
It’s about creating your mental playlist that reflects the person you are becoming. Everything starts with you. The minute you change your mental playlist, your life changes. The way you treat others changes because you now have data in your database for your brain to refer to and you can apply those lessons to others. That’s why the quickest way to change others is to influence them by changing yourself.
How does SisterTalk help support and empower women to be their authentic selves and leaders at their jobs and in life?
If I didn’t start SisterTalk, I probably would not be doing what I do today because I didn’t have a safe place at work to talk about all the things I was going through. Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor on vulnerability, shame and empathy, says that to be a great leader, you must show up for yourself first. You have to remove the mask and be your most authentic self. And I was struggling with that because of all my shame stories. How do you remove the mask without feeling like somebody will use your pain or your elephant story against you?
I didn’t feel comfortable raising my hand or asking any questions. So, I called some friends for a girls’ night. When the women came to my house and we had a conversation about this, so many people had elephant stories that they wanted to share. People were saying how great it was and asking if we could do it again and I realized that I created a space for women to practice shared resilience and being vulnerable.
About a year later, after reading a lot of books that talked about compassion and empathy, we were doing our own little meetings and leadership classes. I saw immediate results in my life and I tweeted about it. I showed up at work more powerfully. I raised my hand more even if I felt the fear – I was able to use fear to my advantage. I took bigger risks at work. I negotiated a bigger salary. And a lot of the other people in the group had similar stories.
I started sharing on Twitter how I used Dr. Brown’s books and how they changed my life. OWN TV saw my tweets and the producer contacted me saying they were thinking of bringing Dr. Brown on. I told him about the group and how her research had impacted our lives, and they said that they’d love to have SisterTalk on the show. The question we asked Dr. Brown was, “Can we bring vulnerability into the workplace, and if so, how?” That’s what started SisterTalk because I wanted to find out if I could be vulnerable at work and still be my best self or if it would be used against me. And she said, “Yes, if we don’t, we’re just taking innovation and creativity off the table. Because without shared information, without tapping into failure, we cannot change the bottom line.”
According to research by the Insurance Institute of Canada, women make 62% of our industry but there are still a lack of women in senior management roles. What are some practical steps for women to break through the glass ceiling?
Don’t wait until you can seat yourself, create your own seat at the table. That means you need to go past your comfort zone and raise your hand before you’re ready. Because when you do that, you override your fear brain that’s telling you you’re not ready. There’s a report that says that men, if they have 50% of the job description, they raise their hand. Women, we wait until we have at least 110% of the job description. We think about all the things we don’t have. But, you don’t need to have everything on your resume. We have to switch that thinking into, “I will get ready while I am in the role.” So there needs to be a bold perspective shift and that’s the first one.
The second one is creating a narrative that supports the leader that you’re becoming. You have to condition your mind for success. It’s almost like you’re creating a mini vision board for your leadership journey or brand. And the third thing is that leadership is a brain game. Lead with the brain and the mind. So, get to understand your emotional intelligence score, how to leverage it for greater success and understand how your social brain operates in different settings.
You can learn more about Karlyn Percil on her official website here.