Joshua Freedman: Emotional Intelligence and its relevance for Green Talent

By Bhavani Prakash

Joshua Freedman is Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the US based non-profit organisation Six Seconds. Set up in 1997, it now operates with offices in 10 countries with practitioners in around 100 countries covering various sectors –  community organisations, educational institutions, executive boards and government agencies.  Six Seconds has the mission to spread emotional intelligence far, wide and deep by supporting, “people to create positive change.”

EQ( Emotional Quotient), a term used interchangeably here with Emotional Intelligence, refers to the ability to comprehend, navigate and use emotions to get the best possible results. Freedman spoke to Bhavani Prakash of Green Collar Asia(GCA) on a recent trip to Singapore where he conducted workshops and certification training on EQ. He strongly believes emotional intelligence is a valuable skill that can be learnt by all, and one that has much relevance for green professionals and for those interested in sustainability.

GCA: Many have written over the last two decades about Emotional Intelligence. What is different about the work you’re doing, from what the likes of Daniel Goleman, the author of the bestselling book, ‘Emotional Intelligence’ have talked about?

Joshua Freedman

Joshua Freedman: Dan is a journalist and reports about the research and practices around emotional intelligence. We’re educators and we teach people how to put these skills into action, personally and professionally. We bring these into organisations, large and small, to help them create positive change. We bring these into schools to help them learn better, we teach these to parents to help them create the families they really want to create, we teach them to individuals, so they can create the lives that they want to create. In other words, we’re not just talking about EQ, we’re bringing it to life through transformational learning.  In addition, we’re an organization led by change agents around the world, so our methodology has a global resonance.

GCA: What’s the connection between emotional intelligence and behaviour change, in the context of sustainability.

Joshua Freedman: Daniel Goleman wrote a new book called, “Ecological Intelligence” where he talks about that. I’ve done a couple of interviews with Dan where we discuss this. Our work in emotional intelligence is largely about how people make better decisions and take action in a way that’s aligned with what they really want to happen. As we think about our long term goals, how do we take actions in a way that moves us towards those long term goals?  The whole point of intelligence is to look ahead and solve problems – mathematical intelligence helps us solve numerical problems; emotional intelligence helps us solve human problems.

In other words, if we’re using EQ to make optimal long-term decisions, we have to also be thinking about the ecosystem in which we will either suffer, or flourish. Being intentional in an ecological sense means creating a more sustainable world starts with decisions and choices we make individually, actions we take individually.  Tapping the power of EQ means recognising that emotions are major drivers of those behaviours – whether that behaviour is consuming resources for short term profit, or conserving them, or whether that behaviour is advocating for a vibrant future.

For all of these behaviours, there is an emotional component that drives them.  If we can become more clear about the emotions that drive us individually towards our decisions and actions, and if we can become more effective at creating emotions that will help enrol others in making better decisions, we can be more powerful as advocates.

GCA: What kind of skills do employees need to be successful in a green economy or in an economy transitioning to a greener future?

Joshua Freedman: Given the work that I do, it would be no surprise that my answer would be – more emotional intelligence. They need to be more aware of themselves and of others more deeply. They need to be paying attention to what really drives people, so that they can influence more effectively. They will be able to create engagement, articulate their vision and enrol people in that vision, so as to move out of ego into something that’s bigger than ourselves as individuals. That’s what leadership is, whether it’s green leadership or any other kind of leadership.

Leadership is about creating a context for people to do better than they can do individually. In that context, what happens is that people can ask difficult questions, they can reflect, they can connect and engage, not because you as a leader are demanding it, but because you as a leader are creating an emotional context and a climate where there is trust, alignment, teamwork and a strong commitment to execution. The relational skills that create that kind of context are captured in the concept called emotional intelligence.

GCA: How do you enrol people in your organisation towards positive change? You may be an intrinsically motivated person, but it’s possible that others around you are not so receptive to change.

Joshua Freedman: I think the first step is to acknowledge where they are, and not pretend that’s not the reality. A lot of times in organisations, there are situations where people are frustrated or disappointed or afraid or bored, or whatever range of feelings that are tied to resistance. Sometimes there’s a tendency in organisations to pretend that that’s not happening –it’s like “Oh, If I acknowledge it, it will make it worse.” So they’re in this state of denial.

We first have to acknowledge reality and meet people where they are and validate the emotions people are feeling. Secondly we don’t have to stay there. Our own emotions are catalysts for change in other people’s emotions. Emotions are instantaneously, continuously and automatically transmitted. If I acknowledge where people are, and am deeply connected with this other possibility, and am generating these emotions in myself… I am influencing change. I continue to have conversations with other people, and through these interactions I’m affecting them, even if they’re not consciously buying in, or are still in resistance. I’m still affecting them at the emotional level. That is an incredibly powerful part of catalysing change.

The next step is to bring that to the surface – after acknowledging where they are, and catalysing them with our own emotions, we can then invite them to start making change themselves.

It’s important to remember that the process of change is not making “a change.” It’s somewhat useless to put in a ton of energy to get people to make a change and say,”you’re going to be here, you have to go there, and then we’re done.”  We want people to become better at change, to be ‘walking’ forward and not just taking a step forward. In order to do that, we equip them with skills to create change, and also accept that it is a process, and that people change in different ways, at different speeds. We’re going to have to be patient, we’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep moving along in that process, along with all of these different people, and keep the momentum building – that’s how change occurs.

The Six Seconds Model

In the Six Seconds Model, one talks about three macro areas:

Know Yourself : Self-awareness

Choose Yourself:  Self-management

Give Yourself:  Self-direction

6 Seconds Model ©2001 Six Seconds, Used By Permission


When we line up these three areas, we unlock an incredible capacity for leadership – starting with ourselves.  There are 8 specific, learnable, measurable competencies that enable that process.  You can read more about this on the 6 Seconds website. 




GCA:  How important is EQ for an organisation, and how can it use EQ to transform itself into a more sustainable one?

Joshua Freedman: We measure organisational climate, and one of the aspects of organisational climate is trust. There’s a very strong positive correlation between having a positive organisational climate and having a functional organisation. Just over 60% of the performance outcomes that we measure in our assessments are predicted by the quality of the organisational climate. Trust alone predicts nearly 50% of the variation in performance outcomes.

Trust is a feeling. An emotionally intelligent leader is able to access and generate feelings. If we are going to take trust as only one of many feelings that we are going to be focused on, if we can generate trust in an organisation because we are clearly able to see it, what drives it, what undermines it, how we create more of it, then we’re good at feelings because we’re good at emotional intelligence. We immediately start to have a significant impact.  We also derive financial value, and other kinds of value, by creating the right emotional context.  We have a lot of studies showing that developing the competencies of EQ has bottom-line value.  Wwe’re talking about millions of dollars of increased revenue in organisations where they are developing these competencies (see for a free report on this research).

From an eco-literacy perspective, if we want to talk about impact, an organisation that can really communicate, an organisation that can really enrol people, an organisation that can really walk its talk – these skills are absolutely central to what’s going to create performance.

GCA: How important is EQ to an organisation to retain talent?

Joshua Freedman:  I think the adage that “people don’t leave their organisation, they leave their boss” is absolutely true. I certainly hear that story over and over again. I hear a lot of leaders saying that there’s a shortage of talent. Even today in America where we have a 10% unemployment rate, there are organisations with hundreds of empty seats, because they are not able to find the right kind of people with the right mix of ‘head plus heart plus hands.’ We recently did a survey called the ‘Workplace Issues Survey 2010 ’ where someone described the need for ‘people-people’. We need people who are good at enrolling others, we need people who are good at building those kind of relationships that are going to influence people across boundaries, that are going to open up potentials and possibilities, that are going to make it possible to do things that were impossible before, especially in this rapid pace of change in the globalised environment.  We need people who are able to get out the immediate box and reach out to a bigger audience.

This logic is critical as we think about green jobs.  Yes, this kind of work is mission driven, but it’s also a business.  If we can make a really good business case in a green enterprise, there’s a tremendous impact on talent.  We can then attract individuals who say ‘this is the kind of work that I want to be doing.’  We know that particularly in Gen Y, people are looking for meaning, and they are not just about money. So as we look to the future and consider, “Where are the absolutely most talented people going to work?”  They are going to look for jobs that have real meaning.

There’s a kind of obvious link here between creating an organisation that really walks its talk.  Imagine a business that’s doing something truly worthwhile and creating a place where people really want to work – because of its mission, because of the EQ skills creating positive relationships, and because of a sound business strategy — that is the “magic combo” that is going to make it effective and prosperous.

GCA:  The obsession with economic growth creates a lot of stress within organisations, individuals and ecosystems within which these function. How can EQ help, especially in the context of stress and core values of an organisation?

Joshua Freedman:  I remember how a couple of years ago, we were flying over in Borneo and seeing palm plantations as far as the eye could see. Before I saw that, I thought palm oil was green; I mean, oil from palm trees, how perfect, right?   But it’s not. If we grow too much too fast, and take it too far, anything we do is going to take the world out of balance. This is true for most anything we do – if we go too far, too big, too loud, a good thing becomes a blight. I see the world as being incredibly abundant. I see huge potential for financial growth and personal growth. But we have to do it in a way that is thoughtful. If we want sustainability, we have to balance all these different factors. It doesn’t mean don’t grow. Growth is essential for business, and life.  But rampant growth is cancer and it doesn’t last.  So if we want real success, we have to grow in a way that’s sensible, and that requires that we consider the impacts more deeply.

Then I’d take the same logic and apply to us at an individual level. I think a lot of us who are working to make the world a better place, tend to be so committed to the work that we do, we often do it at the expense of ourselves, our health and families. It’s almost like the same thing – like planting millions of hectares of palm trees. We need to grow in balance ourselves, and we need to keep ourselves in a state of balance, if we are going to be advocating for an economy that’s balanced.

GCA: How would you like the EQ movement to spread?

Joshua Freedman: There’s a lot of awareness about Emotional Intelligence. We have a LinkedIn group for the Emotional Intelligence Network. In 2011 the group increased in size by about ten times. It’s now over 33,000 and rapidly growing. What we think we need to do is to go from awareness to systematic implementation. We have a few organisational clients who are looking to make this a serious part of their culture and embedding it. As Yasuhiro Tanabe, our director in Japan said to me, EQ 1.0 was people figuring what it was, EQ 2.0 was experimenting and seeing the data and the link between EQ and performance. EQ 3.0 is the practical implementation.  Now when we talk to clients, we use the phrase, “Putting EQ inside” – making it part of their culture and their competitive advantage.

I often hear clients say, “This sounds good, but we are not in a position to invest in people.” Whereas other clients say, “Wow, this could really save us a lot of money, a lot of waste and heartache. We could be much more productive and effective with this.”  That’s the mindset that I’d like people to cultivate, that emotional intelligence isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ thing. It’s a bedrock, it’s a foundation that we can build for sustainability and prosperity.


To learn more, follow The EQ Network on LinkedIN and Six Seconds on Facebook.   Joshua Freedman can be contacted via josh[at], his speaking website, LinkedIn,  Twitter @eqjosh and on YouTube


About the Interviewer:

Bhavani Prakash is the Founder of Green Collar Asia. She is a recruiter, speaker, trainer and writer in the environment/sustainability sector. She is also a certified EQ Coach with Six

To ask about EQ Coaching or EQ training related to sustainability or in general about talks/presentations/panel discussions about various sustainability topics, please contact Bhavani Prakash via bhavani.prakash[at], or on LinkedIN


Further Links you may be interested in:

Why the name Six Seconds?


  1. […] talent — and leading transformation.  Two excerpts below, and see the full article on Green Collar Asia: Joshua Freedman: Emotional Intelligence and its relevance for Green Talent GCA: What’s the connection between emotional intelligence and behaviour change, in the context of […]

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