How The Co-Founder of HGTV Handles Workplace Emotions

How The Co-Founder of HGTV Handles Workplace Emotions

Women in the workplace have been conditioned to not let their emotions show, for fear of losing credibility among their peers and leaders. This lack of emotional freedom and balance has left workplace environments grossly unbalanced. Susan Packard, co-founder and former COO of HGTV and author of Fully Human, dives into the highly-valuable skill of emotional intelligence (EQ) and how it can be adopted by companies today who want a successful team and organization. In her new book she offers a fortified version of EQ, which she calls EQFitness.

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What’s your background and what drew you to EQ and becoming emotionally fit?

Susan: My personal background is that I’m a long-standing wife (35 years!) of a very patient and kind man, Bill, and the mother of a son, Andrew, who we adopted from Romania when he was an infant.

My career background has been in media. I’m more entrepreneurial than ‘corporate,’ and was fortunate I could express that in existing large companies, helping to start up many cable programming networks like HBO, CNBC and HGTV. I understand both entrepreneurial and corporate mindsets.

This work experience led me to see all the connection points people have in organizations, and to have experience with three very distinctive cultures. Two of those I worked within, the third, HGTV, I helped to create as its second employee.

I saw steady-handed bosses, and arrogant, entitled ones. I came to know what mattered to me, and how I could most effectively get things done with others. I didn’t have words for what this was before I came into leadership, but these are the two elements of emotional intelligence: 1) self awareness, and 2) relating well to others. Self-awareness is about more than just your personality traits; it is knowing what you stand for and what inner principles guide you. These inform your emotional expression.

In my third leadership job at HGTV, I had a seat at the table, and was ready to build a workplace that celebrated genuine human values, as were my teammates. That’s what Fully Human is about. It contains the HGTV story, and those of many others who work in organizations led with purpose and moral courage, from mid-level employees to leaders.

How did you ‘modernize’ the EQ introduced to us in the 90s?

Susan: When Daniel Goleman brought us the great skill of emotional intelligence (or EQ) in the 90s, digital technologies were just beginning to pervade our workplaces, and today they dominate how we get things done. Also, today’s world is much more chaotic and complicated, so using our emotional intelligence is harder. My book offers tools to help us with these things.

Today’s mass adoption of technology concerns me, so I addressed it in my book. Screens create barriers between people, and make communication disposable. Remote workforces enabled by technology keep us separate. One of the reasons the HGTV founding group built trust so quickly was because we had physical meetings almost daily to problem-solve. I realize that’s not prudent today, but face-to-face, heart-to-heart communication is a gift that makes us feel fully human.

We’re no different from four-legged mammals in that when we feel separated, we feel endangered. Crushing loneliness is a reason our suicide rates are so high now. If you have a chance to build a physically-connected work community, it provides another ecosystem for us two-legged mammals. The ideal is having both — having common spaces where people come together, and allowing remote work, too, where it makes sense.

How does workplace culture impact the creation of emotionally healthy organizations?

Susan: A company succeeds three ways—with good products consumers want, with good processes in place, and with a titanium-strength company culture. They’re the three legs of the stool. The culture inside your organization is mirrored in relationships with your customers.

Culture is set by leadership. In one of the organizations where I was in leadership, I spent too many unproductive hours beating my head against the wall, trying to get the corporate folks to listen to our customers and to listen to us about what we needed to work more effectively. The division I worked in was part of an enormous conglomerate, and what I learned was this: if you have enough scale, you can hide a lot of sins. The culture in my division was winner-take-all, especially in negotiations with customers. My division prospered for a time, but only short term. I left there because my values didn’t line up with theirs.

What role does emotional fitness play in spiritual evolution as a leader?

Susan: First, I find it remarkable that Diane founded an organization of women who have raised their hand to say ‘Yes, I want to express my spirituality,’ and 4word provides that venue. It’s near impossible to have comfortable conversations about this in our workplaces.

Your organization celebrates what, for most of us and especially leaders, is the least evolved part of ourselves. We’re a composite of physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions, and for those leaders who place importance on all three, their organizations are the healthiest, both emotionally and economically. They rely on a sense of cooperation and an honoring of one another, of treating one another with civility and respect. This isn’t about a leader preaching about how religious they are. They simply model both power and grace. They trade self-centered “me” moments for “we” moments of grace and guidance. Great leaders have done the hard work of peeling away pretenses and shedding egos that need to be constantly validated, and have uncovered an inner, sacred place where our humility and principles reside.

I call this peeling away and shedding ‘soul’ work. Great leaders do both soul work and ego work, and they have found the right balance of the two. My research found that leaders who get high marks on “character,” exhibiting qualities such as compassion and integrity, run companies with an average return on assets of 9.35% — five times those who got low marks, where their return was 1.93%. The founding team of HGTV worked hard to build a culture of civility and compassion. These were the values on the wall. These were what we tried to model.

Which comes first: your emotional health or your spiritual vitality? That question is above my pay grade! But I do know they reinforce one another. Spiritually-fit leaders are steady-handed and fair-minded. Our emotional and spiritual dimensions support and buffet each other.

What are some tips I can share for anyone wanting to become more emotionally fit? How can it help with the chaos all around us?

Susan: Becoming emotionally fit is a process. When you want to get physically fit (lose weight or gain more muscle), you don’t go to the gym just once. You work hard in the beginning, and then you adopt some ongoing habits to maintain your fitness. That’s the key, the ongoing habits. The same principles behind physical fitness apply to EQFitness, too. There are three steps that should be taken:

In my new book, Fully Human, I offer tools for each of these steps, and the complete book becomes a toolkit. For example, one of the Willingness tools is an assessment of ‘good job fit.’ If the job, industry, or culture you’re in doesn’t mesh with your personal values and passions, it’s hard to be fulfilled and happy. I offer ways to assess good job fit.

What are your hopes for Fully Human?

Susan: I’m hoping for a new model of workplace, one where civility and fairness are the principles which bind it together. One where teams and work communities are grounded in real trust and true EQ. Organizations that don’t dehumanize us, but allow us to celebrate our full, shared humanity. I know this is possible because it’s the culture we built at HGTV. In 24 years, something that was valued at zero grew to a business that sold for over $15 billion in 2018. You can do the right thing for your people, and make it right for your shareholders too.

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If you’d like to see Susan in person and hear more about her story, join us at the Divine Design Gala on March 2 in Dallas, Texas, at the Renaissance Hotel. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here!

Susan Packard has been on the ground floor and helped to build powerhouse media brands like HBO, CNBC, and HGTV. She was the co-founder of Scripps Networks Interactive and former chief operating officer of HGTV. Under Packard’s helm, HGTV became one of the fastest growing cable networks in television history. Today HGTV is available in more than 98 million U.S. homes and distributed in over 200 countries and territories. Packard helped to build Scripps Networks Interactive to a market value of over $15 billion.

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