Asking the Right Questions
"... you think of being strategic as being a very cognitive, logical, linear process; in fact it isn’t."
One of their most striking findings is that notable academic accomplishments, like high grade-point-averages and academic awards, are not as important as conventional wisdom might suggest. Instead, emotional and social intelligence, including empathy, are “critically important in developing people and helping them make the most effective strategic business decisions,” said Gilkey, who is a Goizueta professor in the practice of organization and management as well as a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
Gilkey’s research career began in child psychology and child psychiatry at Dartmouth’s medical school. Later he began seeing executives as patients and identified the impact childhood had on leadership styles. Gilkey came to Emory in 1984, to focus more on business leadership, and currently serves a dual appointment at Goizueta and in the medical school, a job description he also had at Dartmouth.
Gilkey first worked with executives as a faculty member at Dartmouth in the early 1980s, and previously was a clinical psychology lecturer at the University of Michigan.
“The big headline there was that you think of being strategic as being a very cognitive, logical, linear process; in fact it isn’t,” Gilkey said. “What we saw was that these people were using very active parts of their limbic system, networks associated with social and emotional intelligence that informed them and allowed them to reason at higher, more comprehensive (big picture) levels.”
Put simply, Gilkey said, “The most experienced and best strategic thinkers were the ones who used their emotional processing system the most.”
In a business context, it allows executives to have a deeper understanding of how a customer or competitor might react to a new initiative or product offering. It also leads to different people being selected and promoted, because the range of available personalities across history is relatively stable. People who use their whole brain and exhibit social and emotional intelligence fill the best opportunities.
Goldman Sachs, for example, selects people not based on IQ, GPA or even technical knowledge, which is presumed, but rather on their potential as team players, Gilkey said. Those who assume personal responsibility for the overall performance of the team (and each individual) and commit to the success of the team are the ideal candidates.
“It’s a very different mindset,” Gilkey said. “It’s also a different skill set that organizations are increasingly selecting and promoting.”
"A fabulously underutilized resource is senior executive women at the top. Right now we have very few of them."
This kind of research touches all facets of business life, including leadership, executive coaching and work-life balance, and is featured in one of Gilkey’s courses, originally called “Leadership and Life Work.” The course outlined how work and leadership has to be an expression of your personal and moral purpose. Gilkey created the course with John Robson, JD, a previous dean of Goizueta.
After more than three decades at Goizueta, Gilkey cherishes his great colleagues and a positive environment where people are deeply committed to each other’s success. Diversity among students and faculty also contribute to his career satisfaction.
“It makes you feel happy to go to work every morning, and makes you feel energized,” he said. “It makes you wonder where the time went at the end of the day, and you go home wanting to talk about work, rather than forget about it.”
Gilkey is proud that his area of work, organization and management, is a leader in counting women and African-Americans among his colleagues. Breaking a glass ceiling for women is also an area where he sees his research taking the next step.
He sees the legacy in the neuroscience business research being building “brain-friendly environments,” which are places people want to go to work, and where they feel inspired and engaged. The key balance would be providing enough security, but also enough challenge at hand so they can thrive. In these environments people are able to “use their whole brain to operate, so that the whole person can come to work and bring all their talents,” he said.
Gilkey is among a group of researchers exploring funding for research of strategic reasoning in female populations. He describes the new glass ceiling for women as the myth that females are “not strategic.”
“Women can clearly think strategically, but it’s different than the way men think,” Gilkey said. “A lot of neuroscientists I’ve talked to say it’s going to be richer, much more nuanced. A fabulously underutilized resource is senior executive women at the top. Right now we have very few of them, and those we do have are selected so far as they are like men.”
Gilkey’s worked on this issue in his teaching at Goizueta and Wall Street by helping women ask strategic questions and raise strategic issues. “Because you don’t have to have the answers, so much as you have to ask the right questions,” he said.