The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Whitewater

Jan 21, 2004

emotional-intelligenceAs the organization grows and becomes more complex, layers of management and ‘silo-d’ functions create more and more space for emotional dysfunction to appear and take root.

This happens in two specific ways:

The bitter veteran

1. Usually by the time the organization hits Whitewater, there is at least one or more individual(s) that many of the management team, and most employees, view as emotionally dysfunctional.

Often, though not always, this person is someone originally hired by the founder/owner, and who feels alienated by the changes in the organization as it grows. As their loyalty to the founder/owner becomes strained, they can become (at the extreme) bitter, defensive and passive-aggressive.

During Whitewater, this persons’ behavior – until now merely irritating – becomes increasingly disruptive, and stands in the way of alignment and team cohesion (a vital requirement for the transition to Predictable Success®).

If the organization genuinely wishes to push through Whitewater into Predictable Success®, at some point the emotionally dysfunctional individual(s) will need to be confronted and the issue resolved: either they accept the fact that the organization has changed – permanently – from what it was in the old days, and they ‘get on the bus’, or they accept that there is no place for them in the ‘new’ organization and leave.

[Note: if the individual in question is indeed an appointee of the founder/owner, this can be a prolonged and painful business. Often the founder / owner will duck the issue, seeking to find another role for the individual in which they might ‘fit better’ and become more productive. This can happen 2 or 3 times before the owner/founder finally concedes defeat and fires the individual.]

The emasculated ‘Big Dog’.

2. The second area of EI difficulty in Whitewater is with the ‘big dogs’ – the high-performance individuals who did the most to get the organization to where it is now.

Because they were part of the building of myths and legends during Fun, the big dogs have a large amount of ‘sweat equity’. Translation: They have a direct route to the founder/owner if they feel annoyed about anything.

Combine that with the high degree of autonomy and authority they had during Fun.

Now mix in the loss of autonomy that big dogs experience during Whitewater, caused by the rise of the Administrator and subsequent increasing implementation of systems, policies and procedures…

Result? A confused, concerned and increasingly emasculated big dog, who may choose to fight back in emotionally dysfunctional ways.

In many cases, the big dogs will learn to ‘play the new game’, and/or can be quietly directed to the ‘dinosaur park’ (see elsewhere for details on how to build and operate a dinosaur park), but occasionally one or more big dogs may become so emotionally dysfunctional that their bitterness, negativity, carping and back-biting threatens the cohesion of the team and the alignment of the organization.

In such a case, again the founder/owner may have trouble admitting to him or herself that their former superstar – previously so loyal and dependable – has in fact become dangerously dysfunctional andcannot be rescued. The founder/owner will often allow the matter to drag on for months, even years, prolonging Whitewater, and postponing the move into Predictable Success®.

Sooner or later, if the organization is to get to Predictable Success®, the truly emotionally dysfunctional big dogs – those that cannot learn to accept that the world has changed and that they have to ‘play nice’ – will have to be replaced.


In early Whitewater, diagnose those support staff and ‘big dogs’ that are exhibiting signs of low emotional intelligence in dealing with the turbulence and change in the organization. Provide resources for assessment and coaching / counseling. In late Whitewater, unresponsive individuals will have to be replaced if the organization is to achieve alignment and emerge in to Predictable Success®.

Next:EI In Predictable Success