Become a Better Leader with Dr. Adam Bandelli

June 17, 2022

Become a Better Leader with Dr. Adam Bandelli

June 17, 2022

About This Episode

Today’s guest is Adam Bandelli, Visionary Founder & Managing Director of Bandelli & Associates. With a Ph.D. and master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and 20 years of management and leadership coaching experience under his belt, he recently finished his book, Relational Intelligence: The Five Essential Skills You Need to Build Life-Changing Relationships, which will be released soon.

He and Tristan discussed the book and the importance of building long-lasting relationships in both their business and personal lives.

Roots in Organizational Psychology

During the interview, Tristan notices Adam’s shoe collection of Jordan 11s.

Adam shares that his first foray into leadership was through sports, specifically as a point guard on his basketball team. Growing up, his idols were Michael Jordan, and later on, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Steph Curry.

“I was always fascinated, coming from a sports background, by what makes a great leader? How do they motivate?” Adam shares. 

This is what started him along the path to becoming an organizational psychologist and leadership advisor.

An Effective Leader Has Influence

In his book, Adam wrote, “In a professional world, influence is directly connected to leadership.”

He defined influence as the ability to make a positive and meaningful impact on the lives of others. According to Adam, leadership, first and foremost, is really about having the ability to  bring out the best in your team members, and help them become the best versions of themselves.

He painted it this way: a leader’s job is to help his people figure out their “secret source of superpower” and unleash them to go forward and perform.

He also differentiates an influential leader from a manipulative one.

For him, it is all grounded in how people define relational intelligence and emotional intelligence.

  • Relational intelligence is the ability to successfully connect with people and build strong, long-lasting relationships.
  • Emotional intelligence (or EQ) is the ability to understand your emotions, the emotions of others, and how to manage emotions effectively.

On a larger scale, EQ can be used for either good or bad purposes. “You can use emotions to elicit inspiration and motivate others. But you can also use emotions to manipulate people. You can use emotions to trigger things like fear or anxiety to get things done,” Adam says.

During his master’s study of Machiavellian leadership, he found that leaders with this philosophy are often self-serving. They are not inherently bad people, but they have a means-to-an-end mentality in terms of dealing with other people.

Machiavellian leaders are good at getting results for short term goals. But often, this type of leadership doesn’t work for long term goals.

“Relationally intelligent leaders, on the other hand, have the focus on having long-term relationships. The idea of intentionality and authenticity is there,” he says. This, according to him, is what differentiates influential leaders from manipulative leaders.

One such example was Steve Jobs. Today, most people know him as the man who made revolutionary Apple products that we will use for generations to come. But in the 80s, he was ousted from Apple for his poor leadership style. Even his relationship with his family was in tatters at the time.

When Steve Jobs returned in the 90s, it wasn’t just his products that made him the famous and celebrated person he is now. It was his shift in leadership mentality and how he transitioned to becoming more relational.

Jobs talked about his journey, what leadership looks like, and how to have an impact on people in one of his famous interviews, and this was after a lifetime of being more self-serving to more building relationships and getting things done for others.

Tristan notes that even Adam’s shoe collection screams influential vs. manipulative.

Relational Intelligence: The Framework and The Journey

In his book, Adam outlines the five skills that relationally intelligent people have, and how those five skills act as the framework for building long-lasting and meaningful relationships.

  • Establishing Rapport
  • Understanding Others
  • Embracing Individual Differences
  • Developing Trust
  • Cultivating Interest

He also shares the story of why he chose this topic.

It began in 1995 when he picked up Daniel Goleman’s book called Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. He was a freshman at the time, but it got him interested in understanding and unpacking what EQ is. He takes it a step further during his master’s and doctorate studies.

The framework in the book was based on the same findings he introduced in his dissertation on relational intelligence during his Ph.D. around 2006 or 2007.

For the next [almost] 20 years, it sat on the shelf while he built a career in management and leadership coaching, practicing, refining, and honing those five skills. He didn't just use those skills in his professional life; he also used them in his personal life, with his family and friends, and in his romantic relationships.

His book, Relational Intelligence, is coming out at an important time when we are coming out of the pandemic. For two years, people have been socially isolated, with conversations limited to Zoom calls. “We’ve lost the art of human face-to-face connection,” Adam says.

Eye contact, body language, and all those gestures that are part of establishing rapport have been gone for most of us for a long time. So, he hoped that by releasing this book, he’d be able to help people reconnect with that lost art of communicating with others face-to-face.

The [Lost] Art of Getting Along with People

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” –Dale Carnegie

Whether in a personal or professional setting, people often miss out on the fact that if they take the time to invest in caring about others, they get to build stronger relationships faster.

Adam attributes it to three things:

People like to talk more than listen.

It is a human tendency, whether in personal or professional relationships, to want to get one's points of view across. So, they end up talking more about themselves than listening to the other person and showing interest in getting to know them.

In Adam’s experience, this is more prevalent among men than women, especially in dating. People always try to “prove themselves” or show what they have, rather than stepping back and trying to understand the person sitting on the other side of the table. Our inherent need to be understood gets in the way of trying to understand others, and it becomes a wall in getting to know other people.

People lack intentionality in their relationships.

You see it often. If you ask someone how they became friends with their circle, they will say that they just happened to spend a lot of time together back in college, or that they just happened to be people they were stuck with in the office.

Most people lack the intentionality to build a strong connection with a certain person, or leaders intentionally take steps to help their people be better versions of themselves or foster trust and cooperation so the team can work better collectively.

While you can gain relationships by being passive and just sticking with someone who spends the most time with you due to circumstances, intentionality can push relationships to a higher level.

People are afraid of authenticity.

We all wear masks to a certain degree. We have masks with our family, our friends, at work, at school, in the church, and with different groups of people we socialize with. And it can be scary to take off these masks and be vulnerable to people.

That’s why most people don’t know how liberating it is to get rid of these masks and how great relationships built on authenticity can be. It takes a lot of courage and time to be truly authentic with people, especially in a business setting, but the connections you form in the process can be very rewarding.

Adam also brings up the VAC model and how it affects connecting with people, especially in business. There are three components:

  • Visual: physical attributes that can be seen during your interactions, like your facial expressions, eye contact, and body language.
  • Affective (emotional aspect): refers to how you made others feel during your interactions. Empathy ties in a lot with this.
  • Cognitive/Competence: like thinking through problems together. Your thought patterns and processes are influenced by your interactions.

Understanding Others

Adam wrote that “Compassion is tough when you think you’re right.” And Tristan shares that he couldn’t help but wonder what happened to compassion in the current world we live in. They talk about empathy and compassion and how they play a big role in understanding others, which is a part of the framework for becoming relationally intelligent.

The good news is that Adam noted how empathy and compassion became more important in the business setting during the pandemic. There has been a big shift in the degree that leaders and people who run companies, the employers, were more empathetic towards their people and their families during the time COVID was rampant.

Adam also discusses the second scale of his Relational Intelligence model, Understanding Others. He defined it as the ability to be intentional about putting in the time and effort to get to know a person on a deep level.

There are four things a person can do or have to understand others and build a positive initial connection with them.

Having great EQ skills is important.

A person needs a certain level of self-awareness to understand their own emotions and social awareness to understand the emotions of others. They also need to know how to manage those emotions effectively.

Active listening.

It makes all the difference if a person is listening to truly hear what the other person has to say, or if they are just forming their responses in their mind before the other person has even finished talking. Being present and actively paying attention to what the other person has to say and refraining from interrupting and talking over them builds a better understanding of each other.

Curiosity and inquisitiveness.

It is, to a certain degree, an extension of active listening. Do you ask follow-up questions? Are you interested in what the other person has to say or offer? Do you probe and go deeper beyond small talk? Ask questions and show interest in the other person.


Can you put yourself in other people’s shoes? Empathizing with other people is the core of understanding others. And it isn’t something that happens instantly, but something you work on constantly–it is an ever-evolving process.

Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)

This approach to communication and personal development was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 70s. They claim there is a connection between neurological processes (neuro-), language (linguistic), and behavioral patterns learned through experience (programming), and that these can be changed to achieve specific goals in life. (Source: Wikipedia)

While there is little formal scientific research on the subject, many leaders credit NLP for their success in business and other areas of life, and many books have been written about it. It also has to do with establishing rapport with others, according to Adam.

“Self-perceptions are big when it comes to neuro-linguistic perceptions you have of others,” Adam says.

Initial contact and first impressions matter in building relationships. Establishing rapport is important in the process of knowing yourself, what makes you tick, and your biases and perceptions.

Having the wrong self-perceptions, such as competitiveness and personal biases, can hinder individuals from making strong and meaningful connections when left unchecked.

Embracing Individual Differences

We are all, to some extent, a product of our environments, and these include stereotypes.

When a person is limited by the diversity of people he can interact with, it is easy to fall into an “us vs. them” mentality that usually leads to racism, sexism, ableism, and all the other “-isms” in the book.

Adam shares that he was lucky enough to be exposed to diversity early in life. Raised by a Christian mother and a Muslim father, he was exposed to different spiritual values even as a child. That exposure has taught him that the world is bigger than what he grew up in and that people of different cultures, ages, and religions have different values. 

He is more flexible in accepting individual differences because of that.

Regarding stereotypes, this is what Adam says: “For people to really connect with others, you really have to look past the way you were raised or what you were told about Black people, or Asian people, or white people, or gay or straight people. You have to be able to say, ‘Okay, whoever I’m interacting with is a unique individual. They are not in this category.And if you could look past the categories to get to know the person, that gets the connection.

He also shares that the firm he founded has a diverse culture of people and having people of Black, Asian, and Hispanic backgrounds in his team “creates a diversity of thought, which enriches colleagues and conversations.”

His advice on how to battle learned stereotypes is simple. “Your ability to be exposed to as broad of an array of people as you can, and the earlier in life you can do that, I think it helps against the stereotypes or the prejudices or the way that people act and behave,” Adam says.

Developing Trust

Adam shares a perfect example of trust in his business firm. “I built a firm with people that are diverse in different backgrounds and also have areas of expertise where I don’t. I’m good at doing a little bit of each of these things, but I’m not an expert when it comes to statistics and analytics, and I’m not an expert when it comes to training. But I surround myself with people who are, and then empower them to perform.”

Developing trust is a two-fold thing. For you to build trust with other people, you have to know how you’re wired. You have to know the things that make you tick. As Adam says, “You have to have a better understanding of your good, bad, and ugly before you can start building trust with other people.”

Trust is defined as the ability to be vulnerable and take risks to be exposed to the actions and behaviors of others.

Your ability to understand yourself opens the door for you to develop trust with other people. Once you know yourself, it then becomes this constant “bank account of trust” that you continually grow and nurture in your relationships.

“This idea of intentional generosity. Can you pour into a relationship and trust people?” Adam asks.

Adam also shares the 5Cs–the underlying aspects of trust. According to him, for leaders to trust their people and vice versa you have to be/have:

  • Competent (I know this person’s going to do a good job.)
  • Commitment (Do I know that he’s going to honor his commitments to me or the organization?)
  • Consistent (Is he going to show up the same way, each day? Can I count on him?)
  • Character (Do I have integrity?)
  • Courage (Are you going to say things that need to be said when they need to be said?)

Mental Health

Adam shared how he was diagnosed with bipolar II in his early 20s. At that time, he was taking his Ph.D. in psychology and going through some financial stuff with his dad. When he was at the psychiatrist and the doctor told him his diagnosis, he was in denial about it.

As a result, he continued to live his life without medication, and his life was chaotic. He was able to better manage his life after finally coming to terms with it and agreeing to go to therapy and take medications. Journaling has aided him in navigating his emotions and has proven to be an invaluable tool in the writing of his book, Relational Intelligence.

But it was the support of his family, his wife, his best friend of 30 years, and his “care team” that got him through living life with bipolar disorder.

Because he was able to build strong relationships with these people whom he trusted and could be vulnerable with, he managed to overcome a big hurdle.

Dealing with Difficult People

Tristan asks Adam, “Is it good or bad for leaders to be narcissistic?”

In his experience, Adam admits it was mostly bad. Not that narcissistic people are bad, but it seldom has a positive effect on leadership when a person is self-centered.

“For me, it feels like pride is a big thing that leads to narcissism. We all need help and support from different people in different seasons of our lives, and it’s okay to ask for help… I think narcissistic leaders, because they have some type of imposter syndrome or inferiority complex, don’t want to show weakness. They don’t want to show that they have any issues or need help, and it really damages relationships in the workplace,” Adam explains.

A relationally intelligent person can use the skills mentioned earlier to effectively deal with difficult people.

Cultivating Influence

They talked about leaders influencing subordinates earlier, but how about a leader influencing a fellow leader?

Adam shares the question most leaders ask him during coaching and consulting sessions.

“Are my employees there to do their jobs? Or am I there to help them grow and become better versions of themselves?”

His answer is both. People take jobs to get paychecks and to work. But if a leader or business owner wants to raise performance and financial profitability, he needs to help his people do what they do, the best way.

Influence is defined as having a positive and meaningful impact on others. To effectively [and positively] influence others, a leader must have a “people and culture first” mindset. Driving sales and meeting goals and ROI are all important, but you need to make strategic investments that are longer-term when it comes to people.

Relational Intelligence in Romance

When it comes to leadership, it is also important to take a look at how values and principles applied in a professional setting are carried over to home life. Tristan asks Adam about how his Relational Intelligence Model applies to married life.

In his book, Adam wrote, “Marriages thrive in the long term when both partners commit to the emotional work.” And emotional work goes back to developing trust and vulnerability.

Beyond vulnerability, authenticity is revealing who you are and trusting that person. Adam explains how his trusting relationship with his wife pushed him to repair his relationship with his father's side of the family, with his wife acting as a motivator from behind.

“The ability to put in the emotional work, and it’s harder for men than women, but a relationship… The word "relationship" is a verb. The word "love" is a verb. You have to practice it every day,” Adam says.

At the end of his book, he talked about altar calls. “Every day, you have to make sacrifices for the people that mean the most to you. And that’s where the emotional work really comes in,” Adam shares.

Relational Intelligence Derailments or Blind Spots

Adam also shares their recent study about the things that can prevent people from building strong relationships.

From their study, they pinpointed several factors:

Someone has a poor ability to manage their emotions. They let anger or rage run rampant in a business or family setting.

Damaging or destroying trust. If you break trust with someone, or someone breaks your trust, it can be hard. There’s a conditional trust, which we mostly see in business settings. And there’s an unconditional trust, which you see more in marriages and deeper relationships outside of work.

Conditional trust is about a mutual agreement to honor each other’s commitments, and once one party fails to do so, the other party can either terminate the agreement, demand payment for damages, or both. But in unconditional trust, there’s almost that “Why [should I] trust [this person]?” embedded in damage (infidelity or something like that) that can destroy trust right away.

Lack of self-awareness. If you don’t understand yourself and your emotions, how can you start trusting others, and how can they begin trusting you?

Lack of social awareness. If you can’t comprehend other people’s feelings and ways of thinking, it is hard to establish trust.

Unconscious biases. Stereotypes, however subtle, do exist. Prejudices too. People who have trouble building relationships can’t start thinking outside of their own culture; they operate with closed mindsets.

Why Should You Read Relational Intelligence?

This book will help you regain the lost art of face-to-face communication now that we are coming out of the pandemic. Adam hopes the book provides readers with a blueprint for intentional and authentic relationship-building.

With this book, he also hopes to influence more leaders and business owners to create inclusive cultures where everyone feels valued and appreciated. Especially today, in the face of racism and other philosophies that divide people when we should be promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Lastly, with the Great Resignation that’s been happening recently, it has come to light that  young people (Millennials and Gen Zs) “do not quit their jobs; they quit their bosses.” Adam hopes the book guides business leaders, entrepreneurs, and employers on how to build great relationships with their employees so that they feel that they are contributing and that they matter. That way, they can retain their talents.

Follow Adam Bandelli

You can follow Adam Bandelli on his social media accounts.

LinkedIn: Adam C. Bandelli, Ph.D.

Twitter: @abandelli

YouTube: Adam Bandelli

You can also follow his firm’s page, Bandelli & Associates, and their Instagram (@official_bandelliassociates).

They talk about mental health and mental health awareness, relational intelligence, and leadership.

Watch out for his new book, Relational Intelligence, which will be released soon.

DISCLAIMER: The people interviewed are well-trained experts and highly skilled in their areas of practice. They take many safety precautions prior to attempting the activities described. The activities or research discussed in these podcasts should not be attempted without qualified supervision and training with professionals.

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