Never Underestimate the Importance of EQ

Leadership, especially in an incredibly fast-paced digital world where there are disruptions coming from every direction, is tough. Whether you are a long-established CEO or COO grappling with the changes digital technology is bringing to your industry, or a newly appointed Chief Data or Digital Officer getting to grips with joining the C-Suite, it takes a special and specific mix of skills and competencies to lead successfully.

When looking to appoint senior leaders, the focus is generally on the necessary mix of technical and professional capabilities and IQ. However, what is all too often overlooked is the added ingredient of EQ (Emotional Intelligence) – the sprinkling of spice which enables senior leaders to celebrate team balance and diversity, motivate, inspire and influence people as well as make critical decisions and influence strategy.

While a high IQ is undoubtedly an important factor for senior team members, it is not the only measure of intelligence that should be considered. Equally important is EQ, which affects how we manage behaviour (both our own and others’), navigate social situations and make decisions.

It is distinct from wider intellect but can be acquired and improved with practice. It is also vital in senior leadership roles, as being able to recognise your own and others’ emotions and interact with colleagues accordingly is a key component to building influence, storytelling and developing effective relationships.

It is an all too familiar scenario when leadership goes wrong; business performance suffers, employees feel a lack of purpose and staff turnover increases. Organisations which don’t take EQ into account tend to have people who all think, look and speak in the same way, usually because individuals have been hired on the basis of their technical skills or in a leader’s own light.

Technical competence is not enough – those skills should be a given at interview stage, but they don’t indicate whether an individual can be impactful and effective in their role, take people with them on a journey to a future state and make necessary but tough decisions.

Assessing EQ in the hiring process requires careful judgement and means you are more likely to build a balanced, diverse team, with individuals from different backgrounds, culture and industries who think differently and challenge the status quo, bringing a fresh perspective to problem-solving.

These people aren’t afraid to ask ‘stupid questions’ such as “why do you do it like that?” (Answer: because that’s the way we’ve always done it…). Balance is about having the right mix in your team and understanding what makes them tick and finding the missing ingredients. Put simply, if your team are all ‘doers’, then who is thinking of new initiatives and if everyone is a ‘thinker’, then who is actually making things happen? People with a higher EQ are more likely to have a voice and articulate an opinion as well as better understanding what makes others tick.

So what does EQ mean? EQ is about self-awareness, understanding your strengths, weaknesses, drivers, values and goals, while empathy enables you to understand the impact your qualities have on others. In an effective team, each member has this self-awareness and empathy and also appreciates how their colleagues work, how to influence and guide them and when to avoid or manage conflict. Leadership teams made up of individuals with a highly developed sense of EQ communicate honestly and openly, collaborate effectively, understand their individual and collective accountability and most importantly, are able to cascade these behaviours, visions and values into their teams.

When it comes to recruiting senior leaders, be brave! Working out what your team needs and then making the right appointment is not that daunting. Rather than refreshing an overly-detailed job specification which probably hasn’t been looked at since the last time you were filling a particular post, spend the time more effectively by thinking about what problems you want the new recruit to solve for you.

Ask yourself what you want them to bring to the team (given that technical excellence should be just the basic requirement). What do you want them to do, and what are the success criteria? Be equally clear about the personal characteristics you don’t need or want – remember the doers and thinkers earlier?

The right person for you may not be working in your industry currently – that’s not an issue; their technical skills will transfer over and you may very well find that fresh eyes from a different business sector can see your problems more clearly than those who work in it day to day. They may have already seen and solved very similar issues. Recruiting from a competitor is not always the best way.

Every industry has its own specialisms and technical know-how, whether this is front of office trading or nuances in manufacturing, almost all technical skills are transferable. EQ is about opening your eyes and at the interview stage, looking for evidence of strong leadership – where difficult decisions have been made, where your candidate has had to encourage a team to steer a different course or establish new performance standards and methods of working. Ask for examples of a creation and cascade of vision, strategy or sense of purpose, and probe to get an idea of how your candidate has used his or her EQ to make these changes a positive experience for their team, however difficult the circumstances may have been.

Discover how much self-awareness your candidate has – what do they consider their management style to be, what do they do well and what do they enjoy doing most, what do they think are their weak areas and how do they mitigate them? How do they resolve conflict and influence sceptical/risk averse/change-resistant stakeholders? Is your candidate aware of the shadow they cast?

No one can be the best at everything. EQ enables leaders to play to the strengths and weaknesses in their teams by encouraging individuals to perform at their best. Putting EQ at the heart of a leadership assessment will ensure this happens.

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