Today, disruption in the business world is the norm. Change happens at an unprecedented rate and business leaders need to be able to flex and adapt accordingly. In this environment, emotional intelligence (EQ) is an extremely valuable trait for leaders to possess and develop. They need the ability to be self-aware; to empathise with and support their employees; to understand the impact of their behaviour on the wider organisation and the climate they themselves create.

We spoke to Jo Rye, talent and development consultant and BIE interim, who has worked with a number of international clients, helping them work towards achieving a cultural climate that builds leadership capability and maintains high performance and focus through times of change and transition.  Jo is clear that the key to businesses delivering success comes through the leader's ability to be self-aware of their human impact on others or, in other words, their EQ.

What shadow do you cast?

Jo says: "When any organisation is faced with change or transition, many leaders will start to look at the process. What is the target operating model (TOM)? How do you get people from A to B? How can we deliver this project as fast and successfully as possible? Clearly, this is very important - so much so that reward for successful delivery of such projects has historically been on the delivery of "task" KPIs. This can result in leaders very much focusing on the task and its successful implementation.

"This can leave a huge blind spot for a lot of leaders, as with the required pace and demands for successful delivery they forget to consider (until the latter stages, if at all) what this actually means for the people affected. How will our people feel, going into this change? How do we feel as leaders, going into this change - do we acknowledge this and, therefore, prepare ourselves appropriately? How can we ensure our people feel that they are being treated like adults and human beings rather than just commodities?

"Both parts (task and people) need to be considered equally. These are both critical elements of the change process that, throughout disruption, need to be managed to a successful outcome that allows people to still operate effectively without paralysis through key required change phases."

Jo explains that it is important to raise awareness among leaders of the impact they have on their people – that is, their "leadership shadow". Executives need to be aware of how they make employees feel; of the shadow they cast. For example, do people feel happiest when they see their leader come into the room or when they see the back of them as they go out?

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EQ and humanising the workplace

In 2004, Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo identified the "Six Qs of Leadership". They are:

  1. IQ – intelligence quotient
  2. TQ – technical quotient
  3. MQ – motivation quotient
  4. XQ – experience quotient
  5. PQ - people quotient (what we refer to as EQ)
  6. LQ – learning quotient

Generally, people are promoted on the basis of their IQ and TQ – but their PQ or EQ is often lacking in comparison.

As Jo explains, this can have damaging consequences, especially for those in critical leadership roles: "As we all know, people don’t generally leave organisations; they leave their line manager. So are you taking people with you, or are you just driving, to achieve key milestones without any consideration for their well-being?

"Being aware of your impact on others and, indeed, checking in with those you lead to ensure that they are still with you on every level is of key importance throughout challenging times. As the leader, are you paying attention to your own physical state and making necessary adjustments to oscillate between first and sixth gear so that your personal energy levels have time to replenish? This will also encourage those you lead to do the same, so that healthy delivery can ensue in a sustainable way. If, as a leader, you fail to do this it could result in your team driving hard to keep the pace "set" going. However, at some point, it is likely they may fall over – they will start to get ill or burn out – the net result is the inability to sustain high performance and therefore successful delivery of the project.

"On the whole, no one comes to work to do a bad job. People offer up discretionary effort in a climate where mutual respect, support and understanding are displayed. Employees will keep driving to deliver those important results because they want to do a great job. As a leader, it is imperative that you do take time to build your self-awareness and ability to have awareness of other - key attributes to successful EQ."

Jo adds that, often, business leaders know what they should be doing during disruption, but putting it into practice is another story: "It’s almost like your child going through the teenage years, where they’re in turmoil. In the same way, you might have an employee that’s potentially going to lose their job; they don’t know whether they’re going to be in one team or another; there’s so much uncertainty.

"As a leader, it’s about understanding that people are going to be confused and looking for answers. The question is, are you as the leader taking time to understand what these questions may be, not shying away from them but answering them in an open and transparent manner to build trust and mutual respect even through some of the most difficult times? Sometimes you are the adult in the relationship of those you lead; sometimes you will have all the answers and sometimes you will not. Having the courage and humility as a leader to be honest in a supportive way will help people move in the right direction through times of uncertainty as trust will breed belief."

Being yourself as a leader

Leaders may think that there is a magical formula for increasing their EQ – but this is not necessarily the case. "Leaders need to have the strength and conviction to just be who they are," says Jo. "They need to have the courage to change things."

Jo adds: "To be authentic; to be able to practice your values; to lead with your heart and develop connective relationships: you do that by being you. People know if you’re not being authentic."

In large corporate organisations, EQ is often not at the top of the agenda – but developing it is important for leaders across industries. After all, as Jo says: "Who is the best person to go and spread the word, set the work climate and drive change in an organisation? The leader."

So business leaders should ask themselves: are you really the best that you can be? What does good really look like - is it about delivering results or is it about driving sustainable change through and with those you lead? In a disrupted world, success isn’t always about being strong and being right; success is about being open to change and holding the wellbeing of your employees firmly in mind. 

Jo Rye is an experienced talent and learning and development (L&D) professional with a diverse background, including FMCG, finance, utilities, retail, construction, manufacturing and distribution, both within the UK and overseas. With many successes in high profile, global major blue chip companies and major brands, she has a proven track record across commercial, account and people management, HR and L&D, with specific focus on talent, leadership and management development.

Jo is a qualified coach, equally able to coach at VP and director level to shop floor and is recognised for her ability to support and drive talent, leadership development, team effectiveness and change management and transition in businesses. Commercially aware, Jo has facilitated the development of high performing leaders and their teams.

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