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What's Your EQ?

Are you building an ‘emotionally intelligent’ IT organization, or are you missing your opportunity to lead well? From a leading IT career development guru, here’s how to boost your emotional intelligence quotient—and that of your staffers, too.

IT LeadershipONE OF THE BEST descriptions of emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) that I have come across was devised by Howard Hopkins, a retired Canadian high school teacher:

Every response you give to another person involves your intellect and your emotions. The intellect composes the message, and the emotions provide animation and grace. Emotion is to the message what music is to the lyric. Without the tune, would anyone ever remember the lyric? The skill to combine intellect and emotion in this dramatic and powerful fashion is emotional intelligence, and it possesses the power to elevate even the common exchanges of everyday encounters from the base level of me-and-you to the sublimity of I-and-Thou!

The question is: What does this mean to you, as an IT director or executive?

As IT professionals, both individually and collectively, we invariably possess the right “lyric”—the ability to find solutions. After all, that’s what we are trained to do. But as projects become more complex and IT roles are distributed across the institution, we often have a hard time reaching our audience, the IT users. To them, our “tune” may sound offkey and discordant; not in keeping with the expectations and outcomes they envision. And it does not matter if they are mistaken, for perception is everything. If the perception is that your organization is not fully engaged in appreciating your customer’s needs, then, to your customer, that is the reality.

What’s more, greater organizational empathy—internal and external—can benefit decision-making at the stakeholder level as well as the front lines. So, think about your organization: Where are you “in tune,” and where do you need a tune-up?

Leadership Everywhere

Leadership is no longer just for people at the top. Common sense tells us that leadership functions are accomplished collectively through formal or positional leaders, but also through informal leaders. Technology professionals at all levels have the opportunity to contribute to leadership activity, such as influencing others, bridging groups to meet shared objectives, and effectively communicating technology options accross a wide variety of work groups and departments.

True IT professionals recognize the challenges facing our customers and the importance of forging collaborative relationships to meet the demand for new projects. We know it takes more than technical skills to meet campus expectations for IT goals and services. It stands to reason, then, that if we want people to be actively engaged in the success of the institution, we need to commit to creating a workplace and culture that encourage leadership activity and recognize developing these skills as a core competency for every IT staff member.

The emotionally intelligent organization promotes a culture in which openness, transparency, and respectful assertiveness are the norm. In essence, an EIO is a ‘relationship-intelligent’ organization.

Understanding Leadership Activity

Research shows that emotions are at the heart of effective leadership. In Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (Harvard Business School Press, 2002), Daniel Goleman popularized emotional intelligence in the business realm by describing its importance as an ingredient for successful business careers and as a crucial component for effective group performance. He explained that emotional intelligence quotient encompasses qualities that go beyond technical competence and intellectual capacity (IQ). EQ is the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, to guide our thinking and actions in two areas of influence: personal competence and social competence.

Personal competence involves self-awareness, selfregulation, and motivation. This area focuses on recognizing how our emotions influence our work and those around us, and on understanding our own emotional triggers. The first step in self-awareness is accurate self-assessment, which is key to superior management performance. A high EQ score on this dimension means we know when to collaborate, when to get help, and when we have something to contribute. Self-regulation helps us adapt to change, utilizing self-control to keep disruptive emotions at bay, and helps us demonstrate trustworthiness through consistent emotions and behaviors. Motivation is another personal competence: The role of our leader is to create an environment that provides opportunities and work experiences that are conducive to self-motivation. Skills in this dimension include the drive to meet our inner standards of excellence, initiative to anticipate the need for action, and optimism to see the upside in events.

Social competence focuses on empathy and relationship management skills to read people and groups accurately. Empathy is critical for dealing with individuals and organizations. It involves learning to interpret situations objectively without the bias of our own assumptions; it allows us to recognize political relationships, and develop coalition-building savvy. Relationship management is our ability, through a range of tactics, to influence and bring about a desirable response in others. This dimension includes developing others, initiating and leading change, nurturing instrumental relationships at all levels, and conflict management. Traditional leadership talents of inspiring others to contribute to a shared vision, teamwork, and collaboration find their skill base here.

EQ and Productivity

Does the development of individual EQ alone guarantee productivity and better decision-making? No; to fully capitalize on harnessing leadership capacity and the fruits of an engaged workforce, two things are required: First, there must be a commitment toward a workplace culture that promotes an EQ culture and encourages EQ behavior. Second, there must be structures and business practices—such as guidelines for team autonomy and decision-making, internal project evaulation, and end-user satisfaction critera—in place, to channel EQ throughout the organization. These two factors, culture and practice, guide the way leadership activity can be woven into the operational fabric of the organization, and provide the framework for professional development, peer supervision, project teams, and up-and-down decision-making.

The emotionally intelligent organization (EIO) promotes a culture in which openness, transparency, and respectful assertiveness are the norm. It also encourages diversity, tolerates constructive disagreement, and values contained flexibility and multidirectional communication. In essence, an EIO is a “relationship-intelligent” organization.

Just as we perform individual EQ assessments to identify the leadership strengths and weaknesses of our organization members, the same can be done for the organization itself.

10 Steps to an EIO Model

If you are looking for ways to increase operational effectiveness and efficiency and develop the next generation of IT leaders, you will need to move toward an EIO model. Follow these steps to get there:

  1. Be a role model. The key ingredient of a successful EIO is a leader whose own EQ drives the emotional intelligence of the organization. It does not imply that the leader is fully competent but, rather, that he or she is willing to embark on a shared learning experience with the management team and staff.
  2. Actively assess not just individual but organizational EQ. Apply each of the personal and social competency dimensions to your organization, as well as to its members. For example, terms such as “building coalitions,” “energizing project teams,” “involving people,” and “understanding the politics of change” map to the EQ components of empathy, motivation, relationship management, and political awareness. Just as we perform individual EQ assessments to identify the leadership strengths and weaknesses of our organization members, the same can be done for the organization itself. For instance: Is the organization perceived as coalitionbuilding? Is it constructed to involve people, or does it promote exclusivity by keeping meetings small, formal, and on a “need-to-know” basis only?
  3. Envision the EIO. In open candid discussions throughout the organization, identify the desired outcomes of the new emotionally intelligent organization, and explore the idea of developing an EIO in order to generate energy, obtain buy-in, and build understanding. Articulate how progress will be measured.
  4. Design and articulate the new structure. Examine the existing organizational structure and add an EQ dimension, which should include: organization charts, role descriptions, performance criteria, project management methodology, lines of accountability and authority, and formal channels of communication up and down the organization chart.
  5. Pay attention to culture. Emphasize relationship building, empathy, and teamwork practices, in order to build trust, a safe environment to learn in, commitment, and a pervasive sense of personal and professional accountability. Update hiring, feedback, and evaluation procedures, in order to put these values into operation. The EIO structure and culture should combine as a framework to balance employee contributions and organizational constraints, innovation and risk, distributed leadership and fragmentation, as well as when to lead and when to follow.
  6. Foster learning. Integrate tools and techniques for personal/team EQ assessments and professional development plans. Education programs should link EQ, technical skills, and IT practices. And don’t neglect the critical success factor of informal learning via peer coaching, feedback, and mentoring. Then…
  7. Measure, 8) Celebrate, 9) Learn, and 10) Re-assess!

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