As the effects of the pandemic continue to impact peoples' lives, IT leaders’ ability to identify, manage, and understand emotions in themselves and in others has never been more important. We need to connect with our people in new, more personal ways to help them cope with stresses many have never encountered before.
This requires a heavy dose of emotional intelligence. This term, also known as emotional quotient, or EQ, is defined in a few ways. But generally speaking, an emotionally intelligent person has the ability to identify their emotions, apply them to problem-solving situations, and manage them positively.
For me, this translates to having the ability to make a genuine connection with people on my team. We can become better, more productive leaders by drawing upon “soft skills” that are becoming increasingly critical for business success.
3 reasons IT leaders need emotional intelligence
Let’s dive into my top three reasons emotional intelligence is vital for IT leaders, along with the soft skills required to be a successful, well-rounded leader today.
1. Employees need to know they are valued
Every team member wants to feel that they are valued, both for their work and for who they are. Employees need to understand why their role matters and how it’s connected to the corporate mission, vision, and bottom line. We all expect employees to deliver the highest-quality work possible, and the value employees bring should be communicated along with these expectations.
[ Related read: The new CEO: Chief Empathy Officer. ]
One way to acknowledge employee value is to trust them to complete their work without micromanagement. Remote work has created new opportunities for this. Employees can have the flexibility to work on their own schedule, which in turn enables them to structure their day to spend more quality time with their friends and families. Employees have lives outside of work, and it’s important to recognize, respect, and encourage this. Giving employees flexibility demonstrates that you value them and their contributions to the workplace.
One of the top soft skills that an emotionally intelligent leader displays is empathy. IT managers, understandably, have high expectations and need their teams to meet deadlines; however, empathetic leaders understand that any number of unseen factors could derail a project. A developer could be concerned about a sick family member, for example, or an upcoming work deadline, or they could be struggling with a sense of isolation that has grown during the pandemic.
Open, honest and ongoing communications can help here. Opening the door to employees to share their issues without judgment demonstrates that we value them for who they are as well as what they bring to the company.
2. Workplace connections bring additional worth to the company
Leaders with high emotional intelligence are able to make real, enduring connections with the individuals on their teams. These leaders typically have great camaraderie and little conflict within their teams. While they may have differences of opinion, any discussions around conflicts are constructive rather than destructive and executed in a healthy way. Additionally, building these connections helps with employee retention in the long run, which is especially valuable in today’s tight job market.
Sometimes the best way to improve connections with employees is to simply be more available. IT leaders are busy, and you may feel stressed, too. You certainly have deadlines to meet, projects to finish, and meetings to prep for. Packed schedules can be the enemy of progress, and it’s often easier to deprioritize the need to connect with team members when so-called “real work” gets in the way. But connections must be a priority – they’ll help your team members, and they’ll help you, too.
Furthermore, employees struggling with personal or professional issues may prefer to talk about potential solutions if given the chance, and they will feel more comfortable bringing these topics up when they already have an established relationship with their manager. As leaders, we need to make time to meet and connect more often. And when we do spend the time, we must be fully available and focused solely on the employee.
3. Leaders are people, too
For many leaders, supporting employees emotionally doesn’t come naturally. You may even struggle to manage your own emotions. Displaying emotional intelligence specifically in the workplace can be especially challenging.
To tackle any personal reservations when it comes to supporting employees emotionally, start by working on your sense of self-awareness. Push yourself to identify, understand, and manage your own emotions in a very deliberate way. Once you are more self-aware, expanding that scope to understand and support others becomes easier.
You can also connect more deeply with employees on an emotional level by constantly looking for teachable moments. Learn to draw from your past experiences – both mistakes and successes – to create a culture that emphasizes continuous improvement. Celebrating learning rather than promoting fear will raise employee confidence levels, especially during times of uncertainty.
Finally, show up as your true, authentic self. Bring your full attention to meetings with employees and show a real interest in their emotional health; don’t just check them off your to-do list. When you’re a leader of people, you need to show that you care about them, not just about solving a specific issue on a specific day.
IT leaders who were paying attention to their team members’ mental health during the pandemic have likely noticed that empowering and trusting employees reduced a lot of stress. Lessons learned during that time will put us in good stead during future stressful times.
As a leader, think about your team members holistically and look for early indicators of stress and other issues that can impact your employees’ well-being. Health, especially mental health, is fragile, and once it’s fractured it is hard to put it back together again.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]