Diliana: What positive effect high EI has on business acumen?

Jeremy: Business is primarily about people and no matter how amazing and world changing your idea is, it’s your loyal collaborators who will help you to execute your vision. Being expert therefore at building and nurturing strong and meaningful professional relationships is key in helping you realise your dream. Positive emotionally intelligent behaviors such as showing empathy, being truly present, resilience and expansive thinking are skills which are a necessity in this technology led world. In short, having great business acumen isn’t enough on its own anymore, it’s also about being able to rally your collaborators together to achieve your dreams. A great place to start is having down your ‘story’ and getting your team involved in being able to tell and live it alongside you.

Diliana: No business is devoid of feeling and emotion, we know that. They are particularly high in start-ups full of positive emotions and a dynamic vibe. How not to lose them while or when the organization scales up?

Jeremy: Hire the right people! Protecting and nurturing the positivity and energy that you’ve worked so hard to develop should be your priority. Every new hire should complement the existing team on a human level, not just a professional level and this is exactly where emotional intelligence (EI) comes into the mix. Imagine for a minute you hire a superstar developer who has an amazing ability to write groundbreaking code but they can’t easily persuade their fellow team members to buy into their reasoning behind certain functionalities – this is likely to cause clashes and potentially negatively impact the team. It’s therefore critical that when hiring, that the team is involved in the process. In some successful companies one idea I’ve seen is that team members are put in pairs to each focus on one of the company values and they interview the candidate. After the interviews they debrief and vote on whether the candidate should be hired based on their ability to fit into the culture. By doing this, the company shows the utmost respect for their existing team by involving them in the hiring process so the chances of a successful onboarding is substantially increased.

Diliana: Right. One of our clients designed their process to ensure they hire people with high EI who also fit the company culture. Learning culture is a competitive advantage for many organizations. Leaders sincerely want to build such a culture but often fail. I’d say as learning culture and emotional intelligence are interdependent, they fail because they don’t harness the power of emotional intelligence.

Jeremy: A learning culture will be successful only if the ‘why’ is communicated in a positive manner. If collaborators are constantly put on action plans and are told to attend training then the likelihood of some sort of kick-back is high. Empowering your collaborators to view their respective roles as their own mini-businesses is an important step in the right direction. Involve them in helping to achieve this by asking what they need (time, technology, advice..), forget the yearly appraisal – make it monthly or quarterly and encourage them to set their own targets and motivate them to challenge themselves by becoming more self-aware, positive and being able to demonstrate emotional reasoning when decision making. Do these things and you’re well on your way to creating a learning culture because you’re getting them to take ownership of their professional journey with your support. Empowered collaborators who buy into your vision but also have their own, supported by you will be some of the most loyal, happy and productive people you’ll meet. This is the ultimate competitive advantage!

Diliana: indeed, learning is not about yearly appraisal, it is about culture. You are an advocate of “culture-first” companies. Tell us about them, please.

Jeremy: Culture-first companies at their root place great importance on their people. The philosophy is that if you look after your collaborators as your primary stakeholders then they will work with you 100% towards delivering your promise day in day out and hence your customers and shareholders will benefit as a result. Creating a culture-first company is not as easy though as just offering free food and drink, beanbags and a yearly offsite to the Caribbean! Google pioneered this culture-first approach back in the early 2000s in Silicon Valley in the USA and it caught on shortly thereafter. The real key to successfully implementing this approach is ‘empowerment’ and to empower you have to trust. Many companies still have (or even actively encourage) a politically charged culture of fear which is certainly not conducive to nurturing a culture-first approach. To empower your teams, giving them choices regarding dress code, working hours, flexible office-home based working and decision making can all help facilitate this change. The key is encouraging each collaborator to add their own personality and skill set into the cultural mix so they truly feel valued and to do it with lots of positivity and a ‘can do’ attitude. Failure has to be viewed as learning and successes must be celebrated! Business is a challenge but it is also fun and having fun with people who you enjoy being around is great!

Diliana: Take care of the culture and people will take care of the results. You will discuss agile teams who utilize emotional reasoning in one of your workshops. Why is emotional reasoning an important competence for agile teams?

Jeremy: Emotional reasoning is the ability to link our emotions (past and future perceived successes and failures) to the facts that we are being presented with in any given situation and it is probably one of the most difficult emotional intelligence competencies to work on because we as humans are led by our emotions.  It’s so easy to copy-paste past successes into present situations expecting the same result but in reality, each situation is unique. Agile leaders by definition are open to a change of direction in any given situation so falling into the aforementioned copy-paste trap is not being agile.

Leaders who demonstrate a high degree of emotional reasoning will typically, when faced with a challenge, will do the following; a) ask themselves if they have experienced this scenario before b) recall whether they perceived that they dealt with it successfully or not c) be aware of the emotions that they are recalling d) park these up and take a closer look at the facts of the present challenge e) proceed to an outcome by bringing these two elements together. By doing this (and coaching your collaborators to do likewise) when faced with challenges will help you and your teams to become more agile because you will be more in touch with the day to day reality of each situation.  

Diliana: I will remember that process. It applies to personal life as well. We believe developing leaders’ awareness of the importance of emotional intelligence is the first critical step. It is especially important for those who set the vision, culture, strategy, the tone of organizational life – the executives. Based on your experience, are senior leaders aware?

Jeremy: I believe that yes, generally speaking leaders are aware of the importance of emotional intelligence (particularly since the 2018 Capgemini report) but they need help in how it is woven into their company culture and internal and external communication. Now that the world has become hyper-connected, people can express their feelings about brands easily online and companies like Glassdoor.com rate company culture for all to see so if your company ‘talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk’ it will likely be there for all to see. The younger generations in particular are very attracted to culture-first companies led by human and environmental values and to attract this amazing pool of talent, as a company you have to be able to demonstrate this at a company and leadership level. Leaders have been obliged in the last couple of years (due to the pandemic – more distance working) to move towards creating cultures of delivery rather than process. What I mean more specifically, is empowering collaborators to take ownership of their own time management and workflow in order for them to deliver. True leaders have risen to deal with this testing period while “do this, do that” managers have often had a harder time motivating their remote teams. 

Diliana: „Walk the talk“ is one of the future of work trends and we must be aware of that. We live in truly testing both economical and emotional times. What is your best advice to leaders?

Jeremy: Show empathy. Empathy is the ‘killer app” of modern business and in my opinion, it is substantially under-rated. Some advocates of the servant-leader approach take this idea to the next level which is an interesting take on the subject but a great place to start is by building and nurturing a company culture by talking to your team members and truly understanding what they care about. You must then actually listen to them and hear what they say. It’s so basic but based on the fact that we’re all rushing from one meeting to the next (often now online) where are the unplanned coffee machine conversations that help to build connections / empathy with our colleagues..? As I said earlier, people are at the heart of business and no matter how much technology plays more of a role, we have to keep utmost in our minds, it’s our people who matter the most.

Diliana: You will facilitate two workshops. What are the similarities and differences between the two topics?

Jeremy: There are many similarities between my two workshops but the main difference is that ‘Leveraging the power of emotional intelligence to scale teams’ focuses more on the various parts of the business journey from hiring through to growth and promoting your culture whereby ‘Collaborators as your primary stakeholders’ homes in on how to place your collaborators at the heart of your company. To successfully scale and grow a team / business moving into the 4th industrial revolution it will be essential to put your people at the heart of your model and to do that well, emotional intelligence is the key.

Diliana: Thank you very much, Jeremy, for sharing your knowledge. Great to have you among the speakers at the Leadership accelerator.

Jeremy Peter Williams will present a keynote and facilitate two workshops at the Leadership Accelerator „Emotional Intelligence – Imperative in Business and Leadership“ on November 25th, 2021

Links: About the eventRegistration

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