EventsRoundtableRoundtable ReportHRD Roundtable Report: Cultivating Emotional Intelligence in Leaders

HRD Roundtable Report: Cultivating Emotional Intelligence in Leaders

Cultivating Emotional Intelligence in Leaders

Effectively leaning into soft skill capabilities, and notably developing a trusting relationship with team members, is often seen as a more important skill in people managers than the functional skills themselves. But how do we build these capabilities? How can we demonstrate emotional intelligence? What are the traits of an emotionally intelligent leader?

On Thursday 9th September 2022, HRD Connect hosted a group of senior HR and people leaders to discuss these questions in a virtual roundtable that was led by Juliana Bonomo, HR Global Talent Strategy Director, Danone, and supported by Suzanne Merel, Senior Account Executive at Workday. The group discussed how leaders are struggling to spot the worrying signs of burnout due to lacking the emotional intelligence to do so, whilst discussing the ways they’ve started to build EI in their business leaders. The session was conducted under Chatham House rules so while this write-up will highlight key discussion points and takeaways, all participants are anonymised.

What challenges are businesses facing that developing emotionally intelligent leaders could help overcome?

Juliana opened the roundtable discussion by asking what challenges participants were facing that emotional intelligence in their leaders could help with overcoming. One participant shared that their business is experiencing rapid growth, and because of this, they have new and inexperienced leaders that need support in developing their emotional intelligence. For others, it’s a time of momentous change, from budget cuts to restructures, and they are looking for ways to support their leaders to work effectively through times of uncertainty with their teams. The group was united in the sentiment that emotional intelligence, for all HR and people leaders, is incredibly important given its influence on so many areas of HR and business.

How can HR and people leaders work to build emotional intelligence capabilities in leaders?

One participant opened the dialogue by sharing that a key observation they’d made is that although employees may be great technically, the business often doesn’t support them with the skills they need when they move into people manager roles. For some, that ability to lead people comes naturally, but for others, it doesn’t and it’s for the business to recognise that and support where necessary.

This echoed what one roundtable participant had been experiencing recently. The roundtable participant shared that they’d been working closely with their CIO, who struggles to show emotions or support someone showing emotion, despite being a great technical mind. Consequently, the HR leader has adopted a coaching approach to support the CIO to create better connections, and understand an individual’s purpose, and what drives them, instead of simply checking in on the progress of a project.

One participant highlighted that making sure you don’t simply check in on a project when talking with your team can be difficult since the technical can often overtake the people aspect. Time needs to be carved out to have those important conversations that aren’t focused on projects or activities. A strategy used by one participant is having a bowl of questions, unrelated to the day-to-day, that allows everyone the opportunity to answer, either one-on-one or in small groups. The importance isn’t just to build rapport, something lost during covid, or create common connections, but to get everyone to develop their active listening skills.

A key focus, many agreed, should be on encouraging the growth of a humbled leader. For employees to see their manager share openly that they don’t always have the answer, or see them ask for help, is both humbling and empowering. Simply because an individual is a people leader and an expert in one field, doesn’t necessarily transcend to all areas of the business. This technique, the group discussed, allows employees to trust through vulnerability. Honesty and transparency are what employees and employers are looking for more than ever, especially after we all saw the façade break down during the pandemic.

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Having open and transparent conversations early on with talented employees on what they want from their careers was another strategy recommended by a participant. If these conversations are had, and we know if the individual does or does not want to end up in a people manager position the business can work to safeguard against that. It avoids the HR function of having to train people managers later down the line on soft skills when it isn’t something they’re interested in pursuing.

How does a business benefit from cultivating emotionally intelligent leaders?

The group was able to share benefits they’ve witnessed or expect to see from cultivating emotionally intelligent leaders. For leaders to gain proximity to their teams will allow them to utterly understand their team members and what drives them, so, if necessary, can release them into areas of the business they’re better suited to.

Managing the impact of emotionally intelligent leaders can be difficult given the lack of KPIs. Some use their refer-a-friend scheme as a metric since it tells a business about how supported their employees feel. If someone is going to advocate for an organisation, it’s fair to suggest they feel safe and supported. However, one challenge of refer a friend scheme is that it often means a company recruits in the same light, meaning new hires may have the same outlook, schooling, or previous companies, which can limit your reach as an organisation.

The use of ‘stay’ interviews was discussed as an enlightening way of understanding why you’re retaining talent. These interviews have taught HR and people leaders that those who feel they can go wrong without negative implications, allowing them to learn and develop, are those who feel most supported and comfortable around their co-workers.

As the roundtable ended, the group shared what their key takeaways were, notably highlighting the concepts of inclusivity, belonging, trust and authenticity. Technology was identified as an important ally in supporting managers to develop their emotional intelligence capabilities. Platforms that allow managers to access direct feedback shared by their team members offer the leader the space and time to think about their response, instead of reacting straight away. It opens the opportunity for them to think about how to respond emotionally, acting as an aide to impactful and effective communication with teams.

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