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Emotional intelligence is the hallmark of a good leader

Author and consultant Roxi Bahar Hewertson's new book, 'Lead Like It Matters Because It Does,' contends that businesses do a poor job of picking their leaders. She explains why in this Q&A with SearchCIO's Nicole Laskowski.

Businesses are promoting employees into leadership positions too quickly, according to Roxi Bahar Hewertson. Hiring...

managers, including CIOs and IT leaders, tend to look for candidates who are superstars on paper, often overlooking the skills tied to a person's emotional intelligence. That, Hewertson said, can be a costly mistake.

"Emotional intelligence is the differentiator between the best and the mediocre or less-than-mediocre leaders," said Hewertson, president and CEO of Highland Consulting Group Inc. in Trumansburg, New York. "You can't lead without it. You can, but you're not really leading, you're just bossing people around."

In her new book Lead Like It Matters Because It Does, Hewertson implores leaders to develop emotional intelligence at four levels: personal, interpersonal, team and cultural/systems.

The four tenets of EI

Hewertson's Lead Like It Matters Because It Does cover

Here's a closer look at how Hewertson defines her four leadership tenets, or "masteries":

  • Personal mastery: "If we don't know who we are, it's hard to lead other people. If we don't know where our triggers are or where our passions are and what our missions in life are, then we've got problems as leaders," Hewertson said, because it's hard to connect with people who don't know what they want or where they're going. As a consultant, Hewertson reminds clients their sphere of influence is their "responsibility pond," and that every decision they make -- big or small -- creates a ripple effect within that pond.
  • Interpersonal mastery: "None of us can do anything without relationships and without building relationships that are trusting," Hewertson said. "That requires people know how to talk with each other, how to interact, how to disagree, how to have conflicts that get resolved. They need to be able to give each other constructive feedback; they need to listen deeply. "Most people, she said, just aren't good at relationship management, which requires a degree of emotional intelligence to do it well.
  • Team mastery: "Teams need to be on the same page," Hewertson said. "They need to have a shared purpose, a shared mission; they need to know where they're going -- a shared vision; and they need to have shared values." Given today's "go faster" climate, most teams don't carve out the time to build mission statements or map a team vision in a meaningful way. But, she said, "that sort of stuff is what gets the work done." Most leaders are especially lacking in team mastery, Hewertson said. The mistakes they often make with their teams include: micromanaging employees and projects, delegating tasks that don't provide personal development opportunities, a lack of building trust, and poorly executed meetings that waste time.
  • Culture and systems mastery: Good leaders are always thinking about the role workplace culture plays in achieving business goals. "Assess your culture, think about where it is versus where you want it to be," she said. "Understand how your system works because the system impacts all of us and it impacts everything -- how we feel about work, our productivity, how we take risks, how we innovate." Figure out ways to measure and reward both business and behavior achievments. Finally, have the courage to lead.

Q&A with the author

Hewertson recently sat down with SearchCIO to discuss her new book Lead Like It Matters Because It Does, and reflect on how the role of leadership is -- and is not -- influenced by the younger, more technologically savvy generation flooding the work place. Responses have been edited for brevity.

Roxi Bahar HewertsonRoxi Bahar Hewertson

Why does a book like yours need to be written? Much of the leadership advice seems like common sense.

Roxi Bahar Hewertson: Here's the big thing that happens: People tend to be individual contributors, which is what we get rewarded for all of our lives, and then, in one way or another, they find themselves in a leadership role. They're promoted, appointed, happen to be in the right place at the right time or they're good at what they do and someone says, 'You're a good engineer, you should be able to lead engineers.' That's, of course, not true. It's a completely separate skill set. Playing well with others is necessary to be successful as individual contributors, but when they become leaders, they need to be able to help their people be successful with each other and with them as leaders.

Businesses, today, tend to promote people who are superstars as individual contributors, and they fail horribly. Look at the failure rate of CEOs; it's all over the news. And it's happening at all levels of leadership. We promote people who don't have the emotional intelligence, skillsets and competency to lead other human beings.

Why aren't organizations providing that kind of education to their leaders?

Hewertson: It's beginning to change. People know they need it, they just don't know how to get it. But here are the challenges organizations have, especially growing ones, and especially with the Millennials and the up-and-coming young folks who never got that training: They're promoting people too fast, who aren't ready, who haven't had the experience even on a small scale -- are smart but who don't know how to lead. This is not new; it's just very obvious right now as more and more of the younger generation are taking over leadership roles.

They don't have a strong or a large HR function and their HR function is usually a personnel office that manages paperwork and does some training on technical skills. They don't have the expertise or the human power to pull off a high-quality leadership program. Very few organizations have that.

You mentioned the Millennials: With all of the technology that's infiltrating businesses and with this surge in globalization and remote employee workforces, are there new or different skills leaders need to hone?

Hewertson: Yes and no. Yes, I think leaders need to get savvy about how best to use technology to bring their teams together, especially when they're disbursed all over the place. Leaders in IT, and certainly CIOs, have to be incredibly agile and really on top of what the needs are -- employee as well as industry needs. And they have to communicate well while they're doing it.

This gets to the 'no' part of the question: They still have to lead the same way everyone else leads. They have to ask their people what they need, they have to know what motivates people, they have to understand what's working for their employees, what's not; what their employees are doing well, what they aren't doing well; they still have to have expectations and accountability. How they do it may have to change because of the technology, but that's always been the case.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

Next Steps

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How does your organization screen for emotional intelligence?
I am not actually in a role where I can influence this function in any way; but what I see from company to company (I work in the IT contract market) is the following. As you have stated some "management candidates" look great on paper, but fall horribly short when it comes to on-the-ground performance, real-world expertise. These "managers" clearly lack the actual soft people skills to manage anyone.

For example, the "new" CEO of Microsoft probably looked great on paper, but when speaking before a forum at which there was a considerable contingent of women, his response to questions regarding pay inequality between men and women at MSFT was subsumed to "Karma", or more specifically, give it time and it will come, ouch... His inability to realize how offensive this comment was is a window into the reality that he looks great on paper, but clearly lacks the people management skills to field such a question. Stay tuned, he will probably do it again.
Burrillg, I think your assessment of some people lacking people skills is definitely true, yet many of those people continue to rise in the ranks - so either they're not as important as we think, or they turn on the charm when it matters most. I'm not sure it's fair to completely dismiss Satya Nadella for the single poor comment he made. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now; if this kind of thing pops up often with him though, I'll change my tune. 
For me, i try to look at other aspects of a person's involvement in a broader context to determine how they interact with others. As has been mentioned, people look great on paper or in the best light of the moment, especially when they can plan that interaction. When I can see people's talks, their interactions with others in professional forums, and if I can see their social footprint, I can get a more rounded idea as to what they actually stand for and how they will interact with others.
"Hiring managers, including CIOs and IT leaders, tend to look for
candidates who are superstars on paper, often overlooking the skills
tied to a person's emotional intelligence."

- Not necessarily on paper. They may have a strong vision and organizational skills. They may have true achievements in the past. What is often missing in the evaluation: context change.

A successful manager used to "command and control" environment may not be willing or able to adapt her/his methods for a collaborative environment.
I'm glad that these subjects are in discussions.

Somehow, it is forgotten (or not understood) that management and leadership are not born qualities but acquired skills, with own techniques and methodologies.