Why emotional intelligence is more important now than ever before

This myGrapevine+ inteview with a leading Silicon Valley CEO explores how HR can wield Emotional Intelligence for better business outcomes. Includes:

  • Insight on Google’s culture
  • Explores why Sundar Pichai is a ‘servant leader’
  • Analyses the limits of emotional intelligence and what tools are needed alongside it

As the UK enters its second year living with Covid, many HR Leaders have a stronger idea on how to assist the workforce through this crisis. Part of this assistance may be born of knowing employees more and responding to their needs. This is certainly something that Kash Shaikh CEO of Virtana, a Silicon Valley Artificial Intelligence (AI) software solutions provider for hybrid cloud complexities, former Vice President (VP) at Dell and member of the Forbes Business Council believes. He exclusively told myGrapevine+ that Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the most pivotal skill needed this year and can underpin a HR practice that is offered more as a service to employees with EI interwoven in to it.

What is EI?

The subject of EI has received plenty of attention from a research point of view. Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman released his book in 1995 named ‘Emotional
Intelligence’ and has since applied the notion of EI to the business world. In this book, Goleman explains that HR rely on EI to lead and collaborate with employees in a better way and it seems to be a concept that top leaders practice, too. Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, has received acclaim for the EI he has displayed during his time as CEO of the tech giant. Pichai’s ethos is that professionals are not managers but rather a coach: “Trying to get the best out of others. It is about empowering other people to succeed … to lead effectively, you must understand the person you are working with, not just the role they play.” The Google CEO believes it is about asking the right questions, getting to know the employee’s family situation and creating a deeper bond, which in turn helps to cultivate a strong preforming company.

“Trying to get the best out of others. It is about empowering other people to succeed … To lead effectively, you must understand the person you’re working with, not just the role they play”

Leadership as a service

So, how does EI then impact HR practice? Well, Shaikh believes that HR leadership should be a service with EI playing a large part. Shaikh feels HR leader positions should be viewed as “servants of the people”. The CEO states if HR leaders hold this mentality, employees will be more successful in their jobs. This point is supported by a Levo Institute survey, an intelligence hub for the Millennial economy, which found 80% of employees consider emotional intelligence crucial for developing their careers.

According to the Silicon Valley leader, bosses in HR should practice “listening with empathy and ask probing questions such as ‘how you are feeling?’ and ‘what can I do to help?’” An important part of this is about obtaining a clearer picture for HR leaders. This helps them understand if an employee is feeling overwhelmed or dealing with problems outside of work. In fact, this awareness in leaders can be used to encourage staff to take breaks as well as help to prioritise parts of their workload. Goleman states that emotional awareness and noticing them when they occur is an important factor for a HR leader.

Shaikh said: “Servant leaders (HR leaders who follow the will of employees’ needs) with high EI know there is a subtle difference between challenging team members to reach their potential or pushing them too much to breaking point.”

EI makes leaders stronger

Goleman has also found that truly effective leaders are distinguished by a high degree of EI. The author believes even when a manager possesses all the right traits such as a good supply of ideas, an incisive mind and access to training but without EI, the leader will not be remembered as ‘great’. The Psychologist and author details how by HR leaders showing this characteristic can inspire colleagues to allow the regulation of emotions become a guiding light for the work community. Goleman and Shaikh hold EI in similar ways of importance as an essential attribute any HR leader should have.

Google’s EI

Back in 2017, Google research found that EI is what makes a leader highly effective. Therefore it is clear why Google CEO Pichai displayed strong EI whilst leading the tech giant. Furthermore, after their research, Google released some advice on how to become a leader who displays greater EI. The tech giant believes a leader should show genuine curiosity in the individuals that make up their team.

Google’s research found that employees are adept at realising when a leader is not being genuine and just trying to complete a box ticking exercise. Therefore, to be effective a manager must show sincere care and interest in worker’s lives. Additionally, Google found that kindness is contagious, and that when a leader displays more humanity to a staff member, this feeling of good will can then be passed on to others in the organisation.

Google research additionally found that when treated in a positive way, workers will then deal with other professionals during their job in a similar way. Moreover, a leader who shows strong EI traits, encourages cooperation rather than competition in a team. Google states that compassionate leaders understand how vital it is to create bonds between workers to increase morale. This way, staff will welcome the team’s dynamic as it guarantees everyone has a chance to contribute.

By analysing Google’s statistics, professionals can see the bene ts of EI the company is reaping. Google has been recognised as the number one company in the US for building a happy culture and a positive workforce by CareerBliss, placing it higher than Deloitte, Microsoft and Apple. Inc. magazine has also reported that Pichai is the opposite of what people may perceive a high-powered CEO to be. The Google boss leads with compassion and empowers his staff by being as personable as possible. When holding virtual meetings during the pandemic, Pichai goes around the team meeting, asking everyone to introduce themselves as “this helps everyone not only to feel heard, but also to feel that they have a stake in the outcome.” If EI is helping to run one of the world’s most successful companies in the world, then clearly it is a managerial method that could be universally used.

“Not all cultures are driven the same way”

Must understand business culture

Another aspect, beside emotional intelligence, that HR leaders need to show is a stronger understanding of business culture. Shaikh states: “Understanding the culture,
the state of the business, and then coming up with the strategy is one of the most important things that I have learned.” He adds that cultures vary from company to
company as “not all cultures are driven the same way”. The leader of HR, having acquired this understanding can then apply the right strategy. Shaikh states that when staff “live and breathes the culture, it is the most effective way to measure everyone’s contribution to company culture.” The CEO explains it simply: if colleagues notice an employee does not understand the culture of the company “they will be rejected as a foreign object”. In fact, the CEO feels that without this understand of culture, EI will be weakened and bonds between staff broken.

It is clear from the pandemic why cultural understanding is important. Maintaining and understanding a strong company culture has recently received even more importance than usual. A Cisco study recently found that to successfully implement hybrid working,a business must exhibit solid company culture. And as it has been widely anticipated that following Covid hybrid working will become the new de facto way to work, it is no surprise that culture is once again in the spotlight. With numerous large names stating that hybrid working is what they will be adopting moving forward – Microsoft, PwC, and the Civil Service, amongst them – it is no surprise that Shaikh believes that a better understanding of culture can turn staff into a more effective workforce and as a byproduct can pave the way for hybrid working.

EI breeds and attracts success

With past clients such as AstraZeneca, Dell, Apple, Costco, Nasdaq and Boeing, the Silicon Valley CEO of Virtana has used an EI-rst ethos and it appears to be driving a successful company. The CEO being more aligned to the emotions of Virtana’s team appears to have helped feed in to its achievements. Listening and being empathetic can go a long way when leading a team, with the mentality that leaders are the servants of the employees instead of professionals who just give out orders.

By HR leaders utilising EI in step with an understanding of culture, they can see employee’s happiness increase which can spread to the rest of the team and increase the wellbeing of the company. By displaying EI traits, a leader can tell the workforce that they are there to act as a servant of the staff and actively help them throughout their duties. Therefore, it makes sense that a leader can become more effective by adopting EI.

Original interview and article published via HR Grapevine

Kash Shaikh
Kash Shaikh

President, CEO, Board Member of Virtana

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