CXO

Why emotional intelligence is key for project success

Emotional intelligence is the ability to empathize with others, demonstrate emotions, and make decisions based on multi-level awareness. Here's how it affects project outcomes.

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Image: iStock/g-stockstudio

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is measured by five core categories: self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation, and social skills. The measure of intellect (IQ) has been at the forefront of business and leadership since the beginning of time. In the past, its impact on business and project success has been misunderstood and undervalued, but the connection is quickly becoming crystal-clear.

Research by OfficeTeam, a staffing agency, and division of Robert Half, shows almost (95%) of HR managers and (99%) of workers agree that strong emotional intelligence is important. OfficeTeam shared with TechRepublic some additional stats that support the significance of emotional intelligence in the workplace.

  • 21% of employees believe EQ is more valuable in the workplace than IQ;
  • almost 65% said the two are equally important;
  • 92% of employees think they have strong EQ; slightly fewer (74%) believe their bosses do;
  • 30% feel most employers put too little emphasis on EQ during the hiring process;
  • 43% of Human Resource (HR) managers identified increased motivation and morale as the greatest benefit of having emotionally intelligent staff; and,
  • 40% of HR managers said soft skills, such as communication, problem-solving and adaptability, are more difficult to teach workers than technical abilities.

While these stats highlight EQ in the overall workplace setting, TechRepublic got direct feedback from business owners and industry experts on the role EQ plays in their projects

Hernan Santiesteban, founder of Great Lakes Development Group, a software development company, has managed many IT projects throughout his career. In his role as a an IT project manager, he said, "emotional intelligence has allowed me to bridge the gap between customer communication and the delivery of that information to development teams. The ability to tailor your message to your audience at the smallest levels can have a huge impact on the understanding of requirements."

"Unlike IQ, EQ can evolve and can scale depending on stressors, or even positive emotional states. So it's important someone understands their emotional intelligence so they can counteract whatever might sabotage not only their progress but their teams", said Caroline Stokes, founder of Forward, a team of senior search headhunters and certified executive coaches for global innovation leaders. At Forward, emotional intelligence quotient assessments, like EQ-i 2.0, are used with talent placements and leadership and career development coaches. "We get to work on their EQ within a few weeks of starting their new role to provide awareness and strategies to drive their goals forward," said Stokes.

When it comes to the process of merging two companies during an acquisition, EQ can play a vital role. Jose Costa, group president at automotive franchisor Driven Brands said, "When we identify a target, we begin assessing the organization financially, operationally, technologically and from a leadership standpoint. We then move on to evaluate the quality of the team and determine if they can help us achieve our 'Dream Big. Work Hard' strategy." Costa credits this strategy in developing stronger analytics around business ideas. "For us, at Driven Brands, the convergence of strategic thinking, flawless execution, and emotional intelligence create sustainable growth quarter after quarter," said Costa.

Specific project challenges that make emotional intelligence necessary

Costa said "I am a strong believer that what we do as leaders sets the tone for the team. Morale emanates from leadership; it begins, and ends with the CEO/president of the company." He added, "This is why it is so important for leaders to be aware of how their verbal communication and actions affect others," and that a leader simply cannot build a strong, cohesive team, and in turn lower employee engagement and commitment if they lack emotional intelligence.

Stokes said, "If people aren't willing to learn, adapt and evolve their current styles, there will be trouble...in short, imagine you have a conflict seeker or avoider in your team. If left alone or not made aware of their automatic communication styles, the same political or challenging routine will play out every time resulting in winners and losers." She believes when it comes to projects, companies pay the ultimate price when teams become frustrated after spinning their wheels and that awareness, true communication, and openness are the keys to success. "From understanding comes growth," she said.

Santiesteban thinks emotional intelligence plays a key role in navigating conflicts with minimal disruption. "Understanding the frustrations and pain points of stakeholders and how to prioritize them is also a problem in which a high level of emotional intelligence can be of benefit" he said.

At Voices.com, a company that connects businesses with professional voice talent, HR director Kaitlyn Apfelbeck said that high EQ isn't necessarily required for employees who work independently, but that "EQ is necessary for success when others depend on you or are required to work closely with you." She added, "When someone has low EQ, they may not be aware of how their actions are perceived, or how they are affecting others and will often make decisions that negatively impact those around them."

What are key characteristics these leaders seek in project team members and leaders?

At Forward, individuals with quite high self-regard, strong interpersonal relationships, and empathy, high-stress tolerance and flexibility are in demand. Why? "So they're motivated to do what they need to do, whatever the circumstances. There are more aspects to the composite and subscales, but really, you're looking for balance in an individual, across all areas," said Stokes.

Apfelbeck said, "We seek action-oriented individuals who will take the reins and lead a project, but also have the intelligence to utilize the individual strengths of those team members." She said the company also wants leaders who can "read people well, so they know how best to motivate and encourage their team, which is likely made up of very unique personalities."

When Costa seeks leaders/managers, he looks for characteristics like perseverance. "Things don't always go the way you envision or plan," he said. "(That's) just a fact of business and having the strength to keep going even when you're down will often lead you to success." He looks for individuals who have an optimistic philosophy, as it instills determination. "Optimists have the ability of keep going despite the uncertainties and obstacles that life might bring. They embrace change and are not afraid to make mistakes. They always push forward. Additionally, negativity is infectious and brings down the whole team," he said. He also looks for employees who recognize the strengths of others and act in the best interest of the organization as a whole. The final thing Costa said he is key in a leader is the ability to motivate others. "Someone who understands the power of recognition and knows how to make team members and employees feel valued. Managers who are sincere and appreciative can help employees thrive at work by acknowledging their contributions," he added.

Santiesteban looks for employees with a mix of technical skills and EQ. "A team member's ability to participate in meetings and extract what's really important is a skill reliant on emotional intelligence," he said. "Self-starters who are always sought after in job descriptions are usually individuals who fit this profile."

Based on the statistics, and the feedback shared by these IT and business project leaders, it seems clear that emotional intelligence is a high-value, high-level need, regarding project leadership skills. Further, team cohesion and successful project outcomes are likely to become more reliant on its existence going forward.

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About Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contr...

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