The 1990s spawned a whole host of business buzzwords from synergistic benefits to low hanging fruit, so you’d be forgiven for thinking emotional intelligence was just another outdated cliché that organisations should have dropped in the new millennium.
In fact, research shows time and again that for business professionals it’s emotional intelligence, not technical competence or a high IQ, that’s the critical factor in performance and success.
Far from being an outdated cliché, emotional intelligence has become the differentiating factor that sets the great apart from the good. Whether its great leaders or great team players, those demonstrating a high degree of emotional intelligence reach the top before anyone else.
Confronted by a rapidly changing global economic and business landscape, emotional intelligence is a must-have skill for everyone in the finance profession.
The Origins of Emotional Intelligence
The concept of emotional intelligence was popularised in the 1990s by then science reporter at The New York Times Daniel Goleman after he came across the idea in an academic article by psychologists' John Mayer and Peter Salovey.
Emotional intelligence (EI) is defined as our ability to understand, express and control our own and to some extent others emotions. It’s argued that high EI accounts for nearly 90% of what moves people up the ladder when IQ and technical skills are roughly equal.
Beyond that, research has demonstrated that EI has an impact on organisational performance, and the ability to motivate others to go above and beyond the call of duty.
Goleman characterised EI as:
- Motivation (beyond status and money)
- Social skills (especially in relationship management and networking)
It's no coincidence that self-awareness is at the top of the list since the traits that follow depend on it. Self-awareness drives high EI, but it also underpins the ability to think rationally and apply technical capabilities.
In practical terms Goleman translated these traits into an attitude he defined as ‘grit’. Grit, he said, along with ‘cognitive control’– i.e. the ability to control impulses and emotions–exemplify self-management, a core part of emotional intelligence.
He then identified ‘distinguishing competencies’ due to emotional intelligence as the crucial factor in workplace success including:
- Striving for goals despite setbacks
- Staying cool under pressure
According to Goleman the higher you go up the ladder, the more EI matters; your expertise will get you the job, but your EI will make you a success. These days that's especially true for those on the front line in accounting and finance.
From Task Master to Team Player
At no time in the history of the profession has the finance function been faced with so much change.
Globalisation and global economic uncertainty, digital innovation and disruption, as well as unpredictable emerging markets, are just some of the pressures shaping a new set of organisational expectations.
And emotional intelligence is just one of a new suite of ‘professional quotients’ accountants need if they’re going to meet those expectations.
The traditional accountant is becoming extinct. High-volume low-value data management and reporting functions have been delegated to new technology, while businesses demand real-time participation from their finance teams.
Professionals still need technical competency, but the new organisational partnerships depend on the ‘distinguishing competencies’ that define a high level of emotional intelligence.
Explaining financial strategy, understanding corporate performance, managing stakeholders, and driving a robust governance agenda takes grit.
Build Better Emotional Intelligence
For those favoured with a naturally high emotional intelligence, these are exciting times, for those a little lower down the scale the good news is EI can be improved with time and some directed effort.
Look inwards with honesty
Our perception of ourselves can very often be at odds with how others see us. The bigger the disconnect, the bigger the EI fail. Use organisational feedback mechanisms to close the gap. Quality self-assessment tools are also useful if colleagues are too polite to be frank.
Start a conversation with yourself about negative thoughts and actions and try to understand why they occur, then start dismantling them. A decent HR department should be able to help, and there are online and Institute courses such as this one run by CPA Australia.
Then look outwards with interest
Persuasion and influence start with a relationship, and that means paying attention. The skills and experience of other shapes how they see the world, understand that and you'll have a better chance of understanding, influencing and persuading them. Build trust, be friendly unselfish and cooperative. Be a pleasure to work with and share knowledge and resources freely. Don’t’ let passion become petulance.
If you're the kind of person prone to dismissing everyone as a bit of an idiot, or you keep yourself to yourself then don't expect to transform overnight. But put in some effort, and the change will come … and maybe even a promotion.
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 Check out this really great article on the origins of office speak https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/04/business-speak/361135/
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