by Rich Hein

Why Improving Emotional IQs Makes for Better IT Leaders

Feb 17, 20158 mins
CareersIT Leadership

Hiring and retaining talent is becoming a priority as CIOs struggle to find and retain top talent. Raising the emotional IQ of your IT leaders is one big step towards creating a culture where people want to work.

In 1995, author Daniel Goleman released his best-selling book, “Emotional Intelligence.” In it he argued that noncognitive skills could be as, or more, important than IQ. Additional research confirmed that people with the highest IQs outperform those with average IQs a only 20 percent of the time.

Even more interesting was data that reported people with average IQs outperformed those with the highest IQs a stunning 70 percent of the time. This fact illustrates how the smartest person in the room isn’t necessarily the best person to lead and manage your development teams or your IT department. “The EQ [emotional IQ] of managers is particularly significant in the IT world. Keeping skilled workers is critical and the data suggests the EQ of the leader affects retention,” says Adele B. Lynn , founder and owner of The Adele Lynn Leadership Group.

Whether you’re talking about yourself or the managers who lead your teams, emotional intelligence is key to getting the most out of your — many times — under-staffed tech departments as well as retaining your human capital investment as long as possible. In fact in a recent, Harvard Review Blog post, Muriel Wilkins wrote, “The data showing that emotional intelligence is a key differentiator between star performers and the rest of the pack is irrefutable. Nevertheless, there are some who never embrace the skill for themselves — or who wait until it’s too late.”

What Is EQ and Why Should I Care?

It seems at first difficult to quantify. In their book “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves define it as such, “Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.”

Why is this important to you? Because your IT and technology managers are a key part of your execution and retention strategies; those with a higher emotional intelligence will deliver better results in areas like team leadership, influencing people, organizational awareness, self-confidence and overall leadership.

The good news, says Angela Yochem, CIO of BDP International is that, “The great thing about the technology field is that it attracts intelligent, passionate, interesting people, and I believe that, in general, the same openness to new ideas that attracts people to technology brings motivation, integrity, and comfort with change – all elements of high EQ.”

5 Components of Emotional Intelligence

There are different schools of thought on what comprises emotional IQ, but according to research done by The Adele Lynn Leadership Group, five components make up what we consider emotional intelligence.

Self-awareness and control

  1. Empathy
  2. Social Expertness This includes social bonds, collaboration, organizational savvy, and conflict resolution.
  3. Influence Of Self This includes competencies such as resilience, goal setting, optimism and flexibility
  4. Of Others This includes competencies such as Leading others, creating positive climate, and getting results from others.)
  5. 5. Mastery of Purpose This includes competencies such as understanding one’s purpose and values and taking actions to live one’s purpose and authenticity.
emotional intelligence adele lynn leadership Adele B. Lynn

Do I Need to Work on My Emotional Intelligence?

The short answer is yes. Experts agree that as a manager, the more you understand your employees motivations, career paths, and personality strengths and weaknesses the better you can allot your resources and help them grow. If you’re really good, you can help those coworkers or subordinates work from their strengths while showing them a path to build on their areas of weakness.

When an employee has a good relationship with his supervisor and that person is actively interested in their feelings, ideas and career progression it becomes much more difficult for employees to jump ship. Here are four questions to ponder:

  • Do you find yourself on the defense more than not?
  • Are you indifferent or disinterested in what coworkers or subordinates think of you or what interests them?
  • Do you accept accountability or do you regularly push blame off onto others?
  • Do you have difficulties empathizing with your employees or coworkers?

If you answered yes to any of these, then chances are you need to improve your emotional intelligence.

Incorporating Emotional Intelligence Into Your Interviewing Process

Our experts agree that there aren’t a lot of tech companies out there doing a great job of incorporating emotional intelligence into either their hiring or promotion process. In fact, Walt Meffert, CIO of, a provider of orthotic and prosthetic services says, “I can’t say I have ever heard it [emotional intelligence] even discussed when making hiring or promotional decisions at any company.”

Yochem emphatically agrees, “Some technology companies — like companies in all industries, frankly — rely on rather narrow criteria for hiring and promoting, and these criteria often don’t include emotional intelligence, “says Yochem.

One problem, says Yochem, that regularly challenges institutions that want to incorporate this methodology surprisingly is cultural differences. “We have no broad measurement capacity as yet — an aspiration made challenging by the diversity of cultures we have in our global company. Actions that set people at ease in one culture may put people from other cultures on edge, for example. The visual and audio cues we get in our interactions with people across cultures vary widely in meaning,” says Yochem.

  1. So you’re thinking, “I’ve got some new hires I’m about to make, how can I incorporate this into my interviewing process?” To help answer that question, Lynn offers these tips and questions to help you add some emotional intelligence perspective into your hiring plan.
  2. Construct specific questions based on the EQ competency that you would like to assess. “It’s a process that requires companies to carefully craft questions and desired responses with key emotional intelligence competencies in mind that correlate to the job,” Lynn says.
  3. Then, ask for a behavioral example. “Many people stop at this step. We add two additional significant steps,” Lynn says.
  4. Then try probing for either motive or reflection. “This tells us significant information about under what circumstances the behavior will be repeated,” says Lynn.
  5. Then measure the responses based on your pre-determined answers.

Lynn also offers these questions specifically geared toward IT leaders:

  • Tell me about a time when a project was pulling down the morale of your group. How did you know? What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you deliberately worked to set the tone with an employee discussion or client discussion. What did you say? How did you say it?
  • Describe a time when an employee was struggling. How did you know? What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when someone was resisting you or your ideas. What did you do?
  • Describe a time when you fell short on delivering a result. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when a team member didn’t come through on something and it affected your work. What did you do? What did you say? Who did you tell?
  • Tell me about a time when someone was critical of your work. What did you do? What did you say?
  • Tell me about a time when you had an idea and it was met with resistance. What did you do?
  • Describe a time when you felt that your career was stagnating. What did you do? Who did you tell?
  • Tell me about a client who made unreasonable demands on you or your team. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when something you said or did had a positive impact on your team or on a client. How did you know?
  • Tell me about a time when something you said or did had a negative impact on your team or on a client. How did you know? What did you do?

Tips for Improving Your Emotional IQ

One method of enlightenment, according to experts, is to ask colleagues you trust for feedback on your interaction with others. Often times we see ourselves one way and others see us in a completely different light.

When possible slow down the decision-making process. We’ve all been there before when something happens at work that’s either very frustrating or possible elating and we quickly react or jump to a conclusion. Slowing things down sometimes helps to remove some emotion from the process and instead allows you to focus on making data driven decisions. “I learned to slow down my response. Everything is not an emergency. This was causing my staff undue stress,” says Lynn.

What works for Larry Bonfante, founder of CIO Bench Coach and CIO of USTA, “Constantly working on self-awareness and forcing myself to see things through the other person’s lens by asking the question what’s in it for them?

Emotional IQ Training for Your Managers?

Many large leadership training organizations, such as Gartner, for example, offer some type of emotional intelligence training materials or courses. Coursera also offers some free training on inspiring leadership through emotional intelligence. There are also many leadership consultants who conduct this type of emotional intelligence testing for senior leaders. For example, Lynn’s organization alone offers instructional courses like a 360- or self-assessment, training in both an elearning and/or classroom setting, personal coaching, and incorporating emotional IQ into the hiring process via their “EQ Interview Process.”

Final Thought

“Emotional intelligence is a multiplier effect for both the individual and the business. It can’t replace technical excellence, but it can multiply the business advantage for the company. And, it can multiply the effectiveness for the individual,” Lynn says.