Once upon a time, the title of the lead technology wizard didn’t necessarily begin with a C. The IT department didn’t always have a spot at the leadership table. They were regarded a little like sorcerers hanging out in the shadows creating marvels with tools that weren’t well understood by the rest of the office.
If there were holdouts on giving IT a pivotal place in the organization, the pandemic shifted that perspective. Technology took center stage. That dramatic entrance has changed the role of CTOs. Their responsibilities have transformed as quickly as the systems they manage.
Digital platforms and processes infuse every business activity. As a result, IT leaders are called on to share their wisdom with the rest of us, and they are challenged to help us collaborate in ways that are unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable.
If you’ve participated in a website redesign or AMS conversion, you know it is not always an easy process for either the experts or the novices, especially when teams are unaccustomed to working across disciplines. Now that IT has no boundaries, leaders must be proficient at managing organization-wide activities like these:
- Justifying the implementation and expense of new systems and business processes
- Fostering collaboration among diverse groups, often with conflicting interests
- Stimulating innovation and creativity across the organization
- Helping employees at every level of experience master new tools
- Supporting a vision for expanded missions and new business models
Effective people and political skills are as significant a part of digital transformation as new hardware and software. But most IT programs don’t offer a minor in getting everyone around the campfire to sing Kumbaya. Although leadership courses may be part of more recent IT management degrees, relationship building is a skill that requires commitment and practice.
If you feel as though your job would be perfect—if you could just eliminate the people, consider taking steps to improve your interpersonal skills.
Emotional intelligence offers a framework to assess your competency and to begin an intentional growth process. It provides context for successfully managing your behavior and the way that you interact with others.
EI is not a new concept. Its origins go back almost 100 years. Edward Thorndike’s theories on social intelligence in the 1920s and Abraham Maslow’s idea of the hierarchy of needs in the 1950s are early precursors.
Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” brought EI to popular attention.
EI skills can help IT professionals take their communications and leadership ability to new levels of effectiveness. Strengthening your EI muscle helps to support others through change and to better understand their reactions to new ways of doing business.
Managing the human side of digital transformation is challenging. If you are uncertain whether you are up to the task, these are signs that your skills could use improvement:
- People frequently respond negatively to a comment you thought was harmless.
- You can’t understand why you need to explain yourself so often.
- Reactions to your advice or feedback often surprise you.
- Constructive criticism makes you uncomfortable or even angry. (Be honest about this.)
- You hold grudges and have difficulty moving on after a challenging conversation.
Try taking these EI quizzes for a more comprehensive self-evaluation.
Mindtools (There is a $10 fee for this one)
If you aced the quizzes, you probably answered as your best self. The self who shows up on a day when the alarm didn’t go off might have a different result, right? No worries. Everyone can benefit from a regular EI workout. These are the five basic competencies that Goleman outlines for emotional intelligence.
- Self-Awareness is the ability to assess your own skills and to understand your emotions. Being self-aware helps us to acknowledge our fears and deal with negativity that surfaces when we have to adapt to new circumstances or learn new skills. That openness is a gateway to innovation and creative problem-solving.
- Self-regulation—or learning to effectively manage conflict, challenges, and stress is critical in fast-paced digital environments. Disruption promises to be a permanent feature of business. By managing your own emotions, you can help teams prepare to address uncertainty and pivot when necessary.
- Empathy—is the basis for all productive relationships. It’s the Golden Rule with a twist. Instead of treating others how you would like to be treated, empathy is understanding what others need and acting accordingly. Empathy helps teams to see beyond differences and connect on a human level. It supports diversity in demographics and thought and is essential for building trust, transparency, and honest communication.
- Motivation—supports developing strategy, setting goals, and staying focused. It helps leaders to keep themselves and others engaged and enthusiastic despite challenges.
- Social skills—along with empathy help teams successfully collaborate to get work done. They promote the cross-departmental communication you need to accomplish digital initiatives.
Mastering these skills makes every job easier and every leader more effective. Here are a few suggestions to start growing your expertise.
- Pay attention—This is an easy first step. We are frequently so busy that we lose track of our feelings. When you don’t acknowledge that you are tired or stressed, it is more difficult to be objective during a challenging situation. Assess your mental well-being and adjust for difficulties you might be experiencing. Meditation, journaling, and other mindfulness practices are additional avenues to greater self-awareness.
- Solicit feedback—Whether it’s an executive coach or a peer group, find objective advisors. When my business partner Kevin Ordonez and I launched .orgCommunity one of our goals was to connect our colleagues with people and ideas who could expand their horizons and help them grow. .orgCommunity’s Technology Leadership Circle offers a welcoming environment and peer- to-peer support for tech professionals. Participants find guidance, innovative thinking, and the opportunity to view their roles through a new lens. If you could benefit from a group like this, we invite you to join .orgCommunity and discover a new source of expertise.
- Take a course—There are a variety of online courses in EI. udemy, Learnquest, and Coursera all offer training. You can even learn about EI from the guy who wrote the book on it, Daniel Goleman.
The role of CTO isn’t getting easier. Technology creates an expanding universe of responsibility. The introduction of generative AI to the workplace adds a layer of complexity. January is a good time to think about doing something positive for your professional future. Raise your emotional intelligence quota. Celebrate 2024 by moving beyond being a project leader to become a leader of people.