The critical skill that will take CIOs to the top table

The critical skill that will take CIOs to the top table

CIOs globally underestimate the importance of emotional intelligence and tend to focus more on cognitive and professional skills in themselves and their employees. But it is now time for CIOs to master this skill, according to Gartner.

CIOs with a high EI are much better equipped to influence their peers

Emotional intelligence is crucially important for professional and personal success, but this is also true, and perhaps even more so, for CIOs and ICT leaders, notes Bard Papegaaij, research vice president at Gartner.

In highly technical jobs and leadership roles, emotional intelligence (EI) accounts for more than 90 per cent of a person's performance and success, says Papegaaij.

In a recent research for Gartner, Papegaaij and co-author Karina Gabriele discuss why it is time for CIOs to master this critical skill.

“From computer programmers to CIOs, few have the luxury of a lone-wolf mentality in today’s work environment,” explains Papegaaij. “EI is the ability to deal effectively with emotions — your own and those of others — and is a must-have for today’s CIO and other IT professionals.”

The Gartner report notes EI was first used by Michael Beldoch in 1964 but popularised by psychologist and author Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence in 1995.

Papegaaij and Gabriele note CIOs and IT leaders are unfortunately not well-known for their emotional acumen. At times, this group of professionals seems to pride itself on its rational, logical, unemotional approach to its work.

But, as they point out, by improving their EI, CIOs will be able to better manage themselves and their relationships with the people around them.

“This will enable them to get more and better outcomes out of themselves and others; increase their influence and status in the organisations they work for; and lay the foundation for becoming the innovative, visionary, inspirational leaders the business needs in this time of rapid and far-reaching change.”

They cite some of the areas where EI is critical for CIOs and ICT professionals.

EI is the ability to deal effectively with emotions — your own and those of others — and is a must-have for today’s CIO and other IT professionals

Bard Papegaaij, Gartner

Equip CIOs to become better leaders in the fast-paced digital era

CIOs have been challenged to take leadership of digital transformation, which requires a different mindset and strong communication skills to articulate and lead an organisational change, they state.

“You need the self-confidence to step up to the challenge, the initiative and optimism to pursue your goals despite setbacks and obstacles, the service orientation and empathy to perceive and anticipate your customers' needs, and the inspirational leadership and change catalyst capability to make deep and far-reaching changes. All of these traits are recognised as emotional competencies that form part of your EI, and will increasingly be called on as digitalisation takes hold of the world.”

Enable CIOs to influence and take a seat at the top table

They point out a common complaint of CIOs is they do not have a seat at the executive table and those who do may not have the same level of influence and power as the other C-level executives.  

CIOs with a high EI are much better equipped to influence their peers, they state.

Their social awareness gives them a good understanding of other people's motives and drives, and of the complex social patterns and political plays going on around them.

This understanding also enables them to consistently work on:

  • Creating stronger relationships with their important stakeholders

  • Creating a stronger personal and departmental brand for themselves

  • Influencing decisions and directions where they feel their influence is needed

  • Recognising and uncovering potential partnerships among the business ecosystem

Help CIOs become top performers

There is a direct link between productivity and EI, according to Papegaaij and Gabriele.

They wrote how top-performers in computer programming were measured to have a staggering 1,272 per cent higher productivity rate than the average programmer.

“The most important contributor to this was the superstars' ability and willingness to collaborate, influence and learn,” they state. “They work harder, share with others and learn from them, help others where help is needed, and influence and motivate those around them.”

Help CIOs develop empathy, and make them better managers

Empathy is the ability to place yourself in the position of your employees and understand their perspective and feelings about their situation.

But empathy is often seen as ‘soft’ and even as a sign of weakness in many organisations. The authors state this is a serious misconception that prevents these organisations from relating to their employees, really understanding what drives them, and managing them in the best way possible.

The foundational skills for empathy are your ability for active listening, they state. “The simple act of directing your attention to what made people say something, and why in that particular way, is enough to activate the parts in your brain that manage your empathic capabilities, and by activating them you are training and developing them.”

Papegaaij and Gabriele conclude by recommending CIOs to familiarise themselves with the concepts of EI.

“Improve your professional effectiveness by improving your self-management, leadership and communication skills,” they advise.

As well as encouraging their staff to work on their EI development, CIOs should also ensure there are resources for them and their teams to get qualified EI training by adding this to their education and development budgets.

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