Leading Digital Transformation with Emotional Intelligence

by Lenwood Ross October 15th, 2019

This year, organizations are projected to invest $1.3 trillion dollars in pursuit of their digital transformation efforts. Yet, 70% of digital transformation initiatives fail. Why? 

Digital transformation is business transformation. For organizations to get the highest return on their technology investments, they must also change the processes and behaviors of how work gets done. 

A key differentiator among organizations succeeding with digital transformation is whether the CEO can change corporate culture. 

Digital technologies are changing our behaviors and we must adapt our organizations to those changes to compete and win. 

One of the most striking transformations in corporate culture over the last five years has been that of Microsoft.   

When Satya Nadella took over as CEO at Microsoft, the company was tremendously profitable, but it was facing irrelevance and permanent decline as the world had shifted from desktops to smartphones and from Windows to Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android.   

One of the first things that Nadella had his senior leadership team do was read Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, a book about empathetic collaboration. 

Totally persuaded by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset, Nadella quickly worked to change Microsoft’s culture from “know-it-all" to “learn-it-all.” 

Since taking over as CEO, Nadella and his team have added more than $788 billion in market value transforming the culture and business of the world’s largest software developer. To read more about the transformation at Microsoft and Satya Nadella, you can click here

Given that context, workplace culture is a top agenda item for CEOs. 

A single leader can have a very positive effect on corporate culture or a very negative effect, especially if that leader is the CEO. Satya Nadella is my exhibit A.  

That’s why self-awareness is so important to leadership. As a leader, you must lead yourself first. If you’re not self-aware and growing in your capacity as a leader, you’re just a manager and not a very good one. 

So, how do you know as a leader when self-awareness is your blind spot? 

Thankfully, I have some experience in this area. At one time, self-awareness, and all the other components of emotional intelligence, were huge blind spots for me.   

On an emotional intelligence scale of 1 to Frankenstein, I was a flat-headed, bolt neck. 

Perhaps, that is why I am so passionate about inspiring people to improve their leadership skills now. Maybe, someone somewhere can learn from my failures and be better positioned to succeed. 

Because it turns out that emotional intelligence is the hidden driver of great performance. Imagine that! 

A leader’s mood and his or her behaviors drive the moods and behaviors of everyone else. Most important research shows that the leader’s mood has a direct impact on bottom-line results.  

The connection is striking.  A cranky grouch creates a toxic environment filled with negativity and underperformance while an inspirational, upbeat leader gives rise to devoted followers ready for the next challenge. 

Before I address how to identify self-deception, let’s review the four components of emotional intelligence. This comes from the Harvard Business Review on Breakthrough Leadership: Primal Leadership, The Hidden Driver of Great Performance: 

  • Self-awareness is the ability to read your own emotions. It allows leaders to know their own strengths and limitations and feel confident about their self-worth.  
  • Self-management is the ability to control your emotions and act with honesty and integrity in reliable and adaptable ways.
  • Social awareness includes the key capabilities of empathy and organizational intuition. Socially aware executives do more than sense other people’s emotions, they show that they care. They also experts at reading office politics.
  • Relationship management includes the ability to communicate clearly and convincingly, disarm conflicts, and build strong personal bonds. 

The best leaders succeed in all four of these areas. The extent to which each of us must grow depends on much more than our professional competency. We must be competent, but we must also behave as empathetic humans. 

In fact, it’s sometimes the superstars with exceptional professional abilities that have the most work to do to develop their emotional intelligence. 

Who hasn’t experienced that star performer who isn’t held accountable for his bad behavior? 

Yet, the research shows that an emotionally intelligent leader can monitor her mood through self-awareness, change it for the better through self-management, understand her impact through empathy and act in ways that boost others' moods through relationship management. 

Of the four components of emotional intelligence, the most important is self-awareness. 

The irony of self-awareness is that self-focused people are rarely aware of their issues. That’s because the needs of others are rarely if ever, considered. Our bad behavior is often the blind spot. I had one (more than one really) for years. For me, the first hurdle was admitting that I had some “opportunities for growth”. After I accepted that there was a challenge to overcome, the process of identifying the root issues was even more difficult. So, let’s just focus on the “it’s not me, it's them” delusion.  Here are some red flags to get you started. 

  • You are not connecting with your colleagues at work. You remember few, if any, small details of their lives. Worse than that, you don’t care.
  • You do not listen to others or express genuine care about them.
  • You are focused only on your goals.
  • You avoid tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback.
  • You engage in pervasive back-channel communications (i.e., the meeting after the meeting)
  • Gossip.
  • You don’t trust others.
  • You don’t know whether others trust you. (If you’ve ever criticized a coworker to other coworkers behind their back, they don’t. It does not matter your level in the organization.)
  • You blame and shame.
  • You are not growing - emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually.
  • Fear. You use it to get what you want, or it is a significant unacknowledged motivator.
  • You attempt to remove emotion and connection from your work life, unless, of course, you are expressing displeasure. Then, there are all kinds of explosive emotions.
  • You find it difficult to bounce back from difficult conversations.
  • Finally, if you think nothing on this list applies to you, then you got work to do. 

Does any of this sound familiar? Have you seen them in a colleague or yourself?

As always, I look forward to your comments and questions. Thanks to everyone who is engaging.  

Until next time…


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