“To the casual observer, emotions and accountancy can seem like unrelated concepts from two separate worlds. But to succeed in a fast-evolving digital age, professional accountants need a rounded set of skills that go beyond technical knowledge, and these skills include emotional intelligence.”
Helen Brand, Chief Executive, ACCA
Emotional Intelligence and the use of technology
Emotional Intelligence (EI) continues to be cited as a critical component for a modern, successful accountancy business. The ways in which we use technology has, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the way accountants work. The increasing and evolving use of technology has two key contributions to make.
First, the increasing need for process efficiency. Using technology well to improve the efficiency of data capture and processing allows accountants to spend more time with their clients; listening, understanding their personal and business challenges, and looking to offer more value as a result. One of the major benefits of process improvement can only be fully realised if accountants have the ability to understand the emotions that lie beneath the facts and figures as presented.
Second, the ongoing demand to focus on client experience. Clients, customers and consumers have a varied appetite and expectation of contact and communication. Understanding a client’s needs with regards to the ‘always on’ technological solutions versus the human contact that is still held in high regard takes an investment to really understand the drivers and triggers of each individual client. It also becomes increasingly necessary to be able to detect and understand emotional information through screens…not something that we have ever really focused on learning.
To give emotional intelligence meaning, we really need to talk about the specific detail of what that entails:
- Self-awareness: Demonstrates an understanding of personal emotions. Able to differentiate between the subtle changes in personal emotions and understands the causes of these reactions. Realises the effect and impact emotions have on performance.
- Regulation of our own emotions: Able to maintain a calm exterior during high-pressured environments and maintains control of emotions during challenging times. Keeps disruptive emotions and impulses contained to maintain effectiveness under stressful/hostile conditions. Regulates behaviour effectively.
- Awareness of others’ emotions: Shows an interest in others, investing time and energy into getting to know someone. Demonstrates sensitivity and patience, and builds an affiliation with the other person. Demonstrates an awareness of other people’s emotions, makes an effort to understand how someone else feels and shows a strong desire to understand why and how someone sees things.
- Influencing others’ emotions: Demonstrates genuine concern for colleagues and shows care toward the work and non-work life of others. Mindful of colleagues’ workloads, striking a balance between assigning a challenging yet manageable workload. The ability to use emotional understanding to build rapport and connect with people.
These attributes are critical for effective leadership. They are vital for nurturing relationships within and on behalf of your business, and have become essential for effective communication that enhances colleague contribution and develops more valuable relationship with clients.
It is particularly important to reflect on the value of detecting and understanding the emotional response that we and others have in any given situation, increasingly in a world where our work relies upon and is conducted through technology.
Leadership in accountancy requires the ability to direct, guide and manage relationships with colleagues from a distance, facilitating effective contribution and being conscious of providing timely feedback and appreciation of the role individuals play. In no way exhaustive, the following are emerging as key aspects of what it takes to be effective in this context…and they all require emotional intelligence:
- Leading change: Empathy is needed for dealing with a perceived and/or real fear of change.
- Embracing difference: Developing a wider perspective by taking the viewpoints of a wider pool of stakeholders, made accessible through adoption of virtual working tools.
- Interacting with technology: Active engagement with, and deriving value from, interactions with technological tools (yielding insight, not just reporting).
- Influencing: Engaging in new ways of working and challenging the status quo requires more influential leadership in a less hierarchical, digital workplace.
All emotional competencies are required in a balanced way to deal with these impact areas, but how are these capabilities sourced and developed?
Developing EI capability
Whilst many businesses have identified this need and started looking for candidates who can demonstrate capability in emotional intelligence, candidates themselves don’t often express it (in recruitment and selection processes), and it often gets overlooked in internal career development or promotion processes. This might not mean there is a skills gap, but it might lead to the perception that there is less supply than demand.
The degree to which that impacts your business performance will vary on many factors, but if you rely on client and colleague relationships to achieve your goals, then it is likely that some (if not all) aspects of emotional intelligence are important to you.
The component pieces of emotional intelligence are all capabilities that can be learned, practiced and developed to mastery levels. Like most forms of leadership capability, successful development of emotional intelligence requires some shared prioritisation between the company and individual leaders, clear links between personal development and business goals, and a practical, personalised approach for managing the developmental process and evaluating impact.
Do you need to assess and develop the leadership capabilities in your business?
Blackmore Four are an independent Essex-based consulting company, offering specialist advice, leadership insight and tailored solutions to businesses looking to improve business performance. Our approach is based on a deep understanding of human behaviour at work and an ability to identify and address the specific leadership and organisational development needs of your business.