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There is a great deal of debate currently about what kind of leadership we need in the face of change. I believe we need a new model, with emotional intelligence be at the centre.  But what is it that creates this need? If we are able to answer this question, we will be more willing to embrace the change.  And if emotional intelligence is at the centre, what are the other key characteristics a leader needs today? And how hard is it to adapt to this new way of behaving?

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (or empathy) is the ability of a person to be aware of the feelings of people around them (fellow workers, customers, clients, third parties, citizens etc.), to understand them, be authentic and to take their opinions into account.

Some people confuse this behaviour with ‘soft’ or ‘weak’ leadership. But this is not the case. Strong leadership means bold solutions. To be able to resolve complex problems, a leader has to know the full picture and understand all key parameters, including the emotions of people around them. This ability is becoming much more important, especially as we move to a more remote working situation.

Why emotional intelligence and ‘soft skills’ are so important today? 

1. Millennials and Generation Z

Millennials make up a large part of the current workforce, as well as the new Z-generation. They are developing their behaviours, their contacts and networks, their communication and sometimes even their work-life relation through social media and via technology. At the same time, digital and AI jobs are booming everywhere.

The upcoming benefits of these trends for humanity are great, but there are some potential side effects. For example impact on areas such as communication, empowerment, adaptability and empathy etc.  We have to address this gap now at the early stages of the new world.

2. Direct response

The new technology makes life run faster than ever before.  Response is impulsive, especially when it comes to millennials and Gen-Z.  Enormous availability of info just with one click, seamless connectivity at the speed of thought, images override texts and experiences change very fast. And a large part of it is happening at a distance without physical presence.

If so, then human touch loses ground and we need to address this.

To be able to resolve complex problems, a leader has to know the full picture and understand all key parameters, including the emotions of people around them.

3. The economic crisis

In the last decade the economic crisis has hit many countries in the world.  And the consequences are many. One of the things that has not been much discussed is the downgrade of jobs in these countries. In addition, it is difficult for young people to find a good job and they are therefore slow to enter the labour market. And this gap widen in countries with low–level jobs and low personal development prospects.

4. AI and robots

In the very near future much of today’s works will be done by algorithms and robots.  A large part of the workforce will have to redefine their role, addressing different needs to those of today - more tailor–made, personal and human–centric - the needs that cannot be met by algorithms and robots.

If emotional intelligence is at the centre, what are the other skills a leader needs today?

Soft skills are becoming much more important than ever before. It is worth mentioning integrity, honesty, accountability, communication, teamwork, care, empowerment, problem solving, decisiveness, passion, business sense, creativity and agility and adaptability. If we had to choose one of them to accompany emotional intelligence in terms of importance, I believe it would be adaptability. But why?

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is most adaptable to change “, Charles Darwin said.  

Usually there is a preconception that these skills are easy to acquire – that it is just a matter of some good training and that’s all.  But this is not the case.  On the contrary, it is hard to get these skills.  At least at an acceptable level.  And this is because:

  1. In the last decades the dominant leadership model was exactly the opposite, mainly focused on hard skills. This means that a change in mindset must take place.
  2. The ability to accept, embrace and adapt to change, integrity, care and other skills relate to attitude, and this can take a while to develop.

Moving to a new leadership model

In response to the change that is happening, a different leadership models is required. In this new model, we have to find a new balance between soft and hard skills. Focus needs to be on the development of soft skills, as they become even more important, with emotional intelligence at the centre of this new model. 

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Yiannis Zarkadis (MSc Management Science 1987

About Yiannis Zarkadis

MSc Management Science 1987
Yiannis Zarkadis (MSc Management Science 1987), is Founder of CONSULT2XL. In his blogs he draws on his experiences working at Unilever, GrandMet/IDV, SC Johnson and Bacardi, over his extensive corporate career.