Technology faces a crisis of leadership

Posted on Jul 29, 2019 :: Partner
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Posted by Patrick Riley, president, New Horizons

Where is my next generation of leaders coming from? This is a common question on the minds of many technology executives. Understandably so, since experienced leaders of the baby boomer generation continue to retire at a pace of 10,000 per day, while only 7 percent of organizations believe they are properly equipped to transition their millennial workforce into leaders.

Leadership is rooted in emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to understand and manage your emotions, as well as influence those of the people around you. Professionals with a high level of EI know what they’re feeling, what their emotions mean and how these emotions can affect others. According to Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and bestselling author, “80 to 90 percent of the competencies that differentiate top performers are in the domain of EI.” The Harvard Business Review echoes this idea: “Executives who fail to develop self-awareness risk falling into an emotionally deadening routine that threatens their true selves. Indeed, a reluctance to explore your inner landscape not only weakens your own motivation but can also corrode your ability to inspire others.” Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than the IT sector, where it is historically difficult to locate someone
with both the technical skills and a high degree of EI.

A focus on 8 core competencies

Leadership competencies are skills and behaviors that contribute to superior performance. By using a competency-based approach to leadership, organizations can identify and develop their next generation of technology leaders. For many organizations, identifying the leadership competencies that are most critical to success in technology is an enormous challenge. However, eight core competencies have, over the years, demonstrably impacted performance:

1. Enhancing emotional literacy: In study after study, the ability to harness the energy of our emotions and, thus, have more mastery over ourselves, starts with engaging the cognitive part of our brains. In practicing emotional literacy, we become more aware of the nuanced threads of emotions that run in our bodies. Emotions are valuable: They trigger biochemical storms within us, and these storms become our allies when we get better at identifying what they are at any given time. Accurately “reading” the emotional data is essential for being intelligent with feelings, both understanding and being able to manage them.

2. Recognizing patterns: By acknowledging emotions, we become better prepared to understand what we “do” with them. By acknowledging frequently recurring reactions and behaviors, we can better set ourselves up to respond with more intentionality. All humans have “hot buttons” that get pressed from time to time. If left to our instinct, we follow patterns that bring about misunderstanding, discord and fear. Recognizing patterns more effectively can set up tech leaders for real self-mastery.

3. Consequential thinking: Applying consequential thinking means we are more intentional in evaluating the costs and benefits of our choices. It is key in managing our impulses and being less reactive. Technology leaders are looked to in every organization to provide strategic planning for their teams. A leader with high levels of consequential thinking is best positioned to put the team on track to move forward.

4. Navigate emotions: One of the misconceptions of involving emotions in driving human behavior is that if we are in an “emotional place,” we will make a bad decision. While it’s true that emotional decisions sometimes can be poor ones, from an EI standpoint, having the ability to harness the emotions is a higher form of self-mastery. The emotions have the power to energize us toward accomplishing what we want. Understanding that they are a source of valuable insight, competent leaders can transform them into feelings that are helpful to themselves and to others.

5. Intrinsic motivation: Intrinsic motivation is how we gain energy from personal values and commitments versus being driven by external forces. Extrinsically motivated individuals, by contrast, depend on what others say or how they behave toward them or rely on a reward system to gain their sense of worth. Intrinsically motivated leaders are more able to stand up, challenge the status quo, take risks and persevere during challenging times.

6. Optimism: By taking a proactive perspective of hope and possibility, we exercise optimism. Individuals draw from both pools of optimistic and pessimistic points of view every day of the week. On one end of the spectrum, we can blame others, use victim thinking and see ourselves as powerless. This can include the person afflicted with a pessimistic view of being practical or pragmatic and overanalyzing risks. On the other end of the spectrum, we take responsibility for finding our solutions and persevere through obstacles. Optimistic technology leaders can have a huge impact on their organization.

7. Develop empathy: Our capacity to recognize and respond appropriately to others’ emotions is a good place to start the competency of developing empathy. It’s a nonjudgmental openness to what others are feeling, as well as their experiences. By validating and responding in a way that shows you are concerned, you build trust that supports your ability to lead.

8. Pursue a noble goal: Leaders who consistently connect their daily choices to their overarching sense of purpose create a foundation for leadership that is not easily shaken. This competency activates all other competencies in this list. A noble goal is something we connect our meaning to in our work role, as well as our time spent away from work. A strong dose of this results in making great decisions and transforming feelings on a deep level.

Although it may seem like some leaders are simply gifted with these skills, the truth is that most leadership traits can be learned and sharpened with time and practice. To become an effective leader, you must acquire and hone your skills frequently. You may even notice that the best leaders often are those who are continuously educating themselves by reading books, attending seminars and enrolling in professional development courses consistently throughout their career. Leaders are always learning, and that is especially true in technology.

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Patrick Riley is the president of New Horizons of Wisconsin. New Horizons delivers high-quality live training to professionals in dozens of technology families. The firm has grown to be the largest in the state, annually providing more than 14,000 live training classes in more than 700 different course titles, delivered by 1,100 certified experts, providing their clients unparalleled depth and quality of learning. He also leads the company’s efforts in personal career development and is passionate about helping individuals enter and grow in the IT industry.