How Leading With Emotional Intelligence Impacts The Success Of A Business
Three industry leaders weigh in on why strong leadership comes not from hierarchy but expressing awareness, empathy and connection—qualities that align with the ethos of luxury fashion maison Valentino
As more of the world’s workforce seeks to be a part of purpose-driven businesses, there has also been a shift in perspectives on leadership. The classic approach—exerting his or her power through positional authority—may still work, but it's becoming more apparent that these days, a leader's success also depends on if they can balance that with emotional intelligence.
Also known as EQ, emotional intelligence describes an individual’s strengths in self- and social-awareness, self-management and relationship management. This includes being able to understand yourself and others, empathise with others and overcome challenges.
When tech giant Google analysed the reasons why teams fail or succeed in its multiyear study Project Aristotle, it found that those that thrived the most showed high levels of EQ. In another study measuring the impact of EQ on performance, business leaders with higher EQ saw a workforce that was more productive and less likely to quit—factors that in turn, brought about greater economic value to their companies.
A company's ability to prioritise people—or keep its consumer in mind—also plays a big role in the success of its offerings. A brand that understands this is Valentino.
The Italian luxury fashion maison’s aesthetics illustrate a connection between strength and individual imagination, expression and beauty. But beyond the garments, it also promotes humanism as a source of creativity, and it champions the need for empathy and inclusion in society today.
In partnership with the maison, Gen.T speaks to three industry leaders on what it takes to be an effective leader today.
Co-founder and COO of Jublia, a global player in business matching and event data analytics
What is the role of a leader?
It’s being a team player with a clear vision and the risk appetite to make tough decisions and implement strategies to achieve the objectives of the team. This person doesn’t need to be the smartest one on the team, but needs to be able to identify and hone the strengths of others and help them overcome their weaknesses. A leader also always leads by example.
What tensions do you face as a leader and how do you navigate them?
Being passionate about the business makes me headstrong at times. I’ve noticed how this can cause unnecessary tension within the team. So I’ve learned to let go and place my trust in my team. I’ve also learned that it’s the people I lead who ultimately determine the success or failure of any venture I do, and that one of my key responsibilities is to nurture other leaders within my organisation.
How do you ensure a healthy work environment for your employees?
We have a relatively flat organisational hierarchy and make it clear to every team member—whether you're an intern or the head of a department—that you can speak freely to anyone any time. We've built an international team, with employees working remotely across the world, so I make sure to do fortnightly meetings with them to ensure that we’re all aligned in every aspect. I also have meetings with my direct reports every Wednesday to talk about how they’re doing and how I can help them succeed in their roles.
Leading, to me, also means being able to listen. Being a leader requires consistent self-development. That includes self-reflection, getting feedback from your team regularly and most importantly, taking action on the feedback gleaned.
Jublia is a service-oriented business. How do you ensure that your products and services bring value to your customers?
I believe building a strong company culture that encourages innovation and is built on the foundation of a safe and inclusive workplace environment is key. This ensures consistent business improvement and sustainability, which are what our customers look for when they choose to invest their time and money into our products and services.
Successful companies put their customers first and to do so, leaders must rally their teams behind a common vision and inspire them to take pride in the accomplishments they make with their customers along the way.
Executive director of DesignSingapore Council, the country’s national agency for design
What to you is the role of a leader?
I do my best to be a servant leader, where the position is a privilege and opportunity to lead as well as serve those under your stewardship. I focus primarily on the growth and well-being of my team and the communities to which they belong, rather than on accumulating and exercising my power and authority.
There are several tensions that leaders may face in their position, such as being both firm and empathetic. What are some of the tensions you face and how do you navigate them?
There’s a phrase in the Bible that goes, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). That is an attitude I try to have. Meekness is a humble attitude that expresses itself in the patient endurance of offences. It's not weakness; a weak person can’t do anything, but a meek person can but chooses not to. It is power under restraint. Meekness is the antithesis of self-interest, self-care and self-assertiveness.
Every situation is contextual and unique, so you have to operate by principles. It’s about discernment on what’s best for the situation, but yet ultimately being meek in the midst of all things. A wise friend once told me that one’s leadership is only as strong as what he or she is willing to tolerate. This means that as much as I wish to create a kind, empathetic and safe environment at work, I also cannot tolerate bullying and office politics. Hence, I need to be both kind and firm at the same time.
How do you help your team find meaning in their roles and build a healthy workplace culture?
I do my best to build a strong sense of trust and level of communication with my directors, from whom I believe it will flow down to their teams. I have 30-minute meetings fortnightly with them to just catch up and see how they're doing. I don’t micro-manage, but I set the direction and goals.
When I first came on board, I also told my team that I hate office politics and will destroy it when I see it. I also told them that they can come to me if they have an issue they can’t resolve on their own, as I wanted to make sure people don’t feel trapped under their superiors unnecessarily.
As an expert in design, what does good design look like to you?
A design-led or design thinking culture is important in creating great products, services or experiences for our consumers. This means there’s an intentional approach towards constantly getting user feedback. It could mean simply keeping in touch with people on the ground, working collaboratively in and across teams for solutions to engage their needs, and prototyping and testing them quickly to refine them.
It’s also about understanding the user's experience in their environment and developing relevant solutions. To serve our consumers well, we need to take a people-centric systems approach towards how we shape both policy and programme for the industry.
CEO of Lyte Ventures, a financial solutions company for freelancers and SMEs, and co-founder and chairman of Gushcloud International, a digital marketing agency for influencers
What is the role of a leader?
I’ve never considered myself to be a natural leader; leadership has been a learned trait. I think everyone’s leadership style is a reflection of their character and virtues. I’ve found it helpful to think of leadership as a set of principles and outcomes, so I'd describe my leadership style as people- and principle-based.
The most important leadership principle to me is showing care. When leaders care deeply about the people they lead and why they lead them, it assures people and helps them trust you. And when there’s trust, there are followers.
It took me many years to learn this basic principle. It became clear to me one afternoon when Althea, my co-founder at Gushcloud International, the other company I started, told me that people felt like I didn’t care. I was confused at first, because I thought I was looking after their financial needs, giving them strategy and providing them with meaningful work. But while people respected me, they wouldn’t necessarily choose to follow me. It took me a while to see that all these were checkboxes I was ticking off as a boss, but since learning this, my perspective of leadership has changed.
I also look at everything in an organisation as an outcome. If someone did something wrong, it’s an outcome of the environment that the leaders have set up. I often tell my younger peers that everything is a leadership problem, whether the leader is directly responsible for it or not.
Are there certain tensions you face in your role as a leader and how do you navigate them?
As a parent and as a leader, I wouldn’t say there’s always tension between things that appear to be opposite. You can’t be an expert without being a learner, for instance. In fact, the more you learn, the more you realise how little you actually know.
There are times where your level of learning in an area may exceed those you lead, but that’s relative. Most of the time, the people we hire are smarter and better in the areas that matter, but even they’re still learning. I don’t think people expect leaders to be technical experts as much as they would rather their leaders be expert decision-makers that are often right.
What are your biggest takeaways from leading a company during the pandemic?
When everything is virtual, there’s no difference between a Singapore-based or an Indonesia-based employee. Going mostly virtual means fewer spur-of-the-moment activities and more planned interactions. Personally, it was an interesting challenge to make people feel like I was “present”. Pre-Covid, we'd spend time together in the office, have meals and drinks together, and be able to physically check-in with each other. Now, it's been surprisingly easier for me to be present. As long as time permits, I’m able to join in a wide range of team meetings and schedule more one-on-one conversations with my team.
I’ve also benefited from the faster speed at which I receive feedback and am able to learn from my mistakes and blind spots. With meetings and conversations happening virtually, I can be a voracious note-taker and record meetings for reflection and review later. These are some of the good things I want to retain when we return to the office.
How do you create a business that’s centred around people, be it your employees or customers?
At Lyte Ventures, we deliberately evangelise our mission and embed our values into everything we do. Our mission is to “create an assured future for all” and the way we make this a reality is by first making sure our own team feels assured. This mindset manifests in our actions, from how much we decide to pay someone to how we give performance feedback. Once the team understands what the assurance feels like, they'll know what our company needs to deliver in our products and services.
Being virtuous and applying our values also helps us in creating a positive workplace culture. Culture keeps people emotionally tied to the company and each other, and a sense of mission motivates them to do their best for their teams and customers.
Gen.T and Valentino will discuss more about leading with emotional intelligence in a private Cloud Talk session on June 16. Look out for our coverage of the event.
To shop the Valentino New Formalwear collection, head to ION Orchard 01-08 or Marina Bay Sands B1-16 if you're in Singapore. If you're elsewhere in the world, shop the collection online.