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TRANSFORMATION | 06.24.2020

“We are facing a paradigm shift at individual, team and leadership levels”

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Cristina Jardón, 35 years old, is an educator and expert in emotional intelligence which, she says, is by no means soft, but an essential skill. Her “passion,” as she calls it, encompasses mindfulness and compassion. She applies both of these things when coaching Europe’s leading companies on emotional skills at three levels: individual, team and organization. By taking a holistic approach, which starts with self-awareness and improving relationships, you can aspire to reach the peak of feeling fulfilled at home, at work and in life in general.
For companies, the balance is positive in terms of happiness, ROI, performance, engagement and leadership.

How would you define emotional intelligence?

We’ve been talking more about emotional intelligence in the last few months because of the pandemic, but the concept actually began to emerge in the early 20th century. For me, emotional intelligence is a key skill for resilience, which is what all of us—individuals, teams, and companies—need right now to be happy with who we are and what we do. It’s a skill set that provides us with the inner wisdom to adapt to whatever life sends our way, whether positive or not, expected or not, and that help us to understand others and build relationships.

There is nothing soft about it, referring to soft skills as they are often known, but an essential quality that pays off. Organizations that are investing in these skills are obtaining better results.

Emotional intelligence: Nature or nurture?

We’re born with all the brain structure that we need to be emotionally intelligent, but it’s something that has to be nurtured, or trained, because, if we don’t follow the instructions on how to do it, we might never develop our emotional intelligence. So it’s more than a gift, it’s a skill. You can train it, and that’s the key, because we can change our brain structure, behaviors, emotional states, feelings and even thoughts.

How is the world of emotionally intelligent leaders faring?

The truth is there is a “before,” prior to COVID-19. In recent years, organizations have experienced a major change in the process of technological transformation, change in processes and focus on people.

There has been a trend—perhaps more so in those countries with a lot of experience in emotional intelligence, like the USA (in California or New York)—toward people in organizations who are going to speak positively about the company and protect the brand. Certain traditional, authoritarian, pyramid-shaped leadership structures, which are now virtually meaningless, were already changing.

We were already talking about a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambitious) world, but then along came March [the pandemic] and with it the “super-VUCA” world. It hit so hard that what until then had been in many cases accepted, now no longer was. Ever since, leaders have no longer been able to stand over people. Leaders have to trust people or the work doesn’t get done, they have to be more flexible, understanding that the team are facing difficulties at home and so on.

All of us have experienced a major turning point, but leaders have been forced to stop and realize that they need skills in which they may not have received training, such as empathy, deep listening, or leadership for remote management.

“We need to be able to train all teams, employees and leaders, because we don’t know what will happen in the future”.

Do we need another type of leadership today?

Yes, it’s important. The acronym “CEO,” in our jargon, is no longer Chief Executive Officer, but is now turning into Chief Empathy Officer. Look how things are changing. That is why organizations that have committed to emotional intelligence training are the ones that are best adapting to this huge change, not just of processes, but of managing uncertainty. Adapting to the change does not come from an app like Teams, but from training emotional skills.

Is there a gap between what the current situation demands and the level of emotional intelligence of some corporations?

Absolutely. There are organizations—such as LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google or SAP—that have spent a long time training their teams, and they won’t notice it as much. What is happening is that leaders who already believed in the importance of emotional intelligence, now have no doubt. Those who before now never, even for one second, thought about dedicating some time to the emotional well-being of employees, are not in doubt either; they are realizing that it is necessary, because they are seeing the number of stressed and worrying people on the other side of the computer screen. And there is growing activity in favor of regulating all of this.

The same thing has happened with remote working. Some organizations were prepared and others were caught short, but they had to do it anyway. We need to think about all of this; we need to be able to train all teams, employees and leaders, because we don’t know what will happen in the future. No one knows what next year will be like. How do we prepare ourselves emotionally for what is coming? Training ourselves in emotional intelligence.

What path do the best-prepared organizations take?

There are many different ways of doing things, but what’s important is to group them together under the general umbrella term of “Emotional Intelligence,” which covers the individual, team and organization aspects, and, where necessary, a change in culture. Run a program with objectives, lines of work, content that is budgeted and consistent with everything and is not limited to a particular day, week or one-off event.

Are companies gaining emotional intelligence through COVID-19?

There are many organizations that, as a result of the pandemic, are changing. They either cannot or do not want to continue along the same line as before and they have to reinvent themselves. These organizations are experiencing a paradigm shift and they need to seek the values or culture to effect a change of model. Many of them are beginning to integrate emotional intelligence. To do this, we can start with mindfulness, though in my opinion we need to employ a wider range of skills, with tools to handle difficult conversations, nonviolent communication, tools for emotionally intelligent teams, compassion among others.

“In a corporate environment, various studies suggest that emotional intelligence improves ROI”.

How do countries like the USA, with its innovation-packed West Coast, or Germany do it?

With the launch of emotional intelligence programs, such as ‘Search Inside Yourself’ (from Google, which we use in our training in Spain) that provides a basis for understanding the concept of emotional intelligence and applying it in daily life, not only for better leadership, but for better performance and well-being at work; and by implementing a common thread throughout the organization that allows it to be recognized as emotionally intelligent. Because you will have less sick leave, improved performance and engagement, and better leadership. It is a new map that reaches the individual, team and organization levels.

What other advantages does emotional intelligence offer?

In a corporate environment, various studies suggest that emotional intelligence improves ROI. For example, according to Gallup, there is a positive impact on sales and productivity (37 percent and 21 percent, respectively), and up to 300 percent on innovation! But emotional intelligence has many other benefits for adaptability, lower exposure to incidents and, of course, people’s mental and emotional burnout. I think there is a move toward taking greater account of the employee and realizing that not only is the rational part—the numbers—important, but that the emotional brain is part of our work too, in what we do every day. We hadn’t paid attention to that emotional part and COVID has shown us that it is very important, because those teams that have been able to manage it are recording incredible figures. Emotional intelligence clearly connects us with our own reality and that of others.

The competence ladder that helps us improve emotional intelligence

Cristina Jardón explains that, as a trainable skill, emotional intelligence is made up of various competences that can be developed:

  1. Self-awareness. The most important skill, at the base of the pyramid and at the beginning of emotional intelligence development, is coming off autopilot to observe yourself. Without this competence, you cannot develop the others.
  2. Self-knowledge. The wisdom to understand who I truly am and what my emotions and my internal resources are, what thoughts accompany my emotions and what moment of my life I am in, listening to my intuition.
  3. Self-management. Manage everything that happens to me: sadness, fear, anxiety or frustration, using tools like mindfulness and others. Acceptance plays an important role.
  4. Intrinsic motivation. What motivates me? What are my values and how do I show them in my day-to-day life? This is very interesting for any organization.
    Having got this far, a person has awakened their inner wisdom.
  5. Interpersonal intelligence, with empathy, leadership and compassion. This skill builds teams and allows relationships to be established based on service, friendliness and collaboration. Organizations are increasingly providing training in this.
  6. Well-being skills. When I have all of these things, I can live in a state of joy, in the flow, whether the situation in life is pleasant or not, as with the COVID-19 pandemic. This ability is the key to finding the good among the hardship. Here, we are working resiliently, optimistically, with gratitude and fulfillment. These skills are of higher order. They activate higher emotions and increase energy levels, they lead us to a mental state of happiness at work and at home. It is about discovering that in every simple gesture there is something that I can take from it, there is something to learn.