7 ways finance leaders can improve their emotional intelligence

7 ways finance leaders can improve their emotional intelligence

Leadership and lifestyle coaches suggest that the best way to increase a person’s ability to manage a crisis is to improve his or her emotional intelligence.

“Emotional intelligence is being able to understand our own emotions, know how to manage them, and then use that understanding to help others,” said Maureen Chiana, a UK leadership coach and resilience consultant.

More than half (59%) of companies have taken some measures to guard against employee burnout during the pandemic, according to a survey of nearly 4,000 employees and executives in 11 countries by The Workforce Institute, a US think tank for human capital management. But 29% of the employees wished for more empathy.

Particularly for finance leaders, this is the time to activate emotional intelligence to full capacity, multinational professional services company Accenture suggests. Staying connected, sure-footed, and empathetic while taking care of their own physical and emotional needs is of utmost importance for better decision-making and organisational success.

Executives in a 2019 Accenture survey acknowledged that emotional intelligence wasn’t their strong suit. Of the 200 C-suite leaders from Europe and the US who participated, 65% rated self-awareness, empathy, and intuition as their weakest skills.

Why emotional intelligence is important

There’s a link between emotions and decision-making.

“The emotional centre of the brain is very close to the decision-making centre of the brain,” Chiana said. “When your thoughts trigger negative emotions and you don’t understand or manage them, they can hijack your brain. Once it does that, the first place it shuts down is the decision-making part of the brain, which is why when we are stressed or anxious, we can freeze.”

Finance leaders sometimes focus so much on numbers that they may forget the people they’re working with, said Raheen Sacranie, ACMA, CGMA, an executive coach in the UK who trains financial leaders across the world.

Finance professionals often attract their own kind, Sacranie said. He calls it an unconscious bias. “They tend to create their own self-servicing and self-protective tribe,” he said. Improved emotional intelligence can cut through that barrier, on an individual and an organisational basis.

“The immediate, tangible result is a sense of levity and happiness,” he added. “The atmosphere in the office becomes less dark, people are more willing to laugh, chat, talk beyond work, to try [to] be creative, express opinions; they are more open to new ideas, and you feel the morale of the office is so different.”

7 ways finance leaders can boost their emotional intelligence

At an organisational level, Sacranie suggests creating heterogeneous finance teams of dynamic people with multiple hobbies and interests and allowing them to routinely connect and function with other teams and departments.

Here are seven more ways Sacranie and Chiana say finance leaders can improve their emotional intelligence:

Remember where you came from. Self-awareness is critical to building resilience and boosting one’s emotional intelligence. One way to stay in contact with yourself is by reminding yourself of your background, journeys, angst, challenges, and miseries. “Keeping the emotion and the memory of these will help CFOs understand the practical problems of their teams, offer them adequate guidance and direction, and communicate with ease and clarity,” Sacranie said.

Try to find common ground. Connect on a human level and beyond your team, create personal bonds before layering those with professional relationships, and establish common ground. Appreciate others’ professional journeys. This goes a long way in building trust and is vital in any form of communication.

Recognise how important intercultural understanding is. If you are worried about crossing personal boundaries while working with multicultural teams, try understanding the language and culture of the place, the nuances of the idioms they use. For example, not being fluent in English doesn’t indicate incapability; hierarchical structures are important in Indian and Chinese work cultures; and Saudis may be more likely than people from other cultures to avoid saying no.

Keep your learning channels open. You can learn from many sources such as subordinates, or through upskilling. Other ways to learn include listening to what co-workers have to say without judgement. Active listening might take you to groundbreaking solutions.

Respond, don’t react. Avoid making decisions when you are emotionally charged. Identify your thoughts before speaking or shooting off an email. When you are stressed, pause, break away, go for a walk, or sleep on it. Putting a break between the emotion and the action allows the decision part of the brain to kick in so you can be intentional in your response. It might sound counterintuitive, especially in a high-adrenaline workspace, but making time to break away can achieve improved thinking processes and decision-making skills, more clarity, and better performance.

Simplify communication to make it more effective. Using easily comprehensible language is indicative of higher emotional intelligence. Avoid using jargon. Before you deliver a message, frame it and assess its impact on the recipients. Do you think it will have the intended effect? If not, modify. After you deliver a message, ask listeners what they understood. This allows you to fill in the gaps, clarify, and explain further. This is important because your understanding is different from the understanding of others. Communication is different across people and culture, and empathy should be at the forefront of every conversation.

Include self-care and mindfulness in your daily routine. This goes beyond physical care (food, sleep, and exercise). Be mindful of what you are thinking, what you are reading, how are you learning. Focus on building resilience because it carries you through stress and uncertainty, keeps you grounded and adaptable, and helps you see opportunities where others see problems. It’s all about training your brain. The more you train it, the more it will help you achieve your best life as a person, as a leader, and as a team member.

Swati Sanyal Tarafdar is a freelance writer based in India. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Sabine Vollmer, an FM magazine senior editor, at