Why EQ Is More Important Than IQ in the Tech Industry

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Today’s tech industry is thriving, with CompTIA projecting there will be nearly 250,000 net new tech jobs created in 2021, in addition to the 3.9 million tech job postings opened in 2020.

It reminds me of the tech market 30 years ago, when I was graduating college. Back then, most of the hiring focus was on programming skills and intellectual capability. Heck, the company I worked for was recruiting anyone with a college degree and training them on COBOL and JCL. It was all about getting folks who had the aptitude to produce code.

This time around, however, I think the leaders of the tech industry understand the world has changed. Hard skills are only part of the equation.

The Importance of EQ in Tech

As the CEO of Trissential, the US-based arm of global IT consulting firm Expleo, I’m still in the technology game. One thing is clear to me as we face what looks like another big hiring boom in tech: We have to lean into the emotional intelligence (EQ) of the folks we’re hiring and leading.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, EQ refers to one’s ability to manage their own emotions so they can communicate, empathize, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. If we want our technology teams to succeed today, we need to nurture EQ.

There are several reasons why I think we need an equal (or greater) amount of EQ compared to technical ability in the industry:

• The pandemic accelerated digital transformation for many organizations, which means many tech employees are working on new projects supporting new business models. Perhaps the best example of this is “Healthcare 3.0,” which applies a digital-first mindset to medicine.

• Technologists, for the most part, aren’t just heads-down systems folks anymore. They’re responsible for major lines of business. Software and software development methodologies have changed, blurring the lines between IT and business and creating new hybrid roles that require more interpersonal skills.

• Organizational management structures have become less top-down and more collaborative in nature. The work styles of our teams are also changing due to generational preferences and other factors.

The bottom line is that, as technology and the economy evolve, we all have to get very good at building relationships to get things done. For technologists, it’s no longer enough to be the technology experts and provide credible leadership from that standpoint. We must be able to lead through difficult situations even if we’re not formal leaders.

Defining EQ

Sometimes, I think EQ could be boiled down to being the adult in the room. In the tech world, you find a lot of different cultures.  Companies have cultures, and individual teams within companies have their own cultures. Managing one’s way through these cultures — especially when a challenging project is past deadline — will highlight a person’s EQ in short order.

Success in difficult situations requires taking the emotion out of the situation and focusing rationally on the problem. You’d think that would be easy in our right-brained world, but it’s not. However, by identifying the main components of EQ, we can guide technologists to develop this behavior.

Most people define EQ as the following set of attributes:

• Self-awareness
• Self-management
• Social awareness
• Relationship management

Really, self-awareness is the basis of it all. Do you know how you are naturally wired? Are you aware of your dominant traits that show up in every meeting? Do you understand that how the recipient receives your message is as important as the message itself? When people understand these things about themselves, it becomes much easier for them to build EQ in all other realms.

Speaking personally, cultivating greater self-awareness has helped me build very important relationships with people who a few years ago drove me crazy. It turns out they were not crazy, just wired very differently than me. Understanding their perspectives has upped my EQ and helped me build a better team. Frankly, when we are aware and appreciative of many diverse points of view, we reach better solutions.

Building and implementing technical solutions to meet the needs of business is a particularly complex endeavor. That’s why hiring people with strong EQ and good tech skills can make our industry (and our economy) stronger. Continuously improving the EQ of existing staff is just as important.

Identifying EQ in Candidates

When interviewing a potential team member, I assume that the technology skills have already been assessed. I look for elements of EQ that include:

Self-awareness: How much does this person seem to know about their own personality? Do they describe themselves the way we perceive them?

Self-regulation: This is the “explain how you handled a conflict successfully” question. Pay careful attention to how the candidate handled their emotions in this situation.

Motivation: Are they motivated to do what it takes to get the job done, or are they more concerned with “being right”? Why do they go to work? What is going on behind their eyeballs?

Empathy: Can the candidate put themselves in another person’s shoes, or do they seem preoccupied with ensure their perspective prevails?

Social skills: Ask the candidate about their hobbies and personal life. Find out how they like to interact with others.

On a final note, many people are wired to be more introverted than extraverted, and that is totally fine. That makes for well-rounded teams and a more interesting world. There will always be a need for people who get their energy and fulfillment by working independently.

But for those of us whose jobs demand we successfully navigate the quagmire of culture, business goals, and technology, we need to be aware of much more than just technical smarts. As an industry, we need to focus on that EQ side of things, especially right now.

Keith Korsi is the CEO of Trissential, an Expleo company.

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By Keith Korsi