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Modern management and the importance of emotional intelligence

One of the most time consuming yet rewarding parts of my role is ensuring I’m constantly meeting the needs of the people that I work with. I am extremely fortunate to work with some of the smartest, most dynamic and hardworking people I’ve come across in the industry. Their ability to change between single-minded craft tasks to multitasking and thinking on their feet while still executing to a high level – all with a smile on their face – constantly amazes me.

But I do have days where I get home and wonder where we all get the energy from. And while this spectacular bunch of humans get up and come to work every day, it takes a lot of work to make it happen. It requires a lot of support, the right tools and processes to do the job and importantly the need for a consistent and strong leadership team who are smart and adaptable. A team willing to invest in improving systems and processes, to be constantly providing guidance and support for the development of the individuals that make up our team.

It’s all about people, and people are the hardest and most rewarding part of my work. What I’ve come to learn more and more is the need for us all to be that little bit more emotionally intelligent. We can have good processes and a support network but all of this needs to have a strong filter of emotional intelligence, something that I believe has quickly become the most important skill – if that’s the right word – in modern management.

Little Giant has grown exponentially over the past six years so our ability to lead and understand the needs of our team whilst continuing to build a successful business is absolutely crucial for our success.

Over the past year, Little Giant has changed more than it ever has. Arguably more than it ever will. We’ve been through exponential growth, built new capabilities and just to shake things up, have thrown in an acquisition and integration into a global agency network. As a leadership team, we have had to manage this change strategically. That’s been a big learning curve and has got me thinking about how we ensure a consistent approach to management into the future.

1. Strive to really understand your team

The reality is that the makeup of our businesses has changed. At Little Giant, within our team of 50, only 15 of us are over 30 years of age. These young people will go on to run our businesses in years to come and they bring a different perspective borne of the world they’ve grown up in. The emergence of technology, hyper-transparency, heightened expectations, restless ambition… these can all create challenges for businesses. I know it does for us.

But spend time talking to them and you quickly realise that the factors that affect their work happiness aren’t that different from any others. I did a quick tour of our team and found that these were the key factors:

  • To feel appreciated and shown thanks in front of their peers.
  • To have a clear role progression.
  • To feel their opinions are important, can be shared and will be taken into consideration to form business decision making.
  • To be liked.
  • To be in a culture they like and surrounded by people they like.
  • To have time for themselves at work (their own selves, and this isn’t their work selves).
  • To be doing what they want and demand for a better environment to work in (always, regardless of how good it might already be).
  • To strive for a more balanced work-life balance.

While some of us as leaders might not have had these expectations when we were entering the workplace I think we can understand why they are so important to our upcoming leaders.

2. Forget the old ways of doing things

Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my team have been over a 15-minute shoulder massage in downtown Queen Street or taking them around the block for a walk just to breathe in different air. And while this might sound airy-fairy, this shared experience approach creates bonds that no conversation in a meeting room or at a desk ever could. It’s about growing trust, removing the barriers to creating a relationship with your team based on mutual respect and understanding – even if that doesn’t always become friendship.

3. Set the example

As leaders we are the emotional guide. We can sway and affect the emotions of our entire team which is a huge responsibility and can potentially be fatal if we don’t get it right. It’s our responsibility to get it right as often as we can.

Sometimes that means wading through the shit. There will always be difficulties but it’s about how you deal with them, not letting them affect your overall view and importantly not letting this flow on to your team. My approach has always been that there is a solution and we just need to find the right one based on the situation.

Sometimes it also means putting yourself first. I’ve learnt that if I don’t take the time for myself, time to be a human, I can’t convince my team to – they see straight through it. My mental health and ability to be in the right space for my team is so important and when it’s not, it sends all of the wrong messages. Our role is to alleviate stress from our team and buffer difficult management agenda items but we forget how much this can take a toll. As much as we like to think we are, we’re not bullet proof, we all have a tipping (or breaking) point and we have a responsibility to ourselves to make sure we look out for us. I find although I love routine and it’s also a coping mechanism for me, changing it up and doing something different on a week night or before work provides me with clarity or context on what’s important and even gives me ideas on how to solve problems differently just by taking in a new landscape.

4. Hold the line

Empathy is all very well, but sometimes you still have to put your foot down.  Don’t let the person who shouts the loudest be your marker for the general consensus. Give it time, spend time with your team to get an honest answer about the situation so you can act strategically. Only listening to the loudest causes knee-jerk reactions that can be catastrophic for the culture and feeling for the wider team if you get them wrong.

As modern leaders, we need to think differently. We need to be thinking with emotional intelligence at the centre. This will allow us to make and continue to make strategic decisions for the future of our businesses with the best people at the core.

Those people are such spectacular creatures. Adapting an approach that allows you to turn each and every one of the people in your team into an individual with whom you have an empathetic relationship is the first step. Because once you’ve got that, you’re in it together and once you’re in it together, you can help them become the people – and professionals – they aspire to be. 

  • Danica Paki is Head of Client Services and part of the leadership team at Little Giant, an agency that was recently named New Zealand’s Digital Agency Of The Year and rating number one (twice) in a survey published in the March issue of NZ Marketing magazine. At 30, she has 10 years’ experience across digital technology, brand marketing and advertising and experience that sees her equally comfortable with winning work and managing a strong client service team as running client strategy workshops or engaging C-level executives on digital transformation initiatives. 
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