The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Hospital CEOs and CFOs

Conventional wisdom says effective leadership is about boldness, courage and vision. Indeed, those are excellent qualities for a CEO or CFO to possess, but there’s a delicate balance that’s required for truly effective leadership. On the other side of the scale is a trait known as emotional intelligence.

Coined in 1990 by a pair of psychologists, emotional intelligence, also known as EQ, is the ability to manage feelings, handle stress, relate to others, and be aware of how your words and actions affect others. To this day, it’s the topic of one of the most popular Harvard Business Review articles ever written. Emotional intelligence is such a sought-after leadership trait because of its role in motivating teams and retaining workers. And its value increases monumentally when applied to an organization facing transformational change.

Daniel Goleman, a psychologist who has written extensively on emotional intelligence, says EQ can be broken down into four key domains:

Self-awareness: This is the emotional intelligence competency that is the basis for all the others. Self-awareness is the ability to know what you’re feeling, why you’re feeling it and how those feelings affect you and those around you. Self-awareness is sensing how others see you and also having an accurate sense of your strengths and weaknesses.

Self-management: Do you lose your cool when stressed? If so, you probably could boost your self-management skills. A CEO or CFO who excels in this domain might be described as someone who is emotionally balanced, has a positive outlook and is adaptable.

Social awareness: This domain of emotional intelligence involves understanding other people’s emotions and why they act—or react—the way they do.

Social skills: Also known as relationship management, becoming competent in this domain requires good communication and conflict resolution skills, serving the role of coach or mentor, fostering teamwork, and being an inspiring leader. Mastering these social skills at the C-suite level can have an impact at every level of the hospital organization.

In a previous blog post, we talked to healthcare leaders about some of the EQ competencies and the role they play in hospital leadership. For example, Herb Dyer, managing partner of Austin, Texas-based PatternShifts and one of HealthTechS3’s interim executive leaders, shared about the power of positivity.

“As you navigate the wins and losses and the bumps in the road, I’ve found it much easier to maintain my motivation, and the motivation of my team, by staying positive,” he explained. “Somehow, we always find a way, and when you remind people of their ability to do that, you often find the pessimism and negativity dissipate.”

The article detailed other non-tactical traits that help add up to effective leadership, such as the importance of listening, being a “realistic optimist” and a “desire to inspire.”

The good news for hospital CEOs and CFOs is, emotional intelligence isn’t a trait that either exists or doesn’t. EQ competencies are learned—and learnable. And it all starts with self-awareness. (It has to, Goleman says).

To practice self-awareness, Goleman suggests checking in with your sensory experience, paying special attention to things like changes in heart rate, muscle tension and breathing patterns.

But you can’t just look within to develop self-awareness. Ask trusted colleagues for honest feedback or implement a 360-degree feedback process. And then take the feedback to heart. When faced with what could be construed as criticism, spin it into something that could be constructive and helpful to your executive team.

Building your emotional intelligence is not a one-and-done training. It’s an ongoing process that you can practice with every interaction you have.