Leadership Matters | Spring 2020
The Case for Upskilling Your EQ
Career risks exist for accounting and finance professionals who forget to develop emotional intelligence alongside technology skills.
Jon Lokhorst, CPA, ACC
Executive Leadership Coach, Lokhorst Consulting
Upskilling is on a rapid ascent in Google search trends and even as a hashtag on social media platforms. The concept is now gaining traction in the accounting industry, with PwC
announcing a commitment to spend $3 billion on upskilling its 275,000 employees over
four years. That followed Accenture’s announcement that it would spend $1 billion annually
on upskilling, and Amazon’s reveal of its Upskilling 2025 Pledge.
Although the literal dictionary meaning of upskilling includes any worker training, the term
typically refers to the development of technology skills required by digital transformation
in the marketplace. And for good reason—the number of jobs disrupted by bots, artificial
intelligence, and other technologies is destined to climb.
Beware, though: the drive to develop technology skills may inadvertently leave crucial
people skills—or soft skills—behind, which could be devastating for CPAs who lean heavily
toward the technical side to begin with but need solid soft skills to thrive and advance in
their careers. To that end, I contend that emotional intelligence (EQ) is an essential people
skill to develop while you’re upskilling on the technology side.
Daniel Goleman, whose 1995 book, “Emotional Intelligence,” introduced the concept into
the corporate world, asserts that EQ’s contribution to leadership success is more than
double the impact of IQ and technical skills. EQ is perhaps best illustrated by an example
of a leader who demonstrates a lack of it. Consider the following interaction between a
supervisor and an employee in a fast-growing organization:
Supervisor: I’m checking on the status of the ABC project. As you know, the
final report is due in two weeks. It’s a critical project, and I need to know that
you’re on track to get it done. It seems like we’re running behind.
Employee: I understand the deadline, and I’m working on getting the report
done on time. My daughter had a severe medical situation pop up earlier this
week. We spent one night in the hospital and haven’t gotten much sleep since
then. We’re trading off staying home with her while she gets better. I’m still
working on the project. It’s just taking a bit longer than usual.
Supervisor: That’s good to know. When did you say you’ll have the report ready?
In the haste for results, the supervisor overlooked the emotional wear-and-tear of the
employee’s family situation and its potential impact on completing the project. A single pattern of such behavior drives up the risk of turnover. I wish this
were a hypothetical example, but it wasn’t. This situation was
shared by a participant after one of my leadership presentations.
The Institute for Health and Human Potential defines EQ as “the
ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions
and to recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of
others.” EQ requires an appreciation for the impact of our emotions
on other people, the impact of their emotions on us, and the ability
to navigate interactions with others effectively.
In his best-selling book, “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” Dr. Travis
Bradberry describes EQ as having four dimensions, which can be
summarized as follows:
• Self-awareness is the ability to recognize your own emotions and
how they affect your response to the situation at hand. It includes
being able to understand the impact of your emotions on those
• Self-management is the ability to leverage the awareness of your
emotions to respond to situations in positive and productive
ways. It includes an understanding of how circumstances or
actions trigger your emotional responses.
• Social awareness is the ability to recognize the emotions of
others and how these emotions influence their responses to
situations. Empathy is a crucial component of social awareness.
• Relationship management is the ability to use your awareness of
the emotions of others to manage your interactions with them.
It’s essential to building healthy relationships.
While IQ is relatively static across a person’s lifetime, EQ can be
developed and improved continuously if you make a conscious,
focused effort to do so.
Your first step to increasing your EQ should be assessing your
current EQ. There are several valid EQ appraisal tools on the market,
the majority of which are offered online with immediate results.
Bradberry’s book includes access to an online assessment that
generates an in-depth report with scores for each of the four EQ
dimensions, along with lessons and strategies to improve in each
area. One unique feature of this tool is the ability to complete the
assessment a second time within six months to gauge your progress.
One of my leadership coaching clients, a healthcare CFO,
used the Bradberry assessment masterfully to improve his EQ.
Dissatisfied with his initial scores, he created a plan to address
his EQ gaps, which resulted in new behavior patterns and a
substantial improvement in all four EQ dimensions during his
Gaining a better understanding of what triggers unproductive
emotional responses in you is one of the most critical factors in
improving your EQ. These triggers can come in a variety of forms:
certain people, places, words, or circumstances that get under your
skin. They’re hot buttons that trigger a response that doesn’t
represent your best self and diminishes your leadership ability.
Let’s say you hate being caught off guard or unprepared. When
asked a question or for an opinion, you want time to think through
your answer or to research before formulating your response.
But one of your clients or colleagues is notorious for regularly
putting you on the spot in meetings with questions that demand
This scenario is loaded with triggers and stressors. Knowing that
your buttons are likely to be pushed, you could visualize the
situation ahead of time. Based on your past experiences, anticipate
the types of questions that may arise and prepare accordingly. You
could also prepare comments in advance that could keep you from
feeling caught flat-footed and buy some time for you to respond.
What’s important about learning your triggers is that it allows you
to better anticipate when your EQ is likely to be tested. When the
trigger arrives, practice the power of pause and recognize this is
an opportunity to shine as your best self. Rather than a hasty
reaction, choose a thoughtful response that enables you to
contribute value to the person or situation. When you can do this,
you’re not only on your way to developing your EQ, you’re on your
way to becoming a better leader