FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
Welcome back to Count Me In. I'm your host, Adam Larson, and today you're going to hear how emotional intelligent plays such a key role in the success of management accountants. Mitch spoke with Doug Boyle, the accounting department chair at the University of Scranton about this topic. Doug also serves as the director of the doctorate in business administration program, the nonprofit league program and the high school business scholars program. He is an award-winning researcher and teacher and recently researched and wrote about the components of emotional intelligence as they relate to accounting and finance professionals. Let's hear him explain what it means to be an emotionally intelligent accountant.
So today we're looking to talk about the emotionally intelligent accountant. And I would first like to kick things off and ask you how important is it for finance professionals to have emotional intelligence?
Yeah. Research has shown that a financial managers who have mastered emotional intelligence are the ones who typically reach the highest levels of the organization. For example, a chief financial officers along with, you know, superior technical skills. What really sets them apart from their peer group is that their ability to master emotional intelligence and connect with individuals. And there's several research studies that support that. So it's really important if one wants to advance especially to the higher ranks of an organization that they engage in and starting emotional intelligence in developing themselves and that area.
And I think this is a good opportunity to really establish a common understanding for the rest of our conversation here. I know you mentioned connecting with others, you know, but how do you actually define emotional intelligence?
Yeah, emotional intelligence is a pretty complicated construct and we'll talk about the components later on from a high level. It's really someone's ability and capability to be aware of their own emotions and control those emotions and express their emotions in a way that facilitates strong interpersonal relationship with others. So for example, if I'm a CFO and I'm presenting to a group of analysts, it's very important for me to connect with them and really, express trust in confidence in a way that makes them believe, you know what I'm saying? Makes me credible, makes me convincing. So it's really all around controlling an individual's emotions, understanding emotions of others, and being able to manage those emotions too to build very strong lasting trustful relationships.
Well, you just kicked off that answer right there with my next question. I know a little bit about emotional intelligence, but I'm hoping you can kind of identify and define the components that go along with emotional intelligence.
Yeah, there's four major areas and you don't have to master all the areas at once. Some of us are stronger in some areas naturally, and some of us have to work on other areas. The good thing about emotional intelligence is everybody could work on it and you get better. So there's four really big buckets with subcomponents. I'll walk through them, pretty briefly, but, you know, we could spend more time talking about individual ones later if you want. Now the first one is self-awareness. So that has two components, which is emotional awareness. So are we aware of our emotions and how we're reacting in a given situation? Next one is self-confidence under any self-awareness. So am I somebody who's confident in myself, somebody who makes people around me more comfortable because they believe I'm confident in what I'm doing and why I'm saying so that's the first component. The second component is self management. So then there's a little more, elements here. The first one is self control. So when I'm under pressure, am I able to maintain, control and control my emotions in a way that are effective instead of destructive? A second is trustworthiness. So am I somebody who delivers on what I say I'm going to do, can I be relied on and dependable? And that's a big part of emotional intelligence. Next one is is conscientiousness. So am I somebody who follows up, am I somebody who is into the details enough to make sure things are getting done without being a micromanager? But I need to be conscientious. Next component is adaptability. So am I somebody who could adapt the situation or am I rigid and I try to solve all problems the same way every time? Cause maybe that was successful for me in the past, but it would probably be limiting in the future. And then the last one is innovation under self-management, which is am I somebody who's always questioning the status quo and trying to figure out new and better ways of doing things. So self management has the most components. The last two components are social awareness, which is empathy. This is really important, especially for accountants because as accountants, sometimes we tend to be very analytical. where in business it's very important to show empathy towards your employees, empathy towards your shareholders, empathy towards your lenders or bankers to really let them know that you care about them and their interests as well as the company's interest. So empathy is one that's very important for accountants. And sometimes it's an area where, you know, there could be some skill development. last one under social awareness is organizational awareness. And this one is when you tend to need, when you get higher up in the ranks. So, not only do I understand my own emotions and my little group around me, but do I understand the entire organization and the various cultures and protocols across different geographic boundaries? And how do I respond in those different areas. The last bucket is relationship management. And in a lot of these are very important when you get to the higher level. So for example, the first component is influence. So am I able to be convincing and get folks to move in a certain direction that you know, I need for them to move forward, you know, a company's success or organizational success and how do I do in a way where I bring them along where they're part of the decision making as opposed to me just, you know, mandating orders. Next is conflict management. Cause as we could just senior management is lots of conflicts between divisions, between employees, maybe conflicts with the vendors or even competitors. How do we manage that conflict in a way that's productive and that's, you know, destructive or, cannibalizing, the situation. Next one is, teamwork as again, as you get higher, your teams get bigger. So we gotta be able to manage all those elements of teamwork, leadership and communication. So as you can see there's, there's four major buckets, lots of sub pieces and when we try to train people, we don't have the more on everything at once cause it's kind of overwhelming. What we would do is do a self assessment and then work in areas that we think are most important first. But as you could see to master all these areas, it really does take a full career plan and a long time to develop. And you know, we could always improve.
So I know here at Ima we have the management accounting competency framework. We bucket everything in these domains. And very similarly we have all these competencies that fall underneath. And very similar to what you just said, you know, we have a self assessment where individuals can go through and identify where the skills gap really is. I'm just curious from your experience and those who you've worked with in emotional intelligence, is there a particular skillset that you recognize as a kind of the foundation? Something that if somebody has this, they have an opportunity or the ability to advance through all of these different components of emotional intelligence a little bit faster maybe than others? I don't know if, certain people you work with demonstrate certain abilities more often than others.
Yeah, and I'm glad you mentioned that a day IMA a framework because when we did our research, we tied these into the framework and that framework is an outstanding way to try to approach these because interpersonal emotional intelligence skills were identified in several of the areas of the framework. To answer your question, when we did research in this area, we, surveyed practicing, financial professionals all the way from new professionals up to partners and CFOs. And we really did ask them which one of these are most important at different career levels. So, for example, when you're a junior accountant, these skills are more important or less important than when you advance. So what we found is across the board there are three or four (Im not sure if he says “or” or it is supposed to be just “four”)skill sets that were important no matter what level you're on. So we probably would recommend you focus there first. And those were self control. That in with self control means is that you're able to put your own emotions and individual interests aside and you're able to look at problems in a way that is objective in a way that's going to end up in a result. So that self control was deemed actually between the second to fifth highest ranked elements depending on what level you're at. Trustworthiness was the most important element across every level. So for financial professionals, you gotta really work on trustworthiness first, I would think. Cause that continues and as you get higher levels name becomes more important. So there's lots of practical things you could do to work on that. But, number one is really making sure you're listening to people and you're making commitments that you could deliver on and that you deliver on those commitments. Cause when we further investigate what makes a financial manager trustworthy is that we provide a lot of information to people and that they don't want that information to be at all overly optimistic or overly negative. They want information from financial professionals that they can have confidence and reflects reality as best as possible and that they deliver on what they say. So that's probably the most important one. The other, the second most important one was communication and communication takes a lot of forms for accountants is there's verbal communication along with that comes body language. So what's their body language like when we're communicating to a client or to a banker or lender? There's written communication, which is very important, especially for younger people coming up because research shows that writing skills are on the decline for younger professionals because they're growing up in a (he stuttered on saying world but I think you can take word out) world where they kind of write shorter than in prior generations and maybe they don't focus as much on their grammar and writing professionally. So communication was number two. And then leadership skills. So, are you able to energize a group? Are you able to communicate a clear message? Are you able to move a group towards results? So those four areas and all the components, I said they were ranked in the top among the top for all levels. In addition to that by level if you're a supervisor, cause we asked skills by each level. In addition to those four skills, teamwork came up as number three for a supervisor. So early in your career people want to really see that you're a team player and that you could work with a team and that makes sense because you're usually working with lots of different people and you just developing your skills. So I would add teamwork to a supervisor level. For manager included those four again as in the top, with the addition of conscientiousness. Cause I think people look at the managers as the ones who are making sure things are getting done. So in addition to those four, if you're a manager, you got to really make sure that you're reviewing work, your team is producing quality work cause you're really the gatekeeper between the, you know, the staff and supervisors in the executive level. So they really depend on you and make sure things are right and they're not going to be embarrassed by an error or something like that. And at the executive and partner, two skills actually popped up also as very high. One was organizational awareness, which makes sense. Cause if you're an executive or a partner, now you're working across the broader organization. So as you're advancing to those levels, you gotta make sure you spend a lot of time understanding the broader organization, what's the culture like, what are the protocols and how do we operate in that. And then lastly, influence became much more important as you became an executive level. So those kinds of negotiation skills and how you convince people to move in a certain direction. So in the article we wrote, we have all these skills laid out and importance by level, but, but that's an overall thumbnail sketch of where to focus. So your question was very insightful because you can't attack all this at once. So, you know, if you follow that roadmap and slowly start working up, you'll develop the skills by the time you reached a level that you aspire to reach.
It's really interesting listening to all of this. I think it could probably be pretty easily argued that the latter skills that you discussed, you know, teamwork, conscientiousness, organizational awareness, the influence, these are skills really that I believe are probably developed more through experience. Right? And getting the opportunity to develop these skills and use them on the job. However the skills that you said kind of translate no matter what the level is a self-controlled trust, communication, leadership, I think these are actual skills that people can focus on and develop on their own. So for our listeners, if you're interested in developing these foundational skills, regardless of what level you're at, how would you recommend going about learning the self-controlled trust, communication, leadership, and ultimately evolving their emotional intelligence for the later stages of their career?
Yeah. Well we would recommend, well, first of all, the IMA leadership Academy, provides upstanding opportunities to do a lot of those because some of this, you're going to practice individually and then some of it is you're going to have to get out there and practice and work. So we would recommend that once you're comfortable to test some of these skills is actually go out, in those seven environments because they're safer usually than at work. Because at work it's your job and you're being evaluated. So if you're going to test yourself in a building, maybe a new skill, you might want to do it in more of a networking environment at an IMA Leadership Academy event or something like that. So we recommend you practicing a lot. But a few comments around how to approach those core skills is really self reflection. Cause we find it is most folks don't focus on these things and honestly assess themselves. So we would recommend you really sit down and you study three or four of these and you really give an honest assessment of how well you think you are doing at it. And to do that we recommend you reach out to a few people you really trust. And it could be family members cause they know you very well. Or it could be a friend you'd have, you've had for years or colleagues and really ask them to be very honest because you're doing this for developmental purpose and say, how trustworthy do you believe I am in the work setting or at home? Because typically the way you work, you behave at work is similar to home and you'll pick up cues from them if they're honest with you. And they might say, well gee, sometimes you do overstate what you could get accomplished and it really causes some trust issues cause when you state things people discount it to some degree. So we would say, A, self reflection, B, get feedback from people you really trust who are going to be courageous enough to give you a good feedback. You don't want to ask people who are just going to tell you you're wonderful at everything cause none of us are wonderful at everything. And then practice. I would practice and you could practice it and safe settings too, like I said and networking type of events where it's not as critical as if you're practicing, you know, with your boss. So, those are the three basic approaches we would recommend.
Well this has been very insightful and wonderful information to share. You know, I kind of look at this as, we're doing a lot of research into the future of work and kind of where the accounting and finance professional is, in the industry today. And you know, the technical skills, the technology and analytic skills obviously are huge, but emotional intelligence just continues to come up. So by offering this kind of background and foundation on the topic for our listeners, I think is fantastic. I'm just wondering, you know, I'm sure people can listen to this and say, I can do this or I can do that. Like you were saying, a little self reflection, but do you have any specific cases or examples maybe that will truly illustrate what the benefits of emotional intelligence really is for an accountant?
Yeah, we do a lot of research in this area. And first of all, what you said about the more technical skills, that is somewhat concerning because when we look at the literature, mostly everything that's coming out is around, you know, getting tech skills, which is extremely important for your career. But our research shows, again, that the ones who reached its highest level have emotional intelligence. So, you know, we're a little concerned that accountants are getting bombarded with all this technology and they need to get that skill set up that they might ignore, you know, the softer skills, which are the ones, that are really important to retire level. So with that said, you know, we look at CFOs for example. So we look at chief financial officers or personal, public companies and compare them to their peers who haven't reached those levels. And what we find is there's not a lot of differences in the tech skills. So between them and their peers, the certifications they hold are usually very similar. They're advanced degrees they hold, they're very similar, you know, their technical background. So you know, we find lots of similarities there. When we look at our differences, they're usually in the areas of emotional intelligence. So for example, if I'm a mid level accountant, I may or probably very likely have this equal technical skills as the CFO, but what enabled him or her to be the CFO is they stand out in emotional intelligence skills. So, that case study really demonstrated that, you know, it's okay to be at any level in accounting. But if you aspire to be that top position, your technical skills aren't going to get you there. They expect you to have technical skills. They all do. It's the emotional intelligence that sets you apart in that, that study really demonstrated that. So we really recommend to our students here at the University of Scranton is we work a lot on emotional intelligence and we have an accounting communications course and other type of soft skills classes to help prepare them for that. Cause we, you know, we hope our students aspire to reach those levels. But, that case study really, makes it very obvious as to where you need to focus. You want to get to those types of levels.
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