A business figure watering a tree full of red love heart symbols of different sizes with a red red watering can which illustrates growing emotional superpower

What purpose does emotional intelligence serve for professional accountants?

There is now a greater focus on bringing one's 'whole self' to work. This is in response to the past tendency to believe, mistakenly, that it is necessary to have a dual identity, one for work and one outside work, which can create needless blockages and wasted potential from people suppressing their natural styles, energies and talents.

It's important to critically reflect on the value embedded in emotions as we look ahead in a digital age. In a sense, it is the elephant in the room, the potential of which is often not recognised.

"To the casual observer, emotions and accountancy can seem like unrelated concepts from two separate worlds. But to succeed in a fast-evolving digital age, professional accountants need a rounded set of skills that go beyond technical knowledge, and these skills include emotional intelligence."

Helen Brand

EQ vs technology

Technology has and will continue to have a significant impact on the way accountants work. Therefore, the ability to understand the value embedded in emotions is particularly important as we look ahead in a digital age.

The technology impact can be articulated along six areas, namely: change readiness, increased diversity, ethics and beliefs, cognition and learning, human-machine interaction and shifting power.

  • Change readiness: empathy is needed for dealing with technology-related job-losses and a growth mindset can overcome fear of change.
  • Increased diversity: perspective taking facilitates understanding the viewpoints of a wider pool of stakeholders, who are made accessible through remote working and technology tools.
  • Ethics and beliefs: these enable one to advocate an ethical approach to digital adoption, and self-knowledge enables one to understand one's own beliefs when setting boundaries and ensuring quality of life in an 'always-on' environment.
  • Cognition and learning: a growth mindset will help to challenge cognitive tribalism (eg where people congregate in online environments of like-minded individuals) and to develop the self-knowledge to understand what to prioritise, among a lot of 'noise', in an era of fast reactions and high volume.
  • Human–machine interaction: EQ is needed to prevent loss of control (for instance, through outsourcing decision making) amid the increasing role of machines, and a growth mindset enables active engagement with, and deriving value from, interactions with technological tools (yielding insight, not just reporting).
  • Shifting power: EQ has a role in the softer (rather than directive) forms of influencing needed in a less hierarchical, digital workplace, and a growth mindset enables one to engage with new ways of working that may challenge the status quo.

All emotional competencies are required in a balanced way to deal with these impact areas, with the growth mindset featuring in many instances.

EQ is not a magic trick – it can be learned

On several emotional competency elements, our study showed that more experience meant higher scores. This suggests that EQ can be developed and improved over time. The more you focus on it, the better you can get, much like developing a muscle for improving physical performance.

A growth mindset matters

The growth mindset - feeling comfortable in one's ability to overcome obstacles and challenge one's own identity, and to extend oneself into new areas - emerged as a key enabler for the development of EQ. It's a point of high leverage, ie improvements here can help with improvements across all emotional competencies more generally. So if there is one area to nurture in your EQ it is this.

ACCA author, Narayanan Vaidyanathan