How to Transition from Being an Excellent Individual Contributor to Excellent Leader of Others

by Danielle Foster

CEO Spotloght

You’ve become the subject matter expert in your field at your company and now you’re being asked to lead a team of others. In addition to leading by example and building plans for your team, as you progress in your career it will be critically important to develop excellent interpersonal management skills. Developing these skills takes a true understanding of yourself, empathy for others, and understanding of how to leverage the strengths of each to achieve desired results. We’ve all heard that those with a higher EI/EQ have higher success rates than those with a higher IQ. Emotional Intelligence (EI)/Emotional quotient (EQ) is the capacity of individuals to recognize their own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.

As women, we should take advantage of our EI/EQ strengths. Women are more empathetic, we can see things from another perspective, and we (on the whole) have less ego. We are more detail-oriented, better listeners, more verbal, and we can take directions and run with them. All these add immeasurable value to a team! We need to tap into our empathetic natures and use these skills wisely instead of, for example, “taking things personally” or “assuming things are our fault” if a boss or a colleague seems angry. Women more frequently tend to read too much into what they are being told.

In the 90’s, I worked foe a CFIO who seemingly overnight had gotten very abrupt with me in our conversations. She seemed upset but I didn’t know why. I knew that the company had promoted me several times and that my work product was excellent, so I thought perhaps I had done something to offend her or made a big mistake of which I was unaware. My mind ran wild with possible horrible scenarios. After a few days of coming up with worst case scenarios. After a few days of coming up with worst scenarios, I thought the best approach would be grab the proverbial bull by the horns and simply ask her if I had done something wrong. I went into her office, closed the door, and asked her what if anything I had done wrong and what I could do to fix it. When I asked her, she looked over surprised and said, “You haven’t done anything at all. I’m upset with things that are going on in my life. I’m overwhelmed and I’m not sure what to do.” She went on to tell me that she had less accounting coursework than I had yet she had been promoted to CFO, was responsible for all accounting entries, and the transition fo her was a very stressful one. She apologized because she hadn’t realized how her own fears affected me and our team. The strange thing was that I hadn’t even considered that her abruptness stemmed from disappointment with herself but rather assumed it was me. How often do we read too much into what others say or how they act and project the negative onto ourselves?

To some EI/EQ comes naturally. For those where that’s not the case, you’ll need to invest your time developing you EI/EQ. I recommend reading the book Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee for inspiration.


Rosanna Hayden, CEO