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  • Writer's pictureTom Bryant

COVID-19 new normal requires Digital Emotional Intelligence for leaders

Welcome to our workplace new normal. Never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen such a dramatic shift to remote working and rapid creation of digital workplace cultures. In all my years of advising governments and training on digital transformation, digital leadership and culture change, ‘digital’ seemed like an innovation or a transformation that needed to be pushed, not pulled. It seemed to be a ‘slow burn’ where teams needed to be convinced of the benefits and slowly guided to new ways of working.

All that changed with COVID-19, world-wide lockdown and an immediate need to flip to working across digital platforms. This living case study we all find ourselves a part of is fascinating for a Digital Transformation and Culture Change specialist like me, but time for reflection is short and we must get on and ‘do’! Never before has there been such an urgent need to learn successful digital collaboration and leadership skills.

Back in 2018, I wrote a blog around leaders needing Digital Emotional Intelligence (DEQ). Well, never before has that been more true! I’ll repeat the key points of that blog here and those messages should resound more than ever under our COVID-19 new normal.

In the 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) report ‘The Future of Jobs’, Emotional Intelligence was listed as one of the most important job skills that employees must possess to become competitive in the global digital economy. We also know that ‘all things digital’ is an increasing imperative for any leader today, and that was even before COVID-19. This leads us to the new leadership development challenge of having Digital Emotional Intelligence (DEQ).

A term that was popularised in the 1990s, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) can be described as our ability to discern, comprehend, and manage our own emotions as well as those of others. For instance, individuals with EQ are capable of handling their own emotions when under stress or resolving conflicts among team members. Although technical skills such as coding and data analytics are vital in the digital economy, surveys have shown that many employers tend to hire candidates who are emotionally intelligent. This is due to the candidates’ capability to handle stress, collaborate with others, be receptive to feedback, make better decisions, and other EQ related skills, which are necessary for an organisation to succeed. Digital skills and EQ are combining to make the types of digital leaders critical for today’s technological world.

We are learning more everyday 'why' EQ is important, now let’s establish exactly ‘what’ is Digital Emotional Intelligence (DEQ). After several years now specialising in digital transformation and digital leadership development, I’ve seen the emergence of vital new leadership skills and the growing importance of EQ in a digital world. Transformation is happening, like it or not. We are now maturing digitally (well, I hope). But, what really is this new kid on the block — DEQ?

If (EQ) is the ability to understand, empathise and negotiate with other people, then DEQ is the ability to apply EQ in our increasingly digital, connected environments. The infographic above breaks out 9 of the key DEQ themes like Culture Resiliency (adaptation & resilience as work & societal norms change) and Digital Wellness (balancing technology with healthy boundaries & emotional health). There is no shortage out there of research, development programmes, social media, blogs, etc., all about the qualities of digital leadership. They all basically boil down to the need for leaders to be agile, connected and developed (or in other words, be a lifelong learner). These are the leadership competency results we want. How to get there is through developing DEQ components like Change Capacity (positive attitude, flexibility & openness to change), Digital Dexterity (knowledge of emerging technologies and use of digital tools) and Data Artistry (ability to visualize & manage data for new insights).

Every organisation and world government I work with on digital transformation keeps proving what’s at the heart of DEQ. Most of you who know me, have heard my mantra now for years and I stand by it now:

‘Digital is about people, not technology. It’s about emotional intelligence, not artificial intelligence.’ – Tom Bryant

Digital leaders are made, not born. All aspects of DEQ can be developed. Breaking out the digital leadership conundrum into clearly actionable aspects of DEQ is a clear, concise and rapid path to attaining these skills. And ‘rapid’ is the key to adjusting to our workplace new normal.


Tom is a global consultant and advisor to the private and public sectors on Leadership Development, Digital Transformation and Environmental Sustainability. He combines 20+ years of collective experience in Business and Digital Transformation with Sustainability Transformation to partner with businesses and governments to radically evolve and make a positive local and global impact.

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