Digital transformation typically evokes images of technology itself, such as mobile devices, software and hardware, and the cloud. However, my company’s research has shown that these projects require more than just solid technical underpinnings. Instead, the emotional intelligence of leadership drives success in digital transformation. Businesses leading the way in digital transformation value the role these leadership skills play in their journey.

At first glance, those findings are a bit surprising because digital transformation efforts are focused on automation and integration. However, making the most of new technology and innovating requires a people-first perspective. CIOs and CTOs who succeed in digital transformation have the emotional intelligence and communication skills to build new connections and foster creative new solutions.

Based on my experience, four principles can help leaders promote a culture of innovation and collaboration during the digital transformation process. Use these concepts to help you focus on emotional intelligence and improve your communication skills:

1. Practice emotional self-regulation.

Begin by becoming aware of your own emotional state. When you feel an emotional reaction to a situation, think through what you are feeling and why. Once you gain the skill of awareness, you can start to regulate your emotional state to help guide the feelings of those around you.

This technique has helped me determine how to support my teams more effectively. For example, if I recognize a lot of tension and agitation in the people I work with, I actively try to present the opposite emotions and exude a sense of calm.

2. Create the space for comfortable idea-sharing.

Anyone can welcome great ideas, but it takes a high degree of emotional intelligence to entertain ideas that might not seem immediately valuable. Ideas that aren’t impressive initially can become the next innovative change with just one or two refinements. View every idea as an opportunity and a jumping-off point.

To get your team sharing new ideas comfortably, make it clear early on in your digital transformation that hearing different and innovative ideas will be a priority in the journey. Then, when your team delivers, consider each idea and stay committed to being open.

3. Highlight employees’ domain experience.

Another strategy for drawing out more contributions from your team is to highlight someone’s experience when asking questions. Make them feel that their unique input is valuable to the conversation.

Get specific with your questions and why you are directing them toward one employee in particular. For example, if someone presents an idea, you could turn to someone in another department and ask, “What would it take to make this work in your department?” That kind of prompt can help generate a flow of practical next steps.

Note that the question is, “What would it take?” and not simply, “Will it work?” Often, an employee’s first thought might be that it couldn’t possibly work with the way things are now. True innovation requires changes to existing processes and workflows. By asking what it would take, you open the door to new possibilities.

4. Validate emotional challenges.

Leading with emotional intelligence requires tenacity. You must acknowledge negative emotional responses from your team and address them with a mindset of continual problem-solving and improvement. This mindset should be more like that of a partner than of a manager.

For example, assume your team is facing a challenge it doesn’t know how to solve. Asking team members how they would fix it is likely to produce pressure, anxiety, and fear. Instead, with a partnership approach, you could say, “Let’s break this problem down together.”

When your team members realize you’re in the problem-solving trenches right beside them, you build a more collaborative and open culture, encouraging employees to work together to overcome challenges.

Successful digital transformation is about much more than digital change. It’s about shifting mindsets, being open, and driving innovation — and emotion is closely tied to each of those elements. Leaders who value and prioritize emotional intelligence and effective communication skills will see faster, smoother progress in their digital transformation journeys.

Looking for more information to help your organization along its digital transformation journey? Download CTG’s “Acceleration ’21: The State of Digital Transformation” report to find out how leaders can influence the success or failure of digital initiatives.