Ekta Vyas, Deputy Chief Human Resources Officer at UC Davis Health and Adjunct Management Faculty at SJSU, College of Business, was interviewed by Adam Torres of Mission Matters Innovation Podcast.
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With a career spanning 25 years, Ekta Vyas’s mission is one of strong, consistent leadership. As a transformational leader, what matters most to her is thoughtful, systems-oriented decision making that facilitates collective journeys and maximizes the potential of the workforce.
Can you tell me a little about your journey into leadership and transformation?
Vyas says her work in transformational change began as a gradual—and almost accidental—process, building upon itself as it went along. Before stepping into full-time leadership roles, she solved a range of issues for reputable companies like IBM as a management consultant. Over time, she took up transformational leadership roles, leveraging her talent for attracting and retaining team members as well as keeping them engaged and motivated as a team working towards some challenging goals.
Along her path to earning her Ph.D, she studied associations between leaders’ emotional intelligence and the work engagement of their staff during transformational change and found explicit links between leaders’ levels of emotional intelligence and their employees’ engagement levels; this, she says, deeply informs her work today in the realm of transformational change.
What do you think is the current state of leadership and transformation after everything we’ve been through with the pandemic?
Vyas says organizations are pondering how leadership needs to change as we adapt to the ways the pandemic has transformed the world. She notes the importance of delineating context from content: the content of leadership—i.e., what makes an effective leader—doesn’t change over time, but the context in which leaders operate will most certainly change. As that occurs, it tests their abilities and requires them to lean into their strengths while evolving to meet what’s being asked of them.
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As a Forbes influencer, you’ve written thought leadership articles and given keynotes on culture and change. What’s your overall approach to leadership and transformation?
“Some things can only be learned in a storm,” Vyas says, noting that tough times often call for a revisitation of value propositions and lessons to be gained as organizations are tested in new ways. The process of transformational change varies from one to another depending on what’s testing them; healthcare, for example, has been called upon in an unprecedented way over the past two years, while some other areas of business experienced fewer pressures, or were impacted by challenges of a different nature.
Some elements, she explains, can make or break an organization’s culture. Leaders can have vision and strategy, for example, but it’s the workforce itself that ultimately gets the business to the goal. Its culture acts as an enabler, defining the attitude, assumptions, and beliefs at work and affecting how things are done from day to day. If leaders are unaware of the culture that governs their workforce, it can be disastrous; that’s why, she explains, emotional intelligence and the ability to rethinking or reimagining leadership and transformation are both essential to growth and success.
Given all the industry shifts of late, what’s the importance of trust in the equation between leaders and the workforce?
Vyas notes that the relationship between employer and employee is the real value created through leadership; there’s always the question of whether or not people are being put first, and what that means in the process of reimagining, reshaping, or renewal. Dropping the ball on the human element in the day-to-day pursuit of achieving business goals can resurface—and has resurfaced in recent years—in ways some leaders may not have previously imagined.
A difference now, she says, is the fact that the C suite is having to give up old models of leadership that leave out the element of lived experience. Value-based leadership has to involve more than just a concept, she notes; it needs to be steeped in reality, reflection, and respect for those doing the work.
Your doctoral research investigated how a leader’s emotional intelligence can be the key to transformational change. What are your current thoughts on leadership EQ…has it gone up or declined?
Vyas notes that we’re living in an era of unlearning and new learning, which can serve to heighten emotional intelligence. She says there’s a pressing need now, more than ever, for leaders to bring self-awareness to the table; a lot of transformation occurring right now is more than just a business shift, but really, encompasses wholesale social change as well. This, of course, reshapes how business is done.
An intelligent leader who learns from storms “will stop and reflect and pause and say, ‘I was apprehensive about certain things. Guess what? I’m probably over those apprehensions now. And I know how to manage better and how to lead better.’” she explains. “Emotionally intelligent leaders will not look back to the old mental models but look forward.”
Empathy, she stresses, is an essential component in leadership. The brains of people are wired individually and differently when it comes to empathy. The beauty of emotional intelligence science is that skills can be acquired, and people can evolve.
What’s next for you?
Ekta Vyas is a featured author in an upcoming book, contributing her expertise on leadership and transformation. She’ll continue doing speaking engagements, publishing her work as a Forbes influencer, and serving on the board of the International Association for Human Resource Information Management.