Leadership: How to use emotional intelligence in practice

Camilla Rundberg is the creator of evenodds and the RQ app – an app designed to train leaders on acting with emotional intelligence at work using exercises aimed at increasing self-awareness, compassion and social courage.

Written by: Victoria Wæthing


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In this interview, she tells the story about how she decided to work on helping leaders become relational in their management style.

A quest for a new language

When Camilla Rundberg graduated from high school, her parents asked her what she wanted as a gift to mark the milestone. “Something inside me answered, almost as if a voice spoke before my consciousness. I wanted to learn a new language,” Camilla explains.

Her focus has always been, and still is, on learning; whether she is learning something new for herself, or to help others to learn something for them. Camilla says she believes life is a life-long learning journey, a quest, not a search. ‘Search’ is looking for something you think exists. ‘Quest’ is looking and learning about what you see.

“I learn from everybody and from every situation. I have three kids, and I have learned more about myself from them than from any self-help book I have read or any therapy session I went to.”

Work and studies have resulted in Camilla living in different cities throughout Germany, Switzerland and Italy for many years. During these periods she has experienced that how we live and think, varies from one culture to another, from one country to another.

In 2014 she read an internal post by the CFO at Accenture, where she was working at the time, where the CFO announced her reasons for resigning. She claimed reality had become too virtual for her and she decided to step down to find another work context, more physical and real life.

“Her words spoke directly to my inner voice which reminded me that I had been feeling the same. I just hadn’t done anything about it,” Camilla says. One year later, Camilla resigned and founded evenodds. She also started a four-year full-time PhD program at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Leadership is between people

How did you decide to work with leadership? 

“I see leadership as something that happens between people. How effective leadership is, is a matter of leaders’ ability to communicate and relate with other people out of their understanding of the world. Traditional leaders impose their worldview on others. I believe everybody has a valid point to bring forth and the leader’s job is to make that linguistic space available for everybody at work,” says Camilla.

No more gender-blind management

“Reality is changing fast for companies today. Whether we are bracing against climate crisis, global pandemics, or social movements such as BLM and #metoo, it is obvious that that business will play a big role in setting this world straight again. And we do not need more advice from traditional and gender-blind management literature from the 20th  century in this work.”

Camilla believes we need to rid ourselves of the stress-ridden organizations that wear people out at the age of 40; either because they work too much, or too little. We have to create a business life where men and women are given the same chances of growth and recognition.

We need courageous and compassionate leaders that can prototype a leadership that sees not only the person in front of him/her, but most of all the social power arrangement and structures that men and women are tangled up in and give them very different opportunities to perform and advance at work.

“Most leaders are blocked because of too much stress. The see only their own prefabricated ideas of people. These stressed-out leaders see only a gender, an age, a cultural background. And based on that very superficial screening, decides what s/he is good for. We need leaders that take the time to really see other people and who are ready to challenge them own prejudice against their own prefabricated ideas of others.”

Relational leaders

What constitutes relational leadership?

“Relational leaders are leaders who are able to critically self-reflect and who are curious to learn from others and speaks with rather than talking down to colleagues. I believe we need more relational leaders. We need less selfish leaders pursuing targets and results beneficial for them, but that comes with a big cost and price for others,” Camilla states. 

Camilla focused in her PhD on how we are all involved in constructing gender as we speak, casually and unintentionally, every day at work, how discrimination and inequality happens between people.

“Inclusive leadership is to me the ability to critically reflect about yourself and others, and not let decisions and judgements be guided by stereotypical thinking.”

“It takes more than one person to discriminate. But it is not always that the ‘discriminator’ discriminates on purpose. Often the ‘discriminated’ allows it to happen, consents to the discrimination, or decides to interpret something as discrimination. Wherever dynamics of inequality and discrimination comes from, I believe leaders are the ones best positioned today to call them out, attend to them and work to become role models for how relations at work can be inclusive, efficient, and healthy. That is why I work with leaders and why I have developed tools to help leaders muster courage and insight to make a change towards increased inclusion.”

Emotional intelligence 

What defines emotional intelligence and how should leaders include emotional intelligence into their leadership style?

“Emotions involve thinking. There is a lot of thinking behind emotions.” She continues, “Even more, there is a lot behind what we are thinking and feeling. Judgement of value, judgement of how important something is. Emotions, therefore, are always appraisals, evaluations. That said, I believe that emotions are important tellers of social relations and situations, and that the ability to appreciate one own’s and others’ feelings and emotions is a key for any leader that strives to juggle diversity of ages, genders, cultural backgrounds with clients and colleagues. A leader unable to grasp the feelings in a group, has less information to go by when managing the group.

“You can perform leadership in many ways. If you want to be a relevant leader, the people you want to lead need to be relevant to you, hence listen to what they say and sense their emotions,” Camilla explains.

An app aimed at helping leaders

What exactly is the RQ app?

“RQ is short for Relational Intelligence. RQ is a digital training tool to train five abilities of relational intelligence: Critical reflection – Compassion mindset - Caring conversations – Sense of belonging – Relational leadership. The app user is provided with a daily exercise that takes five minutes for 30 days straight. The exercises follow the methodology of Reflect – Connect – Relate.”

Camilla further explains, “This means that the first exercise is formulated to make the app user reflect intellectually about a diversity issue. The following day the exercise is focused on making the app users connect emotionally with a diversity issue. On the third day, the app user is provided with an exercise that promotes action, taking the insight and emotions from day 1 and 2 and put it into use, into action in the workplace. And this is how it continues for 30 days in a row, with every day a new exercise.”

What is the ultimate goal?

  • To infuse knowledge about how gender is casually and unnoticed and unintentionally, created in every social meeting, reproduced in every decision, present in every judgement. This drives culture, organizes business to women’s direct disadvantage.
  • To make leaders curious and courageous to try out new ways of leading so that men and women are groomed, developed, and challenged to the same condition.
  • To provide leaders with a language that helps them promote gender equality as a business asset and support gender equality change work.
  • To make leaders realize that this learning journey is fun, cool, enjoyable, and necessary. 

“The fun and enjoyable aspect is underpinned by the fact that I have developed a perfume to use during the daily reflections. As well as especially composed music to set the app user in the right mode; reflective, emotive/inward looking, or social/outward looking,” explains Camilla.

Leaders without self-awareness

In your experience, what are the biggest challenges that people face in regard to inclusiveness and emotional intelligence?

“There is only one challenge. Themselves.” 

According to Camilla, when leaders try to deepen and apply their emotional intelligence to improve inclusion in the companies they work, they forget to take a long hard look in the mirror. They constitute a challenge because they often lack self-awareness, and to the extent that they are not aware of the impact they have as leaders.

“It doesn’t matter if you are a low-key leader that barely opens your mouth or a yelling shark that bites off people’s head. If you are not aware of what kind of leader you are and the impact your behavior has on others, it is going to be v e r y difficult for you as a leader to sustain and promote any kind of change program,” Camilla says, “Let alone a gender equality change program.”

Diversity and inclusion have become important parameters for international companies – how can we use emotional intelligence tools to increase a sense of inclusion?

“For inclusion to happen beyond any specific bias, I think leaders need to get to know themselves better, soberly seize the impact they have on people around them in the company, build up courage and compassion to have the strength to level with all kinds of people in the organization.  I do not think of leaders as the only ones responsible for inclusion to happen in a company, but they do have a strategic key position. They have the mandate to direct and decide, and they can do that in a way that builds inclusion in the company.” •