Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Feel It All: How Emotional Intelligence Fosters Strong Leadership

Rebecca Ackers, MD, UK & Nordics at Magnite explains how embracing dreaded emotions can boost your EQ, build stronger teams and improve your leadership.

Adtech is a business driven by disruption. It’s one thing to helm change in technological advancements and industry standards and another to embrace disruption – especially disruptive emotions – in your own life. 

This was something I found myself musing in preparation for a Women in Programmatic Network event, where I was asked to give a keynote speech about my career. 

My initial response should have been excitement. Instead, a negative internal monologue screamed, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s so scary. I’m not sure I’m good enough!’ I realised I was doing it again. I was potentially letting fear and self-doubt get in the way of doing something quite exciting. 

While my fear was hard to work through, that visceral emotional response helped form my discussion for that event. I wanted to explore how embracing emotions has helped shape my leadership style. 

Here are three upshots of ‘getting emotional’ in our work lives and how we can use our feelings to build empathy and the EQ (emotional intelligence) necessary to lead strong teams. 

Emotion Is a Compass

We’ve all felt the powerful emotions of anger, frustration and fear. 

A competitive work environment, where we pursue big goals and solve complex problems, can bring out those difficult emotions. Although we’re conditioned to cast such responses aside, becoming aware of them can be very useful. Disruptive feelings can reveal where your expectations aren’t matching reality and show you a better professional path forward.

For example, after university, I moved with my partner to London and needed a job quickly (I didn’t want to be dependent on him or anyone else). So, I took a job working for a start-up programmatic trading desk when RTB barely existed!

Next, I moved to Google and then spent a few years at an agency. I thoroughly enjoyed and valued my experiences early on in my career. The knowledge I gained was invaluable and they helped me realise the work environments and cultures which most resonated with me.

My experiences helped me identify that I thrived in a culture with an inclusive and supportive structure, and a healthy work/life balance. I started to look for the right environment in my career, which led me to join Rubicon Project (now Magnite) – an ideal fit.

However, if I hadn’t reflected on my feelings, I would have never gained clarity on the type of environment I wanted to work in. The takeaway is that emotions can sometimes reveal pain points or an opportunity for a change. They can be unlikely guides towards a better direction. 

Don’t ignore them. 

Fear Indicates Opportunity

While at Rubicon Project, I worked a few years as an account director, and then a job opportunity came up for a global seller role. I almost didn’t go for it. 

I nearly let that fear and negative internal monologue (‘Is it the right time for me? Would I be good enough?’) stop me from jumping at it. I was afraid I wasn’t ready for the role. Then I realised my fear was telling me something. 

If you reframe your fear response, it can actually tell you a couple of things:

  1. It shows that you care about doing a good job – and that’s really valuable to the company!
  2. You’re about to get out of your comfort zone, and that’s the only way you grow and develop.

If something scares you because it feels too big, too great or too much, it can mean you’re facing the great opportunity that comes with something unknown. 

I’ve learnt not to let my fear response prevent me from recognising my worth and jumping at career opportunities. Seven years after joining Rubicon Project, I’ve evolved with the company to become managing director at Magnite, with an incredible team working together in exciting ways.

Emotional Authenticity Builds Powerful Teams

As my career developed, I continued to take on new opportunities. Three years ago, I moved from the Global role into the Seller lead role. That move was at once exciting and challenging. I went from being in my own bubble, responsible for my individual performance, to being thrust into a work-family with their own emotions, challenges and hopes for success.

Leadership is especially challenging because there is no one ‘right’ way to lead a team in our evolving industry. Leaders can learn as much from their team as those who are junior to navigate this flux. My aim as a leader is to create an environment that encourages full ownership and collaboration.

However, difficult conversations are required to foster that type of open, creative, and communicative environment. A key attribute here is empathy – people aren’t cogs in a machine, and their outputs, needs and emotions will vary day-to-day.

It’s not only important that leaders learn to harness their own emotions but also give others the emotional space to be themselves – whatever that looks like for them.

The Upshot of Empathy

Ultimately, tapping into your emotions at work permits others to do the same and builds empathy and trust. It also makes you more self-aware. I’m an introvert, a bit of a control freak and like to keep my feelings close to the vest. 

However, emotions can be our greatest teachers. They point us towards what we want, push us towards great opportunities, and build strong teams because they’re flexible and open. While often cast as a flaw, particularly for women, ‘getting emotional’ can be the secret sauce to driving incredible success.