Global communication expert Erica Dhawan shares her secrets –for those who will listen

Over the last decade, Erica Dhawan, a best-selling author, founder and chief executive officer of Cotential, a global business consultancy, has built an international reputation as an expert in connectional intelligence and digital communication – but at heart, she’s truly an insightful listener. 

Recently named as one of the top 50 Management Thinkers in the Thinkers50 global ranking of the top thought leaders, in 2023, Dhawan has brought her insights to Tampa Bay. And area companies are listening. 

Growing up introverted, and shy, in a bilingual, immigrant family in Pittsburgh, Dhawan has long been fascinated by what is communicated in silence: body language, gestures and non-verbal cues. 

Starting her corporate career with Lehman Brothers, on Wall Street, in 2006, Dhawan listened, learned and observed. Unfortunately, as the company imploded, she watched as the fallout contributed to the national recession. Her experiences motivated her to attend graduate school at Harvard University, with a desire to learn more about communication in the modern corporate space. 

“My early experiences on Wall Street taught me that it’s not what teams do, it’s how teams work together. And that led me back to research the new leadership skills that we need in a 21st-century world, a world that’s not just traditional offices. It’s a world that’s global and multi-generational and digital,” says Dhawan. 

Dhawan’s first bestselling book, Get Big Things Done, published in 2015, outlined her research, and ideas, on connectional intelligence, but it was 2021’s Digital Body Language, a runaway Wall Street Journal bestseller, that cemented Dhawan’s reputation as a thought leader and communicator, tuned into the digital, corporate zeitgeist. 

As an entrepreneur, Dhawan has long been attracted to innovative spaces and it’s part of what motivated Dhawan, and her family, to move to Tampa Bay last year, from New York City. Although the intimate community feel and outdoor appeal of Florida were certainly factors, Dhawan admits it was an intangible feeling of potential that prompted her and her husband, Rahul Gupta, a real estate entrepreneur, to choose the Bay area as their new home to raise two young children. 

“There’s a hum of innovation pulsing throughout the Bay area,” Dhawan says. “It feels like a community that is on the verge of massive growth with so much creative potential, because it values cross-pollination and innovation in a way that bigger cities like New York have lost, have become more stagnant and saturated.”

The region’s growth in the international space of virtual marketplaces will allow it to retain the essence of its community appeal, she adds.

“Given the shifts in the last two years, the amount of global companies that are coming here, the budding interconnectivity of the Bay area where you have the power of different disciplines, connecting and coming together – the arts, the culture, the technology and then the support of more established industries, like big government – and Tampa Bay is ready to explode into a global market,” Dhawan says. “There’s a truly multidisciplinary, cross-industry community that connects and shares ideas to solve problems.”

Dhawan’s experience as a global executive coach assists local leaders ready to move into international, digital marketplaces. Her expertise includes the integration of AI, the navigation of hybrid, and virtual, teams and managing a multigenerational workforce. The world recognizes Tampa Bay in the global market, Dhawan says, and she’s ready to be a part of it.

“Global companies are not just traditionally headquartered in New York, Miami or Chicago anymore; Tampa is truly a destination for the top talent in the world. I want to be part of supporting the next generation of leadership that will be here. I’m excited to ensure that the Tampa Bay area executive community finds the professional development resources to compete in the global marketplace,” Dhawan says. 

Although part of her work involves guiding a corporation to improve collaboration and innovation within their own business model to drive growth, part of the excitement for Bay area companies looking to make an impact globally is the opportunity to become leaders beyond their own four walls. As Dhawan explains, “I also work with individuals to become thought leaders in their industries. The next generation executive cannot just rely on their own headcount or their own internal budget to market their business. They need to think like a super connector and serve as a thought leader across their industry, both through in-person and digital channels. That’s the critical requirement for tomorrow’s leaders as the world becomes more competitive with the rise of AI and digital transformation.” 

It’s a whole new world of business, says Dhawan, and Tampa Bay is a gateway into international success. 

As she concludes, “We’re all immigrants to the new world of digital body language where the new handshake is the new thoughtful email, the great video call, the poised, in-person meeting. Reading carefully is the new listening and writing clearly is the new empathy. My multicultural background and experiences have really taught me the importance of continuing to listen and engage, in different ways, and settling in Tampa Bay is an exciting adventure. I’m so excited to see what will come, getting to know businesses in the community and bringing the work I do to local businesses.” ♦

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