How to Help Your Leaders Maintain Emotional Intelligence During Challenging Times

Mental preparedness and emotional intelligence to cope in a crisis are vital tools in our personal and professional lives. The events of 2020 were one of the most significant tests of mental resilience this generation has ever seen. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health and preparedness are at the forefront of conversations across organizations, in many cases, for the first time.

If the events of 2020 taught us anything, it was to be well-prepared in case of a crisis. But preparedness goes further than making an emergency kit and ensuring toilet paper supplies are well stocked. Similarly, good leadership requires more than just decisiveness and intelligence. In turbulent times, leaders and managers need to be well-equipped with practical tools to use their emotional intelligence and support others. 

Emotional intelligence doesn’t downplay or remove emotions from the decision-making process. Instead, it’s about understanding, managing and having compassion for those emotions. Creating a culture that supports and fosters emotional intelligence can strengthen relationships with your employees and improve your organization’s work culture.

Leaders who use emotional intelligence techniques are more effective than leaders who use control-based leadership styles. Several components make up emotional intelligence, but some of the most common traits are authenticity, self-awareness, openness to criticism, empathy, and the ability to forgive and give praise. These traits may once have been dismissed as soft skills, but are now considered essential business and life skills. 

Harvard professor Daniel Goleman and other researchers have found that executives’ emotional intelligence is a more significant predictor of success than intelligence or technical proficiency.  

Leaders who lack emotional intelligence can cause damage to employees and even their families. Control-based leadership styles using threats or manipulation rarely improve long-term employee performance. This type of leadership often opens leaders up to public criticism online and can adversely affect a business’ reputation. 

The best leaders need to be ‘people smart,’ not just intelligent, so they should be adept in emotional intelligence. That’s why the following emotional intelligence techniques will help leaders and managers navigate difficult situations, drive performance and raise morale during times of immense stress.

Use Healthy Communication to Lead People and Organizations

Leaders with high emotional intelligence connect and engage with their team members regularly. For the many businesses who have employees now working from home, this regular communication style is more challenging than ever before.

Regular communication on its own is not enough; the style of communication is just as important. Micro-criticism, intimidation or raising your voice are counterproductive styles of communication. Instead, encourage managers to build rapport with their teams, and give them exercises that will help them learn about their employees at a personal level. Make sure they give praise and express gratitude for a job well done, and listen to what their employees have to say in return.

Prioritize Internal and External Relationships

It may seem obvious that better communication would help foster stronger relationships with employees. But in a busy and often remote work environment, emotional intelligence can easily fall by the wayside or be sacrificed in the name of profitability. Leaders should look to create business models that embrace and consistently prioritize internal and external relationships. With the right tools, anyone can maintain emotional intelligence even while working from home.

Improving emotional intelligence takes time and effort. Leaders should first work on improving their emotional intelligence before sharing what they’ve learned with the broader business. Prioritizing this skill, setting aside time and creating a plan will keep leaders on track. Create an environment that encourages and helps leaders and teams improve their emotional states through regular self-discovery and development. 

Provide Tools That Will Help Leaders Understand Themselves and Others

Jim Collins, the author of BE 2.0, found that the top leaders of today are those who work continually to improve both intellectually and emotionally. Not everyone is born with the same level of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence, like empathy, can be innate. Still, your level of emotional intelligence is usually the result of your upbringing, or how you saw your parents or other authority figures deal with stressful situations. 

Emotional intelligence is a skill that anyone can work on and improve with time and effort. And it begins with self-awareness. Schedule some time to sit down and have your managers take stock of where they are now and what their emotional intelligence levels look like. If they’re willing to receive constructive criticism, have them seek feedback from a trusted source. For an impartial assessment, you could provide them with a professional personality assessment to help them better understand their strengths and any areas that need improvement. 

Have Leaders Write Down Their Emotional Triggers

An emotional trigger is something that sparks a stressful or upsetting reaction. It could be a memory, event or action. It’s important for anyone, especially leaders, to learn and understand what their specific, unique triggers are. Give your leaders time to think about this and write it down on a piece of paper that no one else needs to see. Once they’ve recognized their triggers, they can assess how they react to them, whether it’s with anger, fear or insecurity. Next, have them consider how they could respond and manage their response to triggers in a more measured way.

Foster an Empathetic Company Culture

As a leader, it’s essential to understand that triggers and experiences are not the same from one person to another. Empathy, or putting yourself in someone else shoes, plays a significant role in emotional intelligence. It’s not uncommon for employees to have challenges with their health, finances, families and home life. Remind leaders that everyone is currently living through a global pandemic and economic crisis. Naturally, these external factors and stressors can influence employees’ work attitudes and performance. 

With many teams now working from home, it’s more important than ever for leaders and managers to be empathetic when people’s personal lives impact work situations. If the performance of someone on their team has slipped, ask them to try and understand why. Remind them to speak to them with empathy instead of going straight to reprimanding them. 

Create Inclusive and Safe Environments

Communication is key to creating safe and inclusive environments. Businesses need to have inclusivity as a principle in their workplaces, but they must also be actively inclusive. For example, when managers make decisions that impact their employees, have them consider including the employees in the decision and getting their input first. Work with your leaders to create a safe workplace environment where employees are comfortable bringing their concerns to their superiors and confident they will listen. 

Celebrate Diversity

Celebrating diversity is another way to promote inclusion. Making sure that managers understand that everyone on their teams is different and comes from a different background is the first step to making a safe space for diverse groups. Formal diversity training as an educational work exercise is a good tool for celebrating diversity in the workplace. Diversity training and practices underscore that everyone on the team is welcome and accepted. It ensures the whole team knows that differences are acknowledged, valued and respected.

Cultivate Resilience

Change can be uncomfortable and threaten people’s sense of safety and security. In times of change, or crisis, it’s essential to take measures to reduce employees’ anxiety. Communicate with managers so they know that change represents an opportunity for both them and the company to grow. When companies go through restructuring or rapid growth phases, jobs and responsibilities can change. Have managers ask employees for input on modifying their roles in light of changes. When people don’t feel included, they can be resistant to change because they think it is happening to them rather than with them.

Motivate and Inspire

Emotional intelligence can be used to motivate and inspire by speaking to people’s hearts and minds. Have managers employ the strategies we’ve identified to help them motivate and inspire their teams. Encourage them to use self-awareness to under standard what inspires and motivates them, then have them share that with their teams. Communicate with your team regularly and create a space to provide feedback and grow with the company.

Speaking to your team and getting to know them will help you understand what motivates them and why they came to work for your company. Learning what motivates someone will help you adjust your management style for different team members.

Watch for Burnout

Even leaders who are usually resilient can reach a point where stress and anxiety overwhelm them. This phenomenon is known as burnout, which can manifest as exhaustion, feelings of reduced accomplishment, anxiety and personal identity issues. 

Burnout was a growing problem in the workplace that has only become exacerbated in the past year. Research conducted by Harvard Business Review showed more than 62% of workers felt burned out in the fall of 2020. Even emotionally intelligent leaders are not immune to emotional burnout, as many are now suffering from COVID-19 stress

Acknowledging and recognizing that stressful situations can lead to burnout is an essential role that HR leaders can have in the workplace. To further help you identify the signs of burnout and strategize ways to reduce burnout within your team, download this free eBook on 10 Ways To Reduce Human Resources Burnout.

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