Leading with Emotional Intelligence in the Covid Era
By Josh Williams, Ph.D.
For years, organizations have used IQ tests as a selection component for hiring new leaders. Psychologists have studied leader emergence for centuries and found IQ to be near the top of the list for predictive traits. This should be no surprise. Strong analytical skills are needed to deal with a numerous, competing challenges at higher organizational levels. However, many believe EQ, or emotional intelligence, may be equally important. In fact, one study showed 71% of executives value EQ over IQ with their leaders (https://www.careerbuilder.ca). Emotional intelligence reflects our ability to recognize our own emotions, and those of others, and then use this information to effectively manage relationships.
Organizational leaders with high EQ are mindful of their own actions and sensitive to the needs of others. A key component of EQ is empathy which is only possible with interactive conversations and active listening. These skills are especially important in the COVID era which some are now calling a psychological health crisis (in addition to being a physical one).
Unlike IQ which is relatively fixed, leaders can actively improve their own emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, more than half of all leaders report they struggle demonstrating empathy even though 93% of employees said they’d remain loyal to an employer who showed genuine concern for their needs (https://hcamag.com). Emotionally intelligent behaviors in the COVID era include:
Be an empathic listener: Show caring by actively listening to employees. Foster an open environment where employees are comfortable raising issues and asking questions. People feel appreciated and less anxious when they understand that their concerns are being heard and felt. Good listening skills are even more important when conversations occur virtually.
Discuss shared experiences: People will feel less isolated and distressed when they can commiserate and share the sense that “we’re all in it together.” Let people know they’re not alone.
Have more conversations: Check in more often to see how people are doing. Silence is the enemy when employees are distraught, particularly if job security is a concern. Fear and anxiety are often heightened when people feel isolated.
Increase the quality of conversations: Ask open-ended questions to promote in-depth, collaborative discussions. Make it personal and offer to help where possible.
Be transparent: Be transparent with business updates, set clear priorities for the immediate future, and be realistic about the challenges ahead. This includes being open to new solutions.
Thank people for hanging in there: Positive reinforcement serves two purposes. It increases desired behavior and it makes people feel good. Genuine appreciation for employees’ efforts is especially important when doubt and anxiety may be heightened. Let people know you care about them and appreciate their hard work during this difficult time.
Displaying emotional intelligence empowers your employees during a time when many people feel helpless. It also makes you a stronger leader during and after COVID-19. This will lead to safer, more productive, and more pleasant work environments for you and your employees.