Emotionally Intelligent Leadership During Hard Times

by Monique Sharkey

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”– Maya Angelou

Ms. Angelou’s words are truly relevant during these difficult times. When we look back and remember events in our lives the strongest part of that memory is the feelings that go with it. Since the onset of COVID-19, we have all been tasked to deal with a truly unprecedented adjustment to our ways of life. Our patience has been put to the test with events being canceled, essentials being out of stock, and financial uncertainty. As humans, our first instinct is to just take care of ourselves.

I have faith that as a society we will get through this. But I also believe that is essential to respond with kindness and understanding. For anyone in a position of leadership, the impact this pandemic is especially challenging because others are depending on you. What is going to set you apart and uplift your team is how you make them feel.

Oxford’s Dictionary defines emotional intelligence as: “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” There is a lot to be said for physical changes we can make but evaluate our emotional intelligence at this time is truly important.

There are many characteristics that make up an emotionally intelligent leader. Here are three ways to identify one:

They Respect Their Team’s Feelings

A friend was sharing with me that they wished to take some time to work from home because they were feeling anxiety about the virus. This is an option available at their company. However, when they submitted their request, it was questioned. The manager did not feel that was a necessary reason to not be in the office. It may not be a big deal to the manager but to this employee it is. Brushing people off only brings up more resentment. Even if this situation couldn’t be handled in their favor, at least expressing sympathy and letting them know that they are heard will help alleviate the situation. A willingness to compromise shows that the company values their team. A good leader will respect that every member on their team has their own feelings and you will need to deal with each one individually while still upholding your company policies.

They Think Before They Speak

I think there is a common misconception that the loudest people and the ones who talk the most are the most confident. However, there is power in pausing. For example, my parents used to give a stern look that I just knew meant business. No words were needed and a child I felt the power of their look. But on a serious note, taking a few moments to pause is a trait that takes time to develop. The willingness to at least try shows your team that you have emotional maturity. There are many people in leadership positions who blow mistakes out of proportion and scream thinking that will produce better results. That logic is flawed! Far more often that behavior fosters staggering turnover rates and decrease in productivity.

They Admit When They’re Wrong

A leader who chooses to place the blame on a failed project on their employees will not have the same results as one who is willing to admit that they could have explained the objectives better. Emotionally intelligent leaders are not afraid, to be honest. Worse than placing the blame is not saying anything at all. I was speaking with a friend who confronted a supervisor about a mistake they were wrongfully accused of making. The supervisor never replied or spoke to the employee. When issues are ignored, they increase into more than what they really are. We have to handle things. Maybe not at the moment, because I agree with taking the time to answer if you need to. But if you don’t address concerns at all you’ll end up with employees that will become resentful and end up hiding things from you. Is that the kind of company culture you want to create?

There is so much to be learned about emotional intelligence. Many articles and books have been written on the subject. Some people wonder if it is an ability that can be trained or if we’re either born with it or not. I would like to believe it may come naturally to some of us, but others can get better at it.

Maybe you never saw examples of emotionally intelligent leaders in your workplace and now you’ve found yourself in the position of leader repeating the same habits you were trained with. But it is up to each of us to do the work within ourselves to be the best we can be. Not just for the sake of our businesses but for humanity which needs compassion and understanding now more than ever.

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