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Emotional intelligence during the pandemic: 5 tips for leaders

The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be the greatest test of emotional intelligence in a generation. Consider these tips for leading with EQ now

Turbulent times call for poised, emotionally intelligent leaders. Why? Because EQ is the very attribute that helps us navigate through the uncertainty and potential loss that comes with a crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic is proving to be the greatest test of emotional intelligence in a generation. As the axiom goes, when the time for performance has come, the time for preparation has passed.

That’s exactly where we are. This global crisis is revealing rather than creating leaders, and it’s doing this very quickly. In the current context, there is perhaps no leadership skill more in demand than emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to interact effectively with other humans. Yes, EQ has several components, such as awareness, perception, and regulation, but at its core, it’s about whether you can lead through empathy, influence, and collaboration.

Think of emotional intelligence is your delivery system: As your conduit of influence, EQ delivers IQ. It’s the way you convey your knowledge, skills, and experience to generate performance and results.

Think of emotional intelligence is your delivery system: As your conduit of influence, EQ delivers IQ.

The good news is that emotional intelligence is a learnable skill. But when a crisis hits, it’s go time. Like all crises, the coronavirus pandemic has pressurised personal and professional life. In that context, the best leaders are those who act with composure and exceptional self-control. You may be a highly gifted and intelligent leader, but if you wilt under the stress and strain of a crisis, you can’t lead anyone.

5 tips for leading with emotional intelligence now

Here are five tips for leading with emotional intelligence in the current crisis:

1. Balance your thinking and feeling brain. Don’t allow your emotions to hijack your behavior. As sports psychologist Stan Beecham said, “If your emotions are in charge, you will never fully know yourself, and you will never reach your potential in a performance environment.”

A crisis is a performance environment  – try to avoid extremes. If you’re Spock-like in demeanor, people won’t know you care. If you’re effusive, the emotional display will come across as disingenuous. If you’re prone to escalating emotions, you can’t help others de-escalate theirs.

2. Create psychological safety. You don’t want groupthink. Nor do you want so much conflict that people can’t work together. A growing body of research confirms that emotional intelligence creates psychological safety in the organisation, which, as a mediating variable, accelerates performance. View yourself as the lubricating oil of collaboration.

3. Welcome dissent. It’s your job to simultaneously increase intellectual friction and decrease social friction. You need diversity of thought, constructive dissent, and creative abrasion to solve problems and find solutions. But you can’t do that if people feel threatened and can’t get along. If those you lead believe their vulnerability will not be exploited, they’ll be brave and anxious to contribute.

You need diversity of thought, constructive dissent, and creative abrasion to solve problems and find solutions.

4. Model empathy and remove the risk of ridicule. Ridicule is a fear-inducing behavior that shuts people down. It triggers the self-censoring instinct, which causes people to retreat into a mode of personal risk management. Nothing can quash productivity during a crisis faster than a small dose of ridicule administered at just the wrong time. If you forbid personal attacks and model empathy yourself, you will help your team engage and release its innovative potential.

5. Invite challenges and prepare to be wrong. Do you consistently invite others to challenge the status quo in order to make things better, and are you personally prepared to be wrong based on the humility and learning mindset you have developed? Do you show a fundamental receptivity to both people and ideas, a cognitive and emotional openness that others clearly perceive? That kind of openness is a sign of superb emotional intelligence.

Remember the words of the poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

In the years ahead, your people will remember two things about the coronavirus pandemic: How they got through it and the leaders who led the way. How will they remember you?

About the Author

Timothy R. Clark is the founder and CEO of LeaderFactor. Tim is the author of five books and has written more than 150 articles on leadership, change, strategy, human capital, culture, and employee engagement. He regularly consults as an advisor, coach, and facilitator to CEOs and senior leadership teams. He has worked with leading organisations around the world.

Dr. Clark earned a doctorate degree in Social Science from Oxford University and was both a Fulbright and British Research Scholar. He also has a master’s degree in Government and Economics from the University of Utah.