Leading with EQ in turbulent times: 5 tips that could save your business

Turbulent environments are defined by unexpected and unpredictable changes – something most of us have had to deal with in the wake of the current coronavirus pandemic. Such changes can certainly be devastating to businesses and their staff, but there are different ways to deal with them which will impact the outcome. With the gradual lifting of restrictions, businesses are trying to adapt or transfer into a ‘new normal’ and spotlights are on leaders to make that transition as smooth and effective as possible. Basing your business success solely on the latest technology, a dynamic business model, highly skilled workers or intellectual capacity won’t be enough, what we need now more than ever is emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, has little to do with being emotional. Instead, it is a concept that revolves around understanding the needs and feelings of oneself and others in order to interact appropriately and effectively with other humans. This particular ability has been established as a key quality of good leaders, making it a well-known concept among HR professionals and top business leaders.

The corona crisis is in many ways the ultimate test of EQ in the workplace. Read on as we reveal five tips to help you pass with flying colours. It just might save your business.

1. SHIFT YOUR FOCUS: REPLACE WORRY WITH ACTION

“These are unprecedented times.” You’ve probably heard it countless times by now. No one could have seen this coming, our plans and routines have been disrupted, and this triggers one of our most fundamental human fears: the fear of the unknown. Uncertainty is known to trigger worry and anxiety, sometimes even panic, but these are emotions that we should try to avoid as they stand in the way of our ability to think rationally. This is why emotional intelligence can be especially beneficial during times of crisis as we do our best to navigate through the uncertainty.

 Merely telling yourself or others not to worry, however, isn’t very practical advice. Instead, the keys to mastering this tip is intentional focus and reframing of strategies. Emotionally intelligent people focus their energy on what they can directly influence and avoid complaining, as that just brings more energy to the problem rather than the solution. Our brains don’t understand instructions to not do something, it can only do something else, so it is important to think about how we frame things to the people we want to influence, and to ourselves. Similarly, good sports coaches know that it works better to tell their clients to “speed up” or “keep going”, rather than “don’t slow down” or “don’t fall”.

It always starts with yourself. We might not always consider how much our mental attitude and the feelings we portray affect the people around us, but this is something leaders must keep in mind, now more than ever. A trouble shared is a trouble multiplied. So, take a moment to reflect on where you focus your attention when faced with new challenges in the workplace. Is it on the past and the things you can’t control, or on the future and the things you and your team can change? You have the power to reduce worry and anxiety in your team by implementing this understanding of EQ in a thoughtful, actionable manner.

2. SHOW EMPATHY (NOT JUST COMPASSION)

Covid-19 may be a global crisis, but it’s also personal, to some more than others. Giving your team members the opportunity to freely tell what they are going through and asking them how they are handling the current situation is a start in showing that you care. If working from home is part of the new standard in your company, it becomes particularly important to not only create the space where thoughts and feelings can be shared, but to also ask the question. We must remember that Australia’s workforce is exceptionally multicultural and many of us also have health concerns for loved ones in countries that are worse off than Australia. Financial distress, new working conditions and uneasy feelings about the future are other examples of why your team could do with a bit more empathy in these times.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the thoughts or feelings of others rather than just acknowledging them and wishing it wasn’t so – but this is often easier said than done.

If your team members feel worried or overwhelmed, make a conscious effort to relate to their feelings, to put yourself in their shoes. Practice good listening skills, don’t claim that you know exactly how they feel and don’t compare their situation with one of your own, or of others. Sharing feelings isn’t easy, so encourage your employees and build trust by thanking them for being open and honest.

If you’re in the position to help and support your team members, know that it will be greatly appreciated. You might be able to eliminate some obstacles that they can identify, provide additional resources or give time off to handle personal matters. Being empathetic isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes sense from a business point-of-view, as it makes for stronger and more loyal teams long-term.

3. LEAD FROM THE FRONT, BUT KNOW WHEN TO STEP ASIDE

No one likes to be bossed around, it’s as simple as that. Great leaders lead from the front – by example. Demonstrating what needs to be accomplished, but also your passion and demeanour, coaching, guiding and offering support when needed are all great ways to build rapport with your team members. It’s crucial that they feel that you’re all working towards a common goal.

It is however also important to know when to lead by following. Traditional bosses tell their staff what to do, 21st century leaders set achievable goals and provide tools and resources, and then give their teams most of the responsibility to drive the work and projects forward themselves. This team autonomy is incredibly empowering, as long as they’ve got a good framework to work with. Encouraging your team to solve problems and adapt as necessary to find solutions on their own might feel uncomfortable and spark the urge to micromanage, but it’s a leadership skill that’s worth practicing. You can support the growth of your business by supporting your people’s professional development, and that generally happens outside the comfort zone.

Bonus tip: Consider letting your team in on your work as well, not just the other way around. Delegating some of the work that usually lies on your table to your team members allows them to try new things, learn new skills and feel empowered. These are great motivators that generally increase job satisfaction.

4. CHALLENGE YOUR EGO

One of the hallmarks of high emotional intelligence is self-awareness. This makes sense, as how can we understand and relate to others if we don’t have an honest understanding of our own thoughts and behaviours first? Hand on your heart, would you want to work for you? Start challenging your ego by making it your mission to observe your own reactions in various situations. Journaling may help. After some time, you should be able to notice behavioural trends in yourself. The next step is then to identify areas of improvement and take action to make that happen. A quicker way to self-assess your leadership style is to write down the traits, skills and qualities you think a good leader should have, possibly with a leader that you look up to in mind, and rate yourself from 1 to 5 on each of those. What can you do to bring yourself to a 5 on all points?

A bit confrontational indeed, but seeking some outside input will also provide you with perspectives and insights you probably wouldn’t get otherwise. Speak to a few trusted colleagues, write down the feedback, identify patterns and analyse why you come across that way and what you can do about it, if you’d like to be perceived differently. Some questions you might start with are “How open are you to feedback and change?”, “How often have you taken steps to improve your weaknesses and leverage your strengths in the past X months?”, “How well do you motivate and inspire the best performance from your team?” and “How positive is the experience of working with, and for, you?”.

Leaders with high EQ don’t meet constructive criticism with denial, blame, excuses or counterarguments. Instead, they take note of them, analyse them and create a plan for positive change. It may feel personal, but changing business environments alone will sometimes call for a different style of leadership, as it will also affect the needs of the team.

5. LET DIVERSITY BE A DRIVING FORCE TO SUCCESS IN THE ‘NEW NORMAL’ AT WORK

Covid-19 has become the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations of our lifetime. When the world around us changes, organisations must also consider how they can and should change with it. Some organisations have had to completely reinvent themselves in order to stay profitable, and it had to be done quickly. Change is the only constant, as they say, and with it comes a need for creativity, innovation and problem solving – this is where diversity comes in.

Diversity and inclusion thrive in the face of adversity, because when different kinds of minds work together, challenges are much easier to overcome. To quote Daniel Goleman, the psychologist who popularised the term in the 1990s:

“If you see a star performing team, you’re seeing a very high group IQ. But what predicts the actual productivity or effectiveness of a team is not the potential – that is, the best talents of every person – it’s how people are valued on that team. It’s how people feel there’s harmony, that we get along, that we surface simmering issues, that we take time to celebrate, that we know each person’s strengths and that we step aside when it’s time for this person to come forward. In other words, that we are a team that has a high emotional intelligence.”

Inclusivity will result in teams that come up with creative ideas, solutions, fresh perspectives and better decisions that lead to more innovation and better outcomes. Bringing together people of different cultural and professional backgrounds, genders, ages, physical abilities and lifestyles is therefore something an emotionally intelligent leader would do. It is also important that you as a leader model inclusive behaviour by seeking inputs from diverse sources, reaching out to connect, collaborate and recognise the contribution of everyone. Being open and receptive to both people and ideas is a sign of superb EQ, which is yet another factor that could potentially play a big role in saving your business in this ever-changing world.

In summary, Covid-19 has put both personal and professional pressures on all of us, but you as a leader in particular carry monumental responsibility for how your thoughts, attitudes and behaviours affect your business and your team, both directly and indirectly. Enabling your EQ and utilising it in your leadership role doesn’t only lead to better relationships and a more harmonious workplace, it will also manifest in more noticeable results such as increased productivity, lower staff turnover, improved collaboration and greater employee engagement, not to mention resilience in times of crisis.

As it turns out, who you are as a person, rather than what you know, is what matters most.