Emotional Intelligence: What Makes Great Leaders Thrive During Challenging Times
Emotional intelligence has long been known to be a critical factor in successful leaders.
“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.” A quote by Sheryl Sandberg seems even more fitting today than initially stated. In a matter of just a few months, how we live, operate, and in some cases, how we earn, have been forced to change. Leaders have to wade deep waters of how they’ll sustain amidst a global standstill and an even more accelerated and digitized economy.
Successfully and healthily navigating this time for oneself is no small feat, let alone being responsible for many people’s livelihood and a company or departments’ bottom line. Though it may be tempting to take a head-down approach, holding your breath to get through it, exhibiting a lack of emotional awareness may limit the progress you make at this time, as well as cause a breach in the trust from those looking to you for guidance, direction, and support.
Emotional intelligence has long been known to be a critical factor in successful leaders. However, before we can talk about how to leverage emotionally intelligent leadership to come out of this current crisis ahead, we must first talk about fear.
Why? Because fear is at an all-time high. No one has been where we are currently, and no one knows the financial and societal results.
How we respond to fear dictates how we relate to others, and ultimately how we lead. Our behavior, when we experience fear, establishes the parameters of trust of those in our interpersonal relationships. How we react when we are in fear is the perfect litmus test for the areas throughout our emotional landscape that need examining and nurturing.
Personally, I can trace every bad decision, every time I did not communicate effectively with my team or a partner, every time I broke an established bond of trust, every lash out, and every missed opportunity to a response made in fear. Going inward and observing our intense, uncomfortable emotions such as fear, anxiety, and frustration can be uncomfortable because we feel as if shining a spotlight on them will only intensify them and make them worse. That couldn’t be more false. Awareness on the emotional level is where true behavior change happens. By being willing to audit our relationship to fear (or any uncomfortable emotion), we can transition from reacting to what triggers us emotionally, and assess and respond to it logically. This, in turn, can increase our power, trustworthiness, and overall resilience to whatever we may face.
“Emotional Intelligence is the ability to [access the full range of] understand your emotions and feelings. In essence, the ability to observe the emotions that occur within oneself and not react to them, but instead respond to them. The ability to be aware of how those emotions affect you internally and how they affect your own behaviors.”
Those who operate from a place of emotional intelligence embody values such as empathy, curiosity, self-awareness, stillness, patience, and non-violent communication.
“It is key to validate [all of your] emotions. In many new age practices, there is an overemphasis on being positive, which can, without meaning to, deny an individual’s feelings and make them feel unseen, unheard, and [lead to] their needs being unmet emotionally.”
She even urges leaders to take heart and resist being in denial, saying, “Instead of avoiding reality, ask what your team needs to be better supported. Be sure to share your feelings of collective uncertainty. This is a time where vulnerability is needed. This will build a sense of transparent community and work culture of openness, which is needed to thrive during these times.”
However, resilience on the other side of a challenging circumstance is not a given and takes intentionality on our part. When asked how we can be deliberate in our quest for resilience, Ms. Khouri says,
“Self-care is vital to building resilience. Managing anxiety and getting support helps to build resilience. Things like doing stress relief exercise (yoga, breath work, visualization) and talking to people about how you’re feeling can help tremendously. Sleep is also vital. The last thing I’ve been talking to people a lot about at this time is media hygiene. Don’t read the news all day long. Designate one time in the day to read or listen to your trusted sources, preferably not before bed.”
A company culture embodying resilience as a critical factor to success, affirms the emotional intelligence of its leadership. Ms. Khouri expresses this similar sentiment by saying,
“It’s especially important for leaders to build resilience so that they can support their team members effectively and sustainably. Team members are often looking towards their leaders for guidance, support, and to set expectations.” She says, “Leaders can help build a culture of wellness in their organization by being explicit about the need for their team to be well.”
Simple things like having a brief check-in at the start of a meeting can help people feel seen and heard. Encouraging team members to check in with each other and even sending emails with resources for self-care.
Whether guiding one or hundreds of employees, galvanizing a community, or heading a household, developing our awareness to fear helps us become better leaders. In doing so, we ultimately set the tone for those who look to us for guidance as they navigate their consternation. Leaders who thrive during challenging times are those who’ve done the self-exploration needed to understand their own emotional landscape. This step is crucial in honing emotional intelligence and lays the foundation necessary to identify and intentionally respond to frighting circumstances.
There is no doubt we will all come out on the other side of this crisis changed, for better or worse. Despite the increasing climate of fear around us, we are given a grand opportunity to develop our emotional awareness and intelligence. By doing so, we can collectively ignite a new era. One characterized by trust, resilience, and the increased empowerment of those we lead. Hellen Keller best sums this up by saying, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
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