The COVID-19 Pandemic has affected all of us in different degrees. COVID-19 created a situation we had not experienced before, were not prepared for and are still unsure of how we will come out of. This has caused unprecedented stress and pushed our coping abilities to their limits.
A number of skills we possess such as adaptability, patience, etc. have been tested throughout the pandemic, but leadership skills have been quite heavily tested. Consider how leaders have had to deal with all of the blows of the pandemic on a personal level, while on the other hand juggling running businesses, organizations or departments. They have needed to ensure delivery against targets while trying to save jobs and adapt creatively to all the changes.
With workers still dealing with the stress and social isolation associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, organizations worldwide have prioritised employee mental health and well-being. But organizations will need to implement more than just expanded employee assistance programs to support workers during this challenging time; the focus on well-being must be accompanied by empathetic leadership.
While traditional management and leadership skills are essential, a greater degree of emotional intelligence is necessary to nurture and motivate teams. And the good news is you can improve your emotional intelligence, if you’re willing to.
Here are some specific suggestions to help leaders improve emotional intelligence during the time of COVID-19:
Spend time on your own self-awareness. At the core of emotional intelligence, self-awareness is the area that leaders typically least enjoy or spend time on. They may see it as self-focused or a waste of time, but we can effectively work with others only if we get really good at knowing ourselves, our thoughts, our emotional reactions, and our tendencies.
We can work effectively with others only if we know ourselves well. One exercise is to spend a few minutes each morning writing down your thoughts before starting the workday. Practice tuning into your feelings. Are you feeling anxious, worried or angry? You don’t have to take any action. Just notice your state of mind. Then complete the same exercise at the end of the day. Also, try to understand how employees view you. Assess your strengths and where you need to improve. When you master self-awareness, you can observe your emotions rather than merely reacting to them.
Be authentic and vulnerable. Leaders are responsible for creating an authentic organizational culture. That means being honest about how difficult things are, especially given the current environment. Share your own personal concerns and thoughts. In times like these, your team needs to hear how you are on the same journey with them. You may also consider setting new expectations, such as letting your team know that it’s okay to see their children on an informal video call from time to time. Employees need to understand that we are all human and going through the same experience together.
Practice empathy. Empathy has several components. It includes mental awareness (placing yourself in the ‘shoes’ of the other person), communication (what you say, how you say it), and a physical aspect (observation of tone and gestures).
Try considering all three of these with each team member. The more attention you focus on who you are speaking to and really listening to them, the more your thoughts will resonate with theirs, making the delivery of empathy easier. Employees want and need managers who know and care about them as people, and they want to have conversations about life outside of work. Even just asking your team what assistance they need can go a long way in making them feel supported.
Communicate effectively. Failing to communicate effectively in the workplace leads to frustration and confusion among employees. Leaders who leverage emotional intelligence have a greater ability to influence, persuade and connect with others. Effective communication can remove obstacles and encourage stronger workplace relationships. When employees understand their role and how they contribute to the overall mission, there is a sense of meaning and accomplishment. Effective communication also results in organizational alignment and a shared sense of purpose.
Label the fear. A proven technique from psychologists and negotiation experts is to label fears in order to defuse them. Labelling the fears of your team members tells them that you are aware. This is particularly critical in times like now. Such statements may include something like, “We understand that you were all hired to do jobs that may not be working the same way right now. You may feel like we are treating you unfairly or are making decisions without each of you and your personal situations in mind….” Cue into your team members’ possible fears; name and label them directly and with empathy. Anger tends to stem from fear, which is best managed by labelling and empathy.
Take care of yourself. We have all seen posts or videos of leaders who just look exhausted. Any leader (business, parent, teacher or politician) is still human, and we cannot care for others without being healthy ourselves. That means leaders have to be very good at this. At a basic level, take time each day to do something that brings you happiness or pleasure. What is the thing that refills your own tank, your fuel so to speak? Positive psychology is real science that rewires your brain and leads to greater productivity and stress reduction.
Be Self-Motivated. Self-motivation relates to internal drive. Emotionally intelligent individuals understand the deeper meaning of their goals and the self-motivation skills required to achieve them. A primary requirement of leaders is the ability to motivate. But to lead by example, you must first motivate yourself. Once that’s been accomplished, you can then work to encourage others through the art of emotional intelligence. Motivation requires: our personal drive to improve, our commitment to the goals we set for ourselves, our readiness to act on opportunities that arise and our resilience.
Numerous studies have shown that what distinguishes exceptional leaders from average ones are emotional self-awareness and self-control. By harnessing the power of emotional intelligence, you’ll be able to enhance employee motivation and engagement, strengthen cooperation and increase performance. Rise to the challenge. Be the compassionate leader your employees need, and your entire organization will reap the rewards.
You have a critical role in helping others get through these times. At the same time, the challenges they bring will shape you and allow you to grow as a leader. Emotional intelligence will be at the forefront of this growth and worth the investment.
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