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What the World Needs Now: COVID-19 Creates a High Demand for Emotionally Intelligent (EQ) Leaders

Center for Values-Driven Leadership Article, Care for people, Culture, Rising to the Challenge, Values-Driven Leaders

Two women talking through video conference

COVID-19 has produced a lot of needs over the past few months. From the tactical needs of PPE, test kits and ventilators to the emotional needs of empathy and connection. And yet, one of the most critical needs across the globe, which highlights itself daily, is the need for emotionally intelligent leadership.

Leadership behavior, during a crisis, is always an extremely important factor in business. Forbes writer John Hall states, “What distinguishes a great leader is how she responds in times of crisis.” A leader’s behavior during this current pandemic is more important than we have seen in a long time.

While leadership development is the last thing on anyone’s mind right now, there is probably no better time to invest in the acceleration and sustainability of leadership emotional intelligence (EQ) than today.

Strong emotional intelligence is critical for leaders to make balanced decisions, cultivate a “can-do” culture, and build for the future. Everywhere we look, we see numerous examples of emotionally intelligent leadership and, sadly, not so emotionally intelligent leadership. Our political leaders and business leaders provide daily examples of their self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management without the help of expensive assessments, extensive reports, or numeric scores. Life, crisis, and change are exposing high and low degrees of leadership EQ and its impact on everyone’s life.

What leadership EQ looks and feels like today

Many leaders are asking what can I do to help? What is the right approach? How can my business thrive during these challenging times? EQ leaders are answering those questions using the following competencies and applications:

1.    Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, values, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. Self-awareness allows you to understand other people, how they perceive you, your attitude and your responses to them in the moment. Leaders with high EQ have a firm understanding of their values and their purpose. They know who they are and why they behave the way they do. Knowing their core values and managing their behaviors in alignment with those values is the foundation of their strong EQ behaviors. Leaders who align their decisions with their values (and the values of their organization) are creating a foundation of stability for their employees and customers during this unstable time. Once that foundation is established and the leadership team is firmly anchored to their values, employees understand and trust the rationale for “next steps.” EQ leaders know their strengths and weaknesses, and they manage them so they can perform better. Contrary to popular belief, EQ leaders do not let their feelings rule them; instead, they allow their feelings to influence their rule. This is where the value of “people above profits” takes root as Ei leaders figure out how to move people out of the office to the safety of their homes even if it negatively impacts production. Or, finding ways to adjust schedules and pay rates to preserve non-essential jobs. Or, offering payment deferrals to customers who are experiencing financial hardship. Leaders who know their values and stay true to them during crisis demonstrate high degrees of self-awareness, which is the foundation of emotionally intelligent leadership.

2.    Self-Management

EQ leaders control emotions and impulses in order to create a safe and trusting environment for others. Leaders who self-manage typically don’t allow themselves to become too angry or jealous, and they resist impulsive, careless, reactionary decisions. They think before they act. They assume the best intent of others and offer their people immediate forms of trust and respect. EQ leaders believe trust is to be lost versus earned which allows employees to feel empowered, valued and stable, even during times of crisis. Being honest and vulnerable while being simultaneously empathetic, courageous and kind is an emotional balancing act that creates na authentically safe place for employees and customers right now. Leaders who manage their fear, anger, sadness and hope will create meaningful support for their employees and customers.

3.    Social Awareness

EQ leaders demonstrate a genuine interest and commitment to the vulnerability, fears and pain of others. This behavior allows people to feel valued and connected to their leader(s) on a personal level. Strong social awareness allows leaders to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around them. While EQ leaders may not be able to solve or eliminate every pain point or problem their business and employees face today, they do feel a need to get creative in order to address as many issues as possible in a meaningful way. Social awareness requires empathy. Today, leaders are revealing their empathy levels in the way they manage employee safety and sustained employment along with acknowledging employee stress, home responsibilities and economic fears. Leader empathy is also revealed through their social responsibility focus and efforts. While profitability will ensure employees and customers are taken care of, it is a critical mind shift during COVID-19 to think of how employees are impacted by this change in order to manage production and service effectively.  There are two primary schools of thought around people and profits. The first is, take care of the business and the business will support the people. The second is, take care of the people and the people will take care of the business. That is a slight change of words but enormous change of practice. EQ leaders live by the latter.

4.    Relationship Management

Leaders with strong relationship management skills are typically viewed as team players and servant leaders. Rather than focus on their own success, they help others to develop, shine, and achieve success. They effectively manage disputes, are excellent communicators, and masters at building and maintaining relationships. Today that looks like the leaders who are doing everything necessary to keep people safe, preserve jobs, salaries, and work-life balance. These leaders are putting the needs of their employees and community above their own. Leaders at companies like Verizon, Wells Fargo, Facebook, Google and Starbucks, just to name a few, are offering internal safety support and external community support through free services, financial assistance, and large scale donations to front line workers and non-profit organizations out of respect and commitment to the relationships they have with their employees, customers and community members. Making the decision to “give” in any capacity is an example of emotionally intelligent leadership – making relationship management their first “production” commitment.

When this world crisis is over, the business world that we knew prior to COVID-19 will have significantly changed. One of the most prominent changes will be how employees look at leaders and determine how much they respect and trust them. All the decisions and behaviors around how leaders are treating others is creating a leadership EQ scorecard that will impact businesses and politics well beyond COVID-19. Yesterday, EQ was a nice-to-have leader soft skill versus need-to-have leader requirement. Today, we know better.

This post was written by Teresa Johnson, Laura Sanchez-Greenberg, Sean Jordan, and Laura Guilliam–a team of students in our executive doctoral program in values-driven leadership.

Photo by Matilda Wormwood from Pexels

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