Keeping a business growing during a global pandemic has presented the ultimate leadership test for industries across the world. From education, government, healthcare, nonprofits, and the technology space, almost every organization has experienced unique situations challenging their values and skills. If nothing else, navigating uncertainty requires courage and compassion, mental and emotional stamina.
Traversing through this crisis, leaders are confronted with leaning into their roles under the added stressors of workforce volatility. From evaluating safety and health risks to managing their work-life challenges amid rapidly changing policies, leaders also need to sharpen one of the most highly regarded competencies for leadership: Emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence in people is an understanding and categorization of feelings we use to guide our behavior. Think of Emotional Quotient (EQ) as an internal toolkit, or rather, a collection of faculties you can develop, helping you understand and regulate yourself and more skillfully manage your relationships. From a technological perspective, you can also liken this to intelligent software, especially in IT and business operations. As technologists, we must understand the vast swathes of systems, applications, and tools that make up our complex landscapes. This means monitoring how those tools respond to external factors but, more interestingly, using artificial intelligence to automate how our systems behave and react when faced with various scenarios.
Just as limits and complexities test software, how has the pandemic tested the EQ of leaders during this time?
Test One: Self-Awareness
The core of great leadership lies in understanding your strengths and weaknesses while recognizing your emotions and energy. Energy is vital because what you emit and the influence your reactions have on your people, your leadership team and your external partners can affect the entire team’s performance. A recent survey revealed 95% of people believe they are self-aware; however, only 10-15% of those surveyed have mastered it. From a leadership perspective, self-awareness in a time of crisis requires constantly observing the emotional climate.
The pandemic has tested our abilities (leaders and their team members) to avoid overreacting to roadblocks, or jumping to conclusions when tasks or situations feel uncomfortable. When self-aware, we recognize our responses to stress and can stop and reflect before acting. Steering the ship during a time of reduced physical contact requires a focused effort on servant leadership. An example of “steering” might include coaching others to come up with their own solutions to problems when your team can’t get around a whiteboard to ideate on creative solutions that naturally occur during in-person group think.
At Avanta, we give teams permission to find those solutions for themselves that will include the support and use of technology that aids virtual collaboration such as Miro – a real-time whiteboarding tool for virtual workshops. In these testing times, it’s paramount that leaders be the rising tide that lifts all boats. Just like automation tools that monitor software in real-time, emotional intelligence is an innate tool that helps leaders monitor other people’s reactions to specific situations – including their own. You can liken this to a series of if statements within an AI algorithm, for example: “If faced with this situation, what impact does it have on how I feel?” “How do I learn from this to inform how I respond?”
Test Two – Relationships
Maintaining strong relationships with their team is another test leaders are faced with during this time. Take algorithms, for example.They process data according to the rules established by a human and produce an output. Through machine learning, you can improve the algorithm or the relationship established by the requirements to help meet your objective, hence strengthening your algorithmic outcome.
Now, apply this thinking to building up emotional intelligence patterns. The more consistent leaders are with the rules they set around their own emotional response to situations, the more predictive the outcome is. Your teams can learn from this ‘data output’ and feel safe, knowing that they can predictively gauge the response of their leadership teams, including the motivational drivers that influence their emotional reaction to a problem, challenge or new opportunity.. Ultimately, the more consistent your behaviour, the more reliable the emotional compass is which teams use to continuously progress in a positive direction. When leaders lack emotional intelligence, the consequences of poorly established rules around collaborative working in remote working environments, n can result in skewed problem solving. Leading by example when it comes to reading a virtual room can pay dividends when ‘keeping the lights on’ in a pandemic requires greater effort than normal. It’s easy to forget that executive stakeholders need to nurture relationships as much as middle management. With virtual ways of working, this is underscored by the lack of water-cooler moments and serendipitous meetings on the stairwells that provide that much needed social connection. Humans are innately social beings and our current virtual work environment adds stress on your teams when that basic instinct isn’t nurtured. So, take the opportunity to schedule regular wellness calls with your leadership teams. It’s a great barometer for emotional well-being. Encourage banter and chit chat at the start of virtual meetings and don’t underestimate the value of this bonding. Leading by example empowers natural conversations to occur amongst your team. Going straight into a business agenda might be tempting when time is precious but remember that humans need to expend social energy in order to remain healthy and happy at work.
Test Three – Knowing When Enough is Enough
Working from home has opened up ‘Pandora’s Box’ when it comes to video conference calls. Whether you’re a leader or team member, being inundated with back to back video calls is exhausting. As a leader, it’s just as important to know your limit as well as that of your teams.
The BBC penned an excellent piece around this very subject.; To paraphrase, video calls are draining because non-verbal communication is often difficult to pick up on, so we have to concentrate much harder to read the room. More than eight hours of video calls can leave you emotionally parched. Therefore,it’s crucial for leaders to encourage blocking off time between calls to take a break. These are simple cues that leaders operating at a high level of emotional intelligence must pick up on, especially in the current stressful times. For example, how often does the solution to a problem come to you when you’re not thinking about how to solve it?
During a lock-down situation, teams are unable to carry on with their usual physical exercise routines. Walks, a visit to the gym or running a few errands consume lunchtimes during normal office activity. However, don’t forget to check yourself and your management teams to see if your organization is slipping into a ‘constantly contactable’ way of working. Working from home has its own challenges and giving permission to block off a lunch break or an afternoon walk not only secures the well-being of your workforce – it also aids productivity.
The idea of self-regulation within emotional intelligence can be likened to an automation platform. If the goal is to reduce manual work as much as possible, then we need tooling, which self-regulates. With people, this “emotional tooling” gives humans the ability to stay in control. And it’s the same with enterprise technology. Just as machines, when adequately coded, can predict trends and patterns in usage to identify a problem;humans operate more efficiently when they can predict how they’ll respond to a stimulus. These responses become automated efficiencies helping devices regulate, just as learned emotional intelligence helps humans do the same.