Leading Through a Crisis with Emotional Intelligence

The way a leader shows up to work emotionally sets the tone for everyone around them. So much so, that your boss’s mood can not only make or break the rest of your day, but it can also affect your and your whole team’s performance.

A UC Riverside study found that employees don’t just notice the emotions of their boss, they absorb the emotions until they feel them. A flustered, stressed-out boss can derail a team’s ability to stay calm and work through a challenge. On the other hand, an optimistic and tuned-in boss can establish a positive environment, even during a crisis, where people collaborate freely and perform highly.

That’s why leading is such a tough job. Leaders are responsible for their own emotions as well as those of the people below them. They have to constantly monitor their emotions and manage their reactions knowing how serious the impact can be, for better or worse. To do so effectively, leaders need a great degree of emotional intelligence (EQ).  

We did some digging at TalentSmart to unearth the key behaviors emotionally intelligent leaders prioritize to guide their teams through a crisis. Here are three of the best:

High EQ leaders aren’t afraid to show vulnerability. We’ve all had that boss who operates under a sort of robotic professionalism with a painted-on smile. These bosses don’t actually do anything to make employees feel good, because people see right through their inauthenticity. What these bosses really do is create a stiff, cold atmosphere where people are afraid to share, connect, or even trust each other. Emotionally intelligent leaders, on the other hand, share honest emotions with their teams. This shows people where they’re coming from as they make difficult decisions. Sharing openly also helps eliminate an “employee vs. boss” mentality and sets a precedent for the team to feel comfortable sharing, asking for help, and holding healthy check-ins and dialogues.  Research shows that organizations that embrace vulnerability establish a culture of psychological safety where forgiveness for failure, openness, and empathy are the norm.

High EQ leaders deliver news transparently and empathetically. During the 2008 layoffs on Wall Street, some organizations literally had a line of laid-off people wait with boxes to pack up their desks. The message sent, whether intentional or not, was “we don’t value people.” The employees who were laid off were understandably bitter, but so were the remaining employees whose friends had been treated apathetically. Those still employed felt survivor’s guilt and didn’t understand how or why things had transpired the way they did. Panicked in the middle of a crisis, the leaders lost track of the importance of transparency and empathy as they laid people off. They worked frantically to make sure their organizations stayed afloat, but they forgot to see what kind of impact their actions and emotions had on the people who would still be coming to work every day.  

On the opposite end of this spectrum, is Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity, a company that  processes payments for small businesses. He found his company in dire straits these last two months as Gravity’s small business customers suffered. In response, Price held an all-company meeting in which he openly shared company finances and the kind of cuts necessary to survive without layoffs. Then, he met with employees one at a time for a week straight to discuss potential solutions. As a company, they developed a private form where each employee wrote down what they would feasibly be able to sacrifice in terms of a pay cut to help save the company. The system worked. Gravity didn’t lay anyone off, and they made cuts on each employee’s terms. Empathetic transparency means taking the time to fill employees in on major changes in a way that addresses and values their feelings.

High EQ leaders update frequently. During a crisis, ongoing change quickly becomes the new normal. As a result, updates don’t always match that rate of change, and this gap causes people to feel anxious and insecure. By erring on the side of over-communication, emotionally intelligent leaders help alleviate that fear by giving people space and time to listen, ask questions, and share their reactions. Sometimes it takes multiple updates for the questions and insights to finally surface.

From Insights To Action. At the heart of EQ and leadership lies a whole set of delicate balancing acts: Sharing without oversharing, emotional honesty without emotional dumping or lashing out, the needs of the company with empathy for individuals, and information in the right amounts while the right timing. Add these three behaviors to your leadership repertoire, and you’ll be surprised how far they go to carry your team through these changing times.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

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