Embracing emotion and empathy to drive us beyond this crisis

We’re currently living and working through some of the most intense, challenging conditions many of us will have had to endure – and we all will empathise that it can be particularly difficult to manage your working life. A recent study in Harvard Business Review found that tiredness, fear and panic all reduce our ability to think clearly, to be able to manage our relationships effectively, to focus on the right priorities, and to be able to make intelligent and informed decisions.

In a time when many will be looking to their leaders for guidance – it’s a particularly tough context to lead in. So, what makes for a good leader in times of crisis?

We continually research workplace behaviours and attitudes and recently studied over 1,500 employees from 30 companies to help determine the answer. Here are some of our findings:

  • Over 60 percent need to feel reassured about the future right now
  • 40 percent want their company to be transparent and let them know what is going on
  • Listening and sharing were seen as some of the most important qualities in manager, while the ability to ‘go back to the status quo’ and to ‘be firm’ were seen as far less important
  • In terms of power, the ability to convey optimism for the future far outweighed the showing of strength in the present

The most telling finding, for me, is that many of these findings link back to what we call ‘emotional intelligence’. It’s an attribute sought after in many companies and seems to be a key indicator of success. A study by Goleman found that when comparing ‘exceptional performance’ to ‘average performance’, nearly 90% of the difference lies in emotional intelligence rather than cognitive knowledge, which may surprise you greatly and counter your assumptions.


Embracing emotions

Emotional Intelligence, in the context of leadership, means accepting that there is a place for emotions in the workplace, providing a safe space for these emotions to be expressed, and, crucially, being capable of empathising (reading the room). Doing these things well will help you to give an exceptional leadership performance, and hence achieve exceptional goals, particularly in a time of crisis when emotions are high. It’s a real type of magic that calms and transforms situations and people around you.

There are 3 main situations that can help us to practice and train emotional intelligence:

  1. Discontinuity: This is an unexpected event that requires our attention to resolve. When something doesn’t quite go to plan, it can conjure up a range of emotions and requires strategic thinking to overcome.
  2. Transilience: The realisation that something work-related is connected to something ‘real’ in our lives, with a solution you can take from one role into the other. For example, maybe you have divided and shared housekeeping tasks with your partner and need to channel those same delegation skills amongst your team.
  3. Empathy: Simply put, practising empathy and putting ourselves into other people’s shoes, as much as possible will help develop automatic mechanisms that guide our habits.

Another related element of effective leadership, that I would encourage everyone to embrace, is Generative Leadership. It’s an extremely effective method of leadership, particularly in times of uncertainty, where the paths for future generations are seemingly in jeopardy. In our own research, I mentioned earlier, 89 percent of our participants felt that generative leadership is ‘what is needed right now’ – so we know that it’s absolutely crucial.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Our instincts may drive us towards the power of authority and control, it’s much more important to practice empathy[/perfectpullquote]

It’s the instinct to raise and guide the next generation and can be applied to both home and at work . In business terms, it’s about creating and nurturing something productive that will outlive your tenure. Surely that’s the highest level of leadership imaginable? Furthermore, influential US Psychologist Erik H. Erikson, considered the father of generative leadership, finds emotional intelligence an essential element of generative leadership, showing how absolutely fundamental it is right right now. This is a fact backed up by our own research into the subject.

Simply put – these leaders know the importance of delegating tasks, as a means of making others responsible and accountable, and they strive to have an impact, may it be in their working life, in their family or in the whole society. These leaders also recognise that the more roles that people have, the stronger they become – which is really important. They encourage their team to bring their true, authentic self to work.

Whilst our instincts may drive us to strive towards power of authority and control in this current time of crisis, it’s much more important to practice empathy, providing opportunities for people to express themselves, and showing that your priorities are on nurturing the future. By focusing on a positive future, and not going back to normality that was far from perfect, you might just do the right thing to address the crisis in the present.

Image: Connection