High EQ leadership: 10 ways to put your people first during the pandemic

High EQ leadership: 10 ways to put your people first during the pandemic

What can you do to create psychological safety, demonstrate empathy, and build trust with teammates right now? Leaders share 10 ideas to change your leadership style for the better

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7. Curb the apologies

“One thing I notice with teams who are suddenly remote is how often people apologize – for their kids, their pets, even their internet connections,” says Paul. “I try to make sure that people know that none of these struggles reflect on them and that many of us are experiencing the same things. A sub-optimal working situation is hard enough without worrying that it reflects poorly on you personally."

[ Read also: 8 powerful phrases of emotionally intelligent leaders. ] 

8. Consider shifting priorities based on individual bandwidth

Some are struggling with loneliness and isolation, others are living in a multi-generational household.

“While many have written about the fact that COVID-19 observes no boundaries and afflicts people without regard to economics, we know that this is not accurate. Everyone’s situation is unique,” says Vanessa Colella, chief innovation officer for Citi and head of Citi Ventures. “Some are struggling with loneliness and isolation, others are living in a multi-generational household and caring for parents, others are caring for young children, while others may have the stress of a loved one who has to go out to work or is ill. Understanding each employee’s unique needs will help inform your management decisions and how to prioritize the workload.

“Humanity and connectedness is key, and that is more important than just the work at hand,” Colella adds. “I have been asking employees who have more capacity right now whether or not there are projects that they would like to volunteer for. Some employees are at full capacity in their current circumstances, and others have more time because of projects that have been put on hold. It’s important to help employees with more time on their hands to stay engaged and curious by offering the opportunity to tackle new projects, work with new colleagues, and form new bonds. Bottom line: In these unprecedented circumstances, employees who feel respected, heard, and safe in all aspects of their lives will be the most productive and engaged.”

9. Find unexpected new ways to connect

Box is trying online cooking classes, virtual happy hours, and meetings conducted on Peloton bikes.

“At Box, we’ve worked to build a strong culture and work-from-anywhere technology architecture based on openness and collaboration. Now in light of COVID-19, we’re using the tools already in place but expanding our use in new ways and iterating on existing initiatives,” says Box’s Chapman. “For example, we’ve already revamped our employee wellbeing program to include new access to services like Headspace, online cooking classes, virtual happy hours, and meetings conducted on Peloton bikes. We are also making sure we pay extra attention to people who may be living alone during this stay-at-home period.”

10. It's OK to not be OK – even for leaders

“In a daunting time, it is critical for leaders to set the tone from the top, lead by example, and show empathy in all they do. It is also a good opportunity to offer up any personal insights from their own situation – leaders are human beings too, with families and challenges and concerns, and this is a great opportunity to remind your teams that you too are juggling the same challenges that they are,” says Jo Deal, chief human resources officer, LogMeIn.

“While remote working may have been typical for some teams before recent events, nobody has been through anything like this before and different approaches are needed. Leaders have to dial up all their emotional intelligence skills and focus a greater portion of their attention on employee well-being before jumping into the work conversations. For example, introverts may be adjusting well and tend to not need as many check-ins, while extroverts may appreciate more virtual activities and interaction. Knowing who has roommates, children, or spouses and being understanding to everyone’s new working conditions demonstrates empathy and provides a supportive environment where employees can discuss real issues,” says Deal.

“Be clear on deadlines that matter and work that can take a little longer, and acknowledge that people are juggling many hats during the working day in these unusual times. Remind and encourage employees to step away from their desks to balance work, life, and family – and not to feel guilty when they do so. If your leader does it too, then you know it is ok to follow that example, which helps everyone feel safer as they adjust to this new normality.

“When the situation does go back to normal,” Deal adds, “this support is what employees will remember from this experience to stay inspired, motivated, and committed to the organization.” 

[ Read also: 3 mindfulness exercises to try when you feel overwhelmed. ]


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