As IT leaders help their teams move through the evolving reality of working during a global pandemic, the value of emotionally intelligent leadership could not be more clear.
“Emotional intelligence enables us to manage our internal resources so we can deal with the increased complexity and heightened emotion the crisis has caused,” says Jill Pennington, consulting director for PSI Talent Management.
[ For more advice on crisis leadership, read Emotional intelligence during the pandemic: 5 tips for leaders. ]
11 ways to strengthen emotional intelligence daily
Of course, no one can become an emotional intelligence master overnight. Emotional intelligence is something that leaders must learn and practice over and over again.
Experts shared a number of ways to do that – and raise your EQ – in your day-to-day work:
1. Get comfortable with ambiguity
While impulsive decision-making is not advisable and fact-finding is key, emotionally intelligent leaders need agility, too. “You will never have all the facts in front of you,” says Suzanne Bates, CEO of Bates Communications. “Get comfortable with ambiguity and create flexible solutions so that you can be agile in problem-solving during a crisis." This will also protect you from analysis paralysis, she adds.
Make a choice, despite possible unknowns, and don’t focus on “right vs. wrong” decisions, says Gill Hasson, career coach and author of Emotional Intelligence: Managing Emotions to Make a Positive Impact on Your Life and Career and Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace. “Instead, ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? How might I deal with that?’ If possible, have a backup plan.”
Pennington also advises gathering views and insights from others to broaden perspective, staying connected and informed, listening carefully and empathetically, and creating an environment where people feel safe to share their concerns.
2. Strengthen your self-belief
Self -reliance is a major component of EQ. It’s the skill “to rise to the major challenges and opportunities that life presents to us,” says Martyn Newman, a clinical psychologist and founder of leadership consultancy RocheMartin. “Self-reliance is really about how much confidence you have in your ability to exercise control over your own behavior and over events that affect your life.” A major building block of that is self-belief: Having confidence in your own judgment and being able and willing to take action.
You can boost self-belief in multiple ways: Creating a vision of the leader you want to be, modeling behaviors of leaders you admire, and seeking feedback from trusted advisors. One of the best ways to increase self-belief in the moment is by tuning into your emotional and physical experiences for feedback. They offer clues to your emotional state, which psychologists have proven, has a significant impact on judgment.
“Don’t make big decisions while your mood is down or low because ultimately your judgment will be negatively affected,” Newman says. “Also, Daniel Goleman, in his latest research, demonstrates that a leader’s mood is contagious. Without being phony, choose wherever you can to maintain an upbeat mood that conveys a can-do attitude. This will strengthen a sense of self-belief.”
3. Hone critical thinking
The ability to review a complex set of issues or evaluate options with little bias is an important element of emotional intelligence, particularly when people are navigating uncertainty. “Critical thinking helps you avoid thinking there is only one answer or a false choice between only two ideas,” says Bates.
Emotionally intelligent leaders try to replace either/or mindsets with both/and thinking. “Critical thinking is an essential skill any time but is particularly important now. It can help you to launch new products and services, reinvent new ways of doing business, and survive and thrive over the long term of the pandemic and beyond,” says Bates.
IT leaders might sharpen critical thinking approaches as they plan a return to office spaces. “Most businesses are going to have to do both/and thinking to figure out how they need to use their office spaces, who needs to use them, how they can be used, in a way that defines for people how you will strive to protect their health and safety while also making it possible to do business and for them to work effectively,” Bates says.
4. Sharpen self-actualization
“Being in isolation, or self-distancing, can be painful for some people,” says Dr. Steven J. Stein, founder and executive chairman for Multi-Health Systems, which develops and administers EQ assessments. “They miss the interaction with others, being in places they enjoy.” Acceptance is a valuable tool in these situations.
However, there’s also an opportunity to consider goals and plans. “Writing down your goals and future plans are a good way to help with your self-actualization,” Dr. Stein says. “Try to take stock of what’s working for you and what you’d like to improve.”
5. Practice empathy
Working this muscle now will create stronger EQ capabilities and relationships in the future. “Not many people will forget the boss who was especially empathetic during a difficult time – and will likely be more loyal and work harder for that leader in the future,” says Janele Lynn, owner of the Lynn Leadership Group, who helps leaders build trusting relationships through EI.
One of the best ways to get better at this is to listen with an open mind. “To do that, we need to work to not approach the situation with our own emotional filter in place and work to remove assumptions before entering a conversation with a team member,” says Lynn, who advises clients to conduct a self-inventory first. “This means working to identify what emotions they are currently feeling and what they currently think others might be feeling,” she explains. “Document this self-inventory to increase your own awareness of your current state, then try to ensure that those emotions and assumptions don’t cloud the conversation.”
Empathy is not about being warm and fuzzy, says Newman, but about the ability to communicate that you can see the world from another’s point of view. It has a cognitive dimension (understanding the tasks a person must perform) and an emotional dimension (acknowledging the humanity of another person before entering into a transaction with them). By sharing someone’s experience, you establish common ground and rapport to get things done together, Newman says.
Let’s look at six more techniques to boost your EQ:
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