Lessons From A CEO Roundtable: Emotional Intelligence In A Time Of Crisis

Emotional Intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to understand and manage the emotions of yourself and others, and it plays a key role in your capacity to lead. In fact, EI is said to be the single biggest predictor of leadership success.

EI becomes even more important when people are in an increased emotional state, and we are obviously dealing with a very emotional time right now—experiencing stress and being challenged in ways we had not previously thought possible. But even if you can’t control what is happening around you, you can control your own decisions, perspectives and reactions, especially if you’re able to identify and understand the underlying thoughts and emotions driving them. Luckily, EI is something that can be developed and improved at any age.

During a recent CEO Roundtable, Jamelle Lindo (Emotional Intelligence coach, consultant and founder of PARADIGM People Development) led a great discussion on how we can leverage our Emotional Intelligence to show up as our best selves and better lead others through the current crisis.

Note that EI does not refer to single skill, but is rather an umbrella term for a combination of many competencies. Of the 15 competencies contained in the EI 2.0 model, the most relevant to leadership right now are self-awareness, emotional expression, stress tolerance and demonstrating the right balance of empathy and assertiveness:

Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the most valuable EI competency and the gateway to all the others. It addresses your ability to recognize, identify, and understand your own thoughts and emotions. You need to first be aware of your own thoughts and emotions—and how they are informing your actions—before you can act on any other skill.  And by understanding yourself, you are also much better equipped to understand others.

The fear, anxiety, frustration and uncertainty that many people are currently feeling are directly connected to the stories that we are tell ourselves: “This is not going to go well.”, “I am a victim.”, “I am powerless.” etc. If you are self-aware, you are better able to recognize these negative thoughts in the moment, and have the ability (and choice) to change your internal narrative and react more productively.

Studies have shown that only 10-15% of the people who identify as self-aware actually are, so there is definitely room for improvement in this key area. More of how to improve this competency later.

Emotional Expression

Once you’ve identified your thoughts and feelings, you need to allow yourself to express them in order to let them go. Leaders often feel they need to play the role of hero or savior, and so they don’t authentically express their own emotions and experiences. Unfortunately, this may come across as inauthentic and can really damage the relationships between a leader and their team members.

Employees will look back and reflect on how you connected with them during this challenging time and so you really need to show vulnerability and connect authentically through real conversations. Intentionally create this space. By sharing your own vulnerability and being transparent with your own experiences, you also open the door for others to share and express their own feelings.

Stress Tolerance

Stress tolerance—or stress resiliency—speaks to how well you are able to absorb and balance stress, as well as how quickly you are able to recover from stress.

The three top qualities of someone resilient are:

    • A staunch acceptance of reality. How well are you able to accept and understand what is outside of your control and move forward, vs stalling in a place of denial or blame?
    • A deep belief in strong values. The things you truly believe are important will rise to the surface during times of stress, and you need to lean into these values
    • The ability to improvise. Can you do more with less? Can you turn challenges into opportunities? Find unconventional ways to accomplish your goals?

Regardless of whether it’s meditation, running, reading, playing a game etc., you need to identify the way that you best recover from stress, and then set aside more time to do it– because it takes more to regain equilibrium in times of crisis.

Empathy and Assertiveness

As a leader in a time of crisis, it’s important to find the right balance of empathy and assertiveness. Yes, you need to show vulnerability, compassion, and understanding in order to level the playing field and build relationships, BUT you also need to demand a level of commitment and accountability from everyone on your team to do their part in getting the necessary jobs done. Lead with empathy – “How are you feeling?”— and then lean into assertiveness — “Here is what I need from you”.

People behave differently in a crisis, and remaining empathetic can be a challenge, especially if this is not usually a strength. Listening is now more important than ever. In order to see beyond yourself you need to ask more questions and do more listening.

How can you develop your Emotional Intelligence?

Remember, everything is predicated on Self-Awareness—it’s the gateway to every other EI competency.

And the only way to enhance your Self-Awareness is through Self Reflection:

    • Stop and check in on yourself 5 or 6 times a day. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling? What am I thinking?” Set an alarm so you don’t forget.
    • Evaluate each of these internal experiences. The goal is to identify and label your emotions. Are you telling yourself positive or negative stories?
    • At night, scan through your day for any trigger moments and try to identify the event, feeling, or thought.

The more you do this, the more you will eventually be able to identify your emotions and respond better in real time.


 

Closing thoughts

 

The way you show up as a leader will affect the tone of your entire organization. And it’s not just what you say – it’s how you act, respond and interact. That is why it’s so important to recognize your own areas of EI improvement and do something about them. Remember, EI weaknesses are amplified during a crisis so you need to regularly check in on your emotional health, and keep it in check, in order to show up fully and be your best self—not just for your business and your employers, but also for your family.