Employee Engagement

How to harness emotional intelligence (EQ) to be a better leader

Challenging times call for a different kind of leadership. Right now, our people and teams are unmoored and trying to find their footing on terrain that’s ever-shifting. However, there is hope: during this time people-leaders can still cultivate grounded, firm and flexible leadership! It starts by leading with emotional intelligence (EQ).

EQ embodies a leader’s ability to identify the spoken and unspoken needs of their people and themselves. When a leader leads with EQ, people are given the space to embrace change while continuing to communicate, collaborate, make decisions and execute effectively.

We hosted a webinar with our friends at ThinkHuman and Donut to talk about EQ within the current state of work. Our panelists included: 

  • Meredith Haberfield, CEO, ThinkHuman (moderator)
  • Latoya Lyn, Employee Relations and Senior HRBP, Compass
  • Mollie West Duffy, Head of Organizational Development, Rally
  • Lynette Barksdale, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader, Goldman Sachs
  • Kevin Yip, our rockstar COO and Co-founder here at Blueboard

These experts had an honest and insightful conversation about how to harness the power of EQ, and we’re excited to share some of our favorite recommendations below. For more HR webinars, continue to stay in touch via our Resources page.

Ways to harness emotional intelligence. 

How can leaders bring more EQ into the way they lead - especially now, when we don’t have the luxury of interacting with our employees in person and being physically present in the office? Our panelists shared a few ideas to put emotional intelligence into practice:

1. Model vulnerability.

As a leader, your actions have the power to inform how your employees behave. So if you want your employees to feel empowered to be vulnerable, you have to model that behavior yourself. This means openly communicating what you’re feeling (beyond just “I’m fine”) and how those current feelings are affecting your life and your work output, work relationships. Showing employees that it’s ok to be human at work gives them the license to do the same. Here are a few ways to practice vulnerability: 

  • Feel your feelings. We’ve been taught that feelings like anxiety, frustration and anger aren’t appropriate emotions to show in a professional setting. But to suppress those feelings - especially today, when everyone is experiencing them even more intensely - can lead to negative mental health outcomes. As a leader, the best thing you can do is to lean into your own feelings and effectively communicate them to your employees. For instance, instead of trying to push through a difficult week, let your team know: “Like all of you, I’m experiencing a lot of anxiety this week because there are so many unknowns around COVID-19. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m optimistic we’ll figure them out as we go.” This provides relief to employees, who may be feeling the same way, and can also help them expand their language around how to talk about their own emotions more constructively in the workplace.
  • Take and encourage others to take mental health days. Mental health days are a great benefit to introduce now, if you haven’t already. They give people the space to say they’re feeling stressed or burnt out and allows them to take time to unplug and re-energize. The key is to take them before you reach burnout, and to encourage employees to proactively add them to the calendar while we’re in quarantine. But it’s not enough to simply offer this benefit. Leaders have to practice what they preach and use these days for themselves. Even better? When you take a mental health day, publicly put it as your Slack status. This not only destigmatizes mental health but also shows your employees that your company prioritizes it.

2. Reframe what growth looks like.

All company, team, and individual goals went out the window with COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean personal and professional growth can’t be achieved during this time. It’s more about reframing what growth means in the current context. Here’s how to create space for employees to develop and grow in an emotionally intelligent way: 

  • Be intentional. One of the benefits of being in an office is that there are many opportunities for organic conversations and development and growth, and feedback can surface easily over a quick walk around the block or stroll to the coffee shop. After a meeting, your manager can stop you in the hallway and praise you for the great presentation. These spontaneous moments are much more challenging to find in remote work, which is why leaders and managers must be intentional about having those conversations. Put time on the calendar for one-on-ones, performance reviews or even casual check-ins to discuss your employees’ goals or progress. The more you do these quick check-ins, the less they will feel like being summoned to the principal’s office. Use them as opportunities to ask how you’re doing as a manager as well, to make the environment a two-way feedback space. Otherwise, between the chaos of managing your personal life and professional needs, those conversations may fall through the cracks.
  • Create different forums for feedback. Be inclusive about how you share feedback. Some people may find it very uncomfortable to receive or give feedback through Zoom. So offer the option of having those conversations through the phone or on email (for more casual conversations). Or find different ways to start the conversation. Instead of delivering feedback in a “formal” setting, simply ask your employees: “what do you think you’re doing great on?” or, “what do you think you can improve on?” This encourages them to self reflect and then gives you a natural opportunity to layer in your own perspective. 
  • Adopt a growth mindset. Finally, it’s easy for employees to be hard on themselves during this time. All the new skills they wanted to learn or goals they wanted to achieve may be put on the backburner because of COVID-19 or other situations outside of their control. It’s important for leaders to practice empathy and give employees credit for the growth they might not be aware of. For instance, let them know how much you appreciate their flexibility and ability to embrace ambiguity. Or how great they’ve been at communicating their work schedule with the team. Recognizing these small, but significant, areas of progress can be very energizing for the employee and help them reframe growth in their own minds. 

3. Find moments of humanity in work.

Right now, the best thing all leaders can do is help employees navigate this new world of work. To do this, it requires leaders to view their employees as individuals who are dealing with a unique set of challenges, problems, and struggles. This is a great time to apply EQ and rediscover moments of humanity at work. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Check in with intention. These days, the question “how are you?” can feel very loaded. Instead of starting off your meetings with this generic greeting, go deeper. Ask your team what they’ve struggled with most this week. Or what they’ve been doing to take care of their mental health. These questions are more intentional and can open up authentic conversations instead of forcing employees to answer with “I’m fine.” We’ve started adopting the “Rose, Bud, Thorn” exercise for mindful check-ins with small teams. In this exercise, employees are asked to share a highlight, success, small win, or something positive that happened that week (Rose), a challenge they experienced or something they need more support with (Thorn), and a new idea or creative inspiration, something they’re looking forward to experiencing in the future (Bud). 
  • Make things ok. A great example of bringing humanity back to work is the “it’s ok to…” poster. This was created by a writer at the UK Government Digital Service and is a list of things it’s ok to do (or not do). We love this concept and encourage leaders to apply the same idea to their teams - whether it’s officially written down or verbally communicated. Let employees know that it’s ok if they can’t start work until 11 a.m. because they have to feed their children breakfast and get a math lesson in. It’s ok if they can’t make a meeting at 5 p.m. because that’s family dinner time. It’s ok if they need to take the day off to unwind from the stress of having a sick parent. By doing this, you allow employees to redefine what work means to them and on their own terms.

Adjusting to this new way of life and work isn’t easy. But leading with EQ can make the experience so much better for everyone involved - including yourself. If you want to learn how experiential rewards and recognition can help managers more authentically connect with, see and value their teammates, connect with our team here.

Stay tuned for more valuable webinars and upcoming events here on our Resources page - stay well, and we can’t wait to see you again online.

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