Research shows people who are high in emotional intelligence (EQ) make better leaders, and now more than ever, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the workplace calls for more emotional intelligence.
“These are turbulent times. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, stress was high. The pandemic has made the situation worse. Maybe once-upon-a-time there was little need to actively learn the skills of emotional intelligence, but in this world of growing complexity, EQ has become an essential skill,” says Mucha Mlingo, an award-winning emotional intelligence practitioner and founder and chief changemaker at PTS Africa.
According to Mlingo, emotional intelligence is being more aware of your emotions and navigating said emotions successfully. This skill is vital in times of crisis for both employers and employees because emotions drive behaviour and even though our default reaction under pressure is fight, flight or freeze, “these responses, these patterns are unlikely to serve us,” she says. “To respond intentionally, that is, to do what we really mean to do (for example responding to your manager calmly and asking for extra time to complete a particular task rather than what we feel like doing – which is ignoring his calls and emails) requires emotional intelligence.”
Feelings have a place at work
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Feelings, unfortunately, get a bad rap. “As a matter of fact, we have believed that feelings are irrational and are something that need to be brought under control. And yet the reality is that emotions and thoughts are not opposite. Our thoughts and feelings are very much intertwined and they both impact our behaviour,” Mlingo says and acknowledges that it may be difficult for some of us to give credence to emotions that make you feel uncomfortable.
“We have been taught to ignore or suppress them – or better yet, to control them. But emotions are data; they are not good or bad. However uncomfortable or overwhelming your feelings may be, resist the urge to judge them and to judge yourself. Rather, be curious. Ask yourself, if this feeling was an ally meant to give me insight, what would it be trying to tell me? There are reasons behind the emotions you are feeling and instead of judging them or pushing them aside, treat them as advice from a dear friend,” she says.
She offers her three top tips for steering your company through a crisis using emotional intelligence.
Understand that emotions are contagious
“An anxious leader transmits anxiety to the team. Research conducted by Six Seconds, a global EQ network that I am part of, shows that people have a tendency to unconsciously mimic the emotional expressions of others, making your team vulnerable to ‘catching your feelings’. Emotional contagion is a reality and leaders must understand that emotions do not only affect them, they affect the people they lead,” Mlingo says.
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Develop a heightened sense of self-awareness
Because emotions drive behaviour, Mlingo explains that you don’t have to be conscious of feelings for them to influence your thoughts and actions. “You can even be one of the people who say, ‘I’m just going to be rational and ignore emotions,’ but your emotions are still affecting you. Emotions are chemicals that course through the body. You can’t remove them, you can’t bury them, and you supress them at your peril. Successful leaders learn how to utilise them as data and that takes self-awareness,” she says. “Individuals lacking in self-awareness will struggle to lead effectively.”
Connect with your people
“We haven’t had a public health crisis of this scale in our lifetime, and it will need both head and heart to successfully navigate this crisis. Yes – as a leader is it imperative that you keep calm but that doesn’t mean not showing emotion or compassion. Reach out to your team and ensure that they have channels to share how they are feeling – even if it’s not with you,” Mlingo says.
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