1. In your opinion, what does having high EQ as a leader mean in the workplace today?

Effective leaders use Emotional Intelligence in their leadership to achieve buy in, trust and commitment. Emotional Intelligence, or EI, describes an ability or capacity to perceive, assess, and manage the emotions of oneself, and of others. If this is done effectively, they can better marshal the inner resources to influence, communicate and convince others. Quite often, we learn tactical skills, strategies which are cognitive in nature. This can never be understated. However, when these are executed without sensitivity to the other person’s feelings and devoid of empathy, it can come across as transactional.

Leading with Emotional Intelligence necessitates the employment of a soft approach (intra-personal skills and interpersonal skills) with the hard (cognitive and tactical strategies). Every leader wants to get the desired results and i.e. meet the KPIs (Key Performance Index) and ensure success and profit for the company. Sometimes they overlook a very important indicator and that is keeping their people, happy, motivated and excited about their work. Afterall, these factors are highly consistent with productivity levels.

What do the top one hundred profit making companies like Wal-Mart, General Electric, Bank of America, Nestle, and Hershey’s have in common? While each of these companies live and breathe their own set of values, they stand out as being the critical one’s that breed a culture of EQ amongst others and they emphasize leadership, integrity, empowerment and teamwork. You would most likely witness as a customer of an EQ organization if Emotional Intelligence was integrated into the organization philosophy, mission and values. EQ culture is cascaded at every level within the organization. And this has to start from the very top, i.e. the leadership.

2. How can a leader lead his/her people in these times of uncertainty?

In times of uncertainty, a leader with high emotional intelligence should focus on these aspects of Emotional Intelligence.

Mood and Emotional Contagion

Emotional contagion is likened to the involuntary ‘passing on’ of emotions or moods from one person to another. It happens with pleasant as well as unpleasant moods.

Leaders must recognize the mood they evoke in the office. They must be cognisant of the need to inject enthusiasm and excitement among their charges. This is especially required in times of uncertainty. This can happen by the words they mutter, the emotional expressions conveyed and how much latitude they give others to make decisions. Certain leaders unconsciously create stressful workplaces as they are used to instilling fear and pressure, shutting away from staff, blocking the channels of communication between them and the levels below thus creating barriers within the organization. Other outdated negative practices include emphasizing on individuality, giving attention only to a certain few and ignoring the rest thus creating factions and cliques. As a leader, recognize that your every word is scrutinized, your actions, modelled by those who respect you and if they don’t, their behaviours are totally in opposition to yours. This can result in tension and emotional dissonance (discord or disharmony) in and around the space you function with your colleagues. When tensions mount, silence fills the air, suspicions loom and distrust surfaces like a disease.

You are not born with or without optimism. You can learn it. The Father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman says that optimism or pessimism is present in our language. When something good or bad happens, just by our verbal explanations, we affect the mood and unconscious impetus to act in others and ourselves.

What kind of energy are you projecting to your team members in times of uncertainty? The last thing they need to have is another energy sucker consuming the urgently needed positivity that remains in the office. Leaders need to observe their patterns and words whenever they speak. They need to refrain from projecting despondence and a defeatist mindset by not saying, “Don’t even waste your time on it”, “Are you absolutely sure you know what you are doing”, “I don’t think this is possible”, “I don’t think this will go well”, “Why must this always happen to us”, “This is the story of your life”, “I have a bad feeling about this?” Or are you using these phrases which exude hope and possibility… “Let’s just give it a shot”, “Why don’t you try again”, “ Just a little more effort and we’ll get there”, “Great job!!”, “It’s OK, let’s just push on”.

It is untrue to say there is no place for pessimists as they serve us in many ways like crisis planning and keeping a check on complacency, comfort and over-confidence. Hence, leaders have to be realists while ensuring that they inspire energy, hope and possibility when they speak to their staff about their performance, the potential they bring with them and how they can be a part of the vision the leader beams to all.

Self-directed and Action Oriented

During unpredictable periods, an effective leader who is EQ trained will be aware of his challenges and his/her strengths, conscious of the patterns that cause the team to burn-out and perform poorly. They have a clear vision and purpose, are self -directed and able to orchestrate their vision and translate this to their team to perform and succeed especially in times when guidance is most needed. They are aware of their mood and energy and how people feel in tough times hence a sense of well-being for the team becomes the focus. They are adept at stepping up at the appropriate time to inspire, motivate and shake up the group.

3. How should a leader communicate to his/her people when downsizing?

Empathy and Authenticity

Empathy is seldom synonymous with leadership because it does not summon the “macho” image of the tough guy who sits at the top. So what does empathy mean in leadership circles? The word embraces one of the farthest yet simplest moral guides in the history of human behaviour – treating others like we would like to be treated, attempting to place ourselves as much as possible in the space others are in with the intention to see what others are seeing and feel what they are possibly feeling.

The test of your empathy levels is evident in how easily you pick up on other people’s feelings and how strongly you are affected by those feelings. It is difficult to feel in exact measure another’s pain, their despair, anxiety and frustration, even their potential anger and rage, however, it is the effort at trying to be in such a state that differentiates the empathic one from those expressing sympathy. Sympathy can sometimes be expressed easily by saying, “That must be difficult” or “I know what you mean” and not meaning it.
Dev Patnaik mentions in his book Wired to Care that empathy can give us a reason to come in to work everyday. It helps transform jobs into careers and careers into calling and this in itself offers employees meaning in their lives. By the same token, when giving bad news e.g. downsizing, leaders need to show how they too would feel if in the same position. They need to be authentic in their response. Authenticity requires honesty, sincerity and frankness. The leader should give as much explanation as possible so that those affected leave knowing reasons behind the exercise. They need to practice patience, compassion and understanding as emotional states distort peoples’ thinking and discussions can get heated up. Allowing affected parties to vent and express is critical to allowing them to feel cared for and respected. The process allows people to calm themselves when they know they are being listened too.

Hope and Optimism

Optimists have expectations that things will eventually turn out all right, and if they do not, there are reasons to explain the initial setbacks — roadblocks that are only temporary and can be changed. Great leaders are inspiring and they offer a perspective of possibility. They allow people to see a new beginning. When downsized, people feel disenchanted, confused and hurt. It requires time to allow staff to see the light at the end of the tunnel but this is absolutely necessary.

Optimism is about identifying and adopting the necessary steps to sustain continuous action toward positive outcomes. Optimism is more than just ‘thinking positive.’ Optimists believe they will accomplish what they set out to do, and even if it takes time, or if they encounter obstacles and problems — they are not discouraged. Leaders need to offer this perspective in such a time. The leader may even explain that difficult times call for tough actions and that tough times always build resilience and strength in anyone and with the right attitude, a better opportunity could come around the corner.

Optimists have a different definition of failure, which they consider as opportunities to shift and adjust before starting over again.

4. What is the main emotional equation that helps you to lead?

A formula I choose to live by is Awareness + Purpose + Engagement + Strategy = Passion & Commitment.

  • One of the key components of EQ is Self awareness and awareness of others. Observe how you react to people. Do you rush to judgment before you know all of the facts? Do you stereotype? Look honestly at how you process information and give instructions. Do you facilitate or use a command and control style? Have you noticed how you react when you are upset with your charges and if there is something worth shifting?
  • Purpose. Mastery of vision and purpose requires that the leader has the ability to set a team direction and goals based on a strong personal philosophy. This inner compass also provides resilience and strength to overcome obstacles because of his/her focus on what matters. It is the inner motivator, the rudder that propels the leader and the group forward. When our actions are consistent with our words and philosophy, trust and team cohesion become a solid foundation on which the teams obtains it’s strength.
  • Engagement is all about communication. Effective leaders are frank, sincere, willing to approach difficult news as much they are with good news. They communicate with respect and clarity ensuring that the team is clear about all expectations and no one is left in the dark. They adopt an open door policy and invite candid as well open discussion.
  • Strategy. Great leaders mix the soft with the hard. It’s no use having all the people skills without much ability and knowledge. EQ leaders are able to fuse their experience at work with their talents thus combining their feelings with their sound mind. It’s not about EQ vs IQ but a fusion of both. When leaders can harness their cognitive talents with the benefit that emotions like anger, fear and disappointment bring, they produce exceptional results matched only by the very best in the field.

The combination of these 4 elements invokes extraordinary passion and commitment which in turn propels leaders to the top.

5. How can a leader express EQ effectively in a stressed workplace?

Whether in good times or bad, emotions are predominantly at play in the workplace and they have a direct effect on the wellbeing of staff. Leaders have to be at the top of their game to prevent challenges morphing into crises. Here are 4 fundamental competencies a leader needs to display in tough times.

Purpose: Understanding and communicating the goals and aspirations of the department company fosters commitment. Every staff must clearly understand what their role is, how they are progressing and where they should be moving towards. When staff are just tackling day to day chores without the broader vision in place, a company might as well hire part-time staff. The “Why” or purpose sets in motion a sense of belonging, clarity of direction and intrinsic reason to be part of the family. This in turn instils commitment and a strong reason to give 100%.

Navigate Emotions: In difficult situations, the leader’s behaviour and attitude is fundamental to the culture and atmosphere that is cultivated. The term emotional contagion simply means the ‘contagiousness’ of the emotional presence of people around and too many times we’ve heard of the adage that fish rots from the head. A toxic leader evokes toxic feeling, permeating fear and insecurity across the team. A leader’s ability to calm the storm and nurture trust and emotional strength will instil belief and faith in how the team rides the storm.

Resilience: Effective leaders are steadfast in their approach to challenges. They adopt a mindset of hope and possibility while not ignoring the undercurrents of difficulty. Instead they focus on what is possible, take immediate action thus overcoming immediate threats and increasing the security and well-being of staff around them. They facilitate action and rally their teams. They appreciate the lessons from the difficulty and use this as fuel and energy to encourage staff to learn from such challenges. This inevitably allows them to be emotionally stronger and tactically sharper.

Be Dependable: Effective leaders are congruent in their words and actions. They build trust by consistently acting out what they commit to. Additionally, they nurture such a culture with commitment such that everyone in the team is expected to walk the talk. They are quick to reproach unsavoury behaviour thus modelling traits and qualities reflective of performance teams.

6. Why and how can a leader improve their EQ?

A leader can arrange to be EQ profiled as a first step and then seek to address the weaker competencies that hinder performance while giving more focus on harnessing his/her strengths. There are a few ways a typical leader can improve these competencies. A first step is to have a good feel of what EQ is all about and how such practices should not be seen as a one-off, quick-fix 2 day workshop. It’s a life- long commitment to tackle the weaker areas and sustain the effort since we are vulnerable to changes in every area of our lives in the corporate world as well as in our personal lives.

Following an EQ workshop, a competent consultant can coach the leader on the competencies that need to be addressed. This simply takes the form of weekly exercises and discussions on a goal the leader has set and deciding how to marshal the required EQ competencies to reach the intended target. To keep on track, a pre and post profiling 4-6 months apart would allow someone to know if progress has been made. If one is actively doing weekly exercises on a weak competency for at least a month to 6 weeks, changes will be evident.

7. How has EQ helped you to become a better leader?

The best reminders come to me during my leadership workshops when I listen to leaders who both practice constructive and destructive behaviors, attitudes and mindset. I am reminded continually that EQ is about an intra-personal and interpersonal combination of strengths. Quite often, leaders learn skills to handle encounters but may overlook aspects closer to themselves like their self control, awareness and a clear understanding of how emotions build wisdom. The basic blocks of EQ calls for us to introspect and dig deep within ourselves to understand our past baggage, accept them and use past experiences as wisdom for future decision making.

Knowing and practicing EQ has helped me understand that effectiveness comes from understanding the EQ building blocks and consciously practicing them in every encounter with whoever I encounter. The practice sessions should be actual daily encounters and the appraisal of it’s success is directly proportionate to the quality of relationships leaders have with their staff.

Practicing EQ as a leader necessitates that I keep reminding myself that consistent and sustainable results ensue when the leader models what s/he preaches. This requires measuring your own “EQ temperature” and taking the necessary action on my own to keep improving myself which in turn allows me to accept the challenges other’s face with a lot more empathy and understanding. I frequently profile myself by using different tools to assess where I am at. At least some kind of measure gives me more feedback than if I used nothing and made wild guesses about how I behave with others and handle situations.

8. Tell us about an instance where EQ has successfully helped you solve a problem at the workplace.

From the outset, it’s important to understand that EQ is not about being ‘nice’. A leader cannot afford to be a pushover because tough decisions have to be made. Hence, when unintended behaviors become habitual and no one addresses it, the one’s who display such behaviour find it very convenient to play it out repeatedly to get their way.

I once intervened when I noticed bullying and favouritism being practiced by a middle manager. It was glaring yet seemed like an unconscious pattern that had gotten out of hand. I refuse to be confrontational in my approach but I never leave any stones unturned. It is my strong belief that avoidance is a reflection of poor communication and fear to face up to the truth. The truth can sometimes hurt but it speaks loudly enough for everyone to know what is expected in the organization.
When giving feedback, I adopt a simple 5 step strategy

  • How much we (the company) value you (the offender) and mention what the offending party is really good at. This will keep them receptive and open.
  • Offer examples of how they have stood out or what they have done well.
  • What behaviors you notice that need to be corrected and the consequences of carrying it on.
  • Ask them for their views and opinions about what they are going to do about it and when.
  • Tell them that the issue will be discussed in a week to see if additional help was required.

I consistently use this to good effect and it helped stop this behaviour by checking with the team and some of the victims.

9. What happens when leaders prefer to use authority or an iron fist instead of EQ at the workplace? Tell us about an instance when this happened and the consequences.

When leaders are dictatorial, controlling and formal, their charges become risk averse, insecure and rule bound. This style of leadership translates to stiffness, fear and eventually disengagement among staff. The degree of communication vertically and laterally is greatly reduced and the culture transforms into one where people become a lot more task focused and less people-centric.

Bank of America is committed to “doing the right thing”. One of their values advocates that every employee has the freedom, authority, and responsibility to do the right thing for each of their stakeholders, and for each other. This speaks volumes about the level of trust and empowerment handed down to staff if they were to make a difference. Such initiative and proactive behaviour in turn determines how incentives and rewards are assessed and awarded to staff. Such practices motivate and inspire employees to do their very best for both the company and their customers so that everyone wins. It becomes easy to also detect who does not fit into the culture of ‘everybody wins’ and they have strict rules about staff being congruent with such values.

Leaders must allow for participation and that means allowing everyone to have a voice by promoting engagement at all levels. People start to take initiative and the energy around the office is vibrant, active and happy. There are less masks and a greater degree of authenticity and intentionality.