Leadership in the Pandemic

In the face of a predicted explosion in COVID-19 cases this Fall, debate rages on what the national response should be – expand business opening or return to strict lockdown?   

Whatever the politicians decide, for business leaders in the trenches this pandemic has proven to be the greatest test of emotional intelligence (EQ) since Harvard Professor, Daniel Goleman first coined the term in his 2005 book, “Emotional Intelligence .” 

EQ is the way we put IQ to work. It’s the way we humans navigate uncertainty and stress, our ability to identify, understand, manage and convey emotions. It’s all about making emotions work for you, not against you.

“Having more empathy is one of the most powerful things I can do to improve as a leader,” said Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, a Seattle-based credit card payment processor.

He should know; empathy may have saved his business.  Earlier this year, Gravity Payments was stuck in a financial black hole. Because of the pandemic and its economic fallout, consumers had stopped spending, and Gravity’s clients — restaurants, stores and other small businesses – had either closed their doors or were barely clinging to life. Gravity’s revenue dropped 50% and management had no idea when, or if, the bleeding would stop.   Price looked into the abyss and saw two painful choices: a massive layoff or bankruptcy. Uncomfortable with either option, the CEO took a different path; he went to his employees and asked for help.  The result is a lesson in leadership.

During a week of wall-to-wall meetings with small groups of employees, Price laid out the cold hard facts and asked for ideas. His impressive display of emotional intelligence was rewarded with a solution:  his employees volunteered to take significant pay cuts if management would make the same sacrifice. Since the pandemic was nobody’s fault but everybody’s problem, employees decided to share the burden and save the company, together. Not one job was lost.

Dan Price’s decision to be open and honest with his employees, to humbly admit he didn’t have all the answers, demonstrated a high EQ. He turned what might have been a disaster into an opportunity to promote a caring corporate culture. The cut in pay wasn’t easy for anyone, but sharing the burden generated a sense of emotional relief for everyone. They were encouraged, inspired and the business was invigorated with a new sense of esprit-d’-corps.

In his latest book, The Emotionally Intelligent Leader, Professor Goleman says as much as 80% of “success” comes from EQ,

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and  effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” wrote Goleman.

The good news is that unlike IQ, you can improve your EQ by developing your abilities in five learnable skill sets.

SELF-AWARENESS Understand your emotional strengths and weaknesses. What drives you? How do your personal values and goals impact the thoughts and feelings of others?

SELF-REGULATION Mindfulness is the way you put self-awareness to work.  Practicing mindfulness allows you to manage negative emotions and impulses.

SOCIAL SKILLS Controlling your emotions allows you to focus on the emotions of others and to move people in the desired direction.

EMPATHY Research says empathy is declining in our society, but the ability to genuinely experience and understand the feelings and views of others is the foundation for showing compassion and establishing relationships.

MOTIVATION Be an optimist. Positive thinking is powerful. Learn to turn  negatives into positives.

Every person, challenge, or situation you face is an EQ learning opportunity. It takes work, but you can start reaping the benefits immediately. Having a high level of emotional intelligence will serve you well in your relationships in the workplace and in all areas of your life. Who wouldn’t want that?

Interested in finding out where you stand on the EQ Scale? Psychology Today offers an online test. It will take 45 minutes, well worth the investment of time. A summary of the report is free. You can take steps to improve your EQ if necessary, and if not — well, it’s one thing you can celebrate in a time when reasons to rejoice are surely welcome.

In my next blog we’ll explore how improving your listening skills can elevate your EQ.

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Lee Zeidman

Lee is a respected strategic and crisis communications expert with a specialty in coaching C-suite executives.

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