In early March, Wilma was promoted to a sales management position. Although she was experienced at the organization and knowledgeable of their selling strategy, she was entirely new to leading people.
When the pandemic shut their office down a week later, she was thrust into a tumultuous state of change as a new leader. Her company’s goals changed overnight, and the organization’s expectations of her team seemed to shift weekly. Her team sailed rapidly into uncharted territories, and for the first time in her life, Wilma was the one at the helm. To add to this, she was stressed and anxious in her personal life, trying to balance her changing family life (her kids schooling remotely too) with her new work responsibilities.
You might think Wilma succumbed to all this change and stress, but she managed to succeed as a new leader because she leveraged the emotional intelligence (EQ) skills she’d developed over her years in sales. Following Wilma’s immersion into leadership, we can take away seven key EQ strategies for leaders navigating rapid change.
Prioritize self-care. When faced with a set of challenges as extensive and sudden as Wilma’s, many leaders attempt to play “team superhero” and fix everything at once, alone. What they really do is drive themselves into exhaustion and create a tense atmosphere for their team. Wilma knew the value of long-term perspective during high stress times. When she felt her stress surge, she reminded herself that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and that her team’s success wouldn’t be built in a day either. To succeed long-term, she had to take care of herself day-by-day and hour-by-hour. She got extra vigilant about her sleep, caffeine intake, exercise, and diet. She also practiced a more rigid work-life balance, giving herself ample “unplugged” hours each day to recharge and reset.
Foster a positive environment. When a leader takes control of their own stress and negative emotions the way Wilma did, they positively impact their whole team. Studies show that the emotions of a leader are especially contagious to their teams, for better and worse. Leaders like Wilma who show up to work upbeat and optimistic cause their entire team to see things in a more optimistic light. This increased positivity leads to increased creativity, better decision-making, and even boosts sales. Without realizing it, Wilma was looking after the well-being and performance of her entire team just by practicing self-care and bringing her best possible self to work each day.
Navigate tough conversations. One of the first things Wilma learned about leading people was that it entailed a constant stream of difficult, high-impact conversations. In March alone, she had to check in on a team member struggling with the shift to remote work, make pay cuts to salaries across the team, and even place one team member on furlough. Each of these difficult conversations required a high degree of empathy, active listening skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. For instance, when she checked in on her struggling teammate, she noticed the changes in his behavior, approached the conversation carefully and at the right time, and was willing to be vulnerable by sharing her own struggles to make him more comfortable.
Exercise humility. When the team needed help strategizing for a healthcare specific client pitch, Wilma knew she lacked experience in healthcare. Instead of insisting she take the lead as manager, she acknowledged the gap in her knowledge and pulled up the most healthcare experienced salesperson, Marcus, to take the lead. She also asked Marcus to coach both herself and their teammate to encourage spread of knowledge.
Be approachable. Wilma kept a virtual open-door policy, holding office hours on her Zoom account once a week where team members could drop in and ask her questions or chat. During team meetings, she encouraged anyone who constructively criticized, offered a differing opinion, challenged someone’s idea, or asked questions of any kind. Her approachability also equated to increased comfort, flow of ideas, and overall fun. People interacted loosely and lightly on her team.
Practice accountability. On the one hand, Wilma held herself accountable for her team and shielded them from higher-ups when mistakes were inevitably made. On the other hand, she also held team members accountable for their own work, trusting them to make decisions for theirself. This made her team quicker and more nimble.
Respond, don’t react. The ability to monitor your emotional reactions in the moment and avoid regrettable or impulsive behaviors is one of the core tenants of EQ. When Wilma’s team members let her down or said something that triggered her, she was careful to avoid reacting in the moment out of frustration, anxiety, or fear. Instead, she took her time in her responses. She slept on big decisions and ran important emails by other managers at her organization.
From Insights to Action. The great thing about the above strategies is that anyone can apply them to grow their emotional intelligence and positively impact the people around them—not just leaders.