Why leaders need emotional intelligence in a virtual world
Leaders pre-pandemic would be told to “walk the floor” and “read the room”, to be seen, available and accessible to staff. This is wise counsel in the physical workplace but COVID has fast tracked the move from working in an office to virtually from home. This change in our way of working demands increased emotional intelligence from leaders in business.
Emotional intelligence — even more vital with remote working
In this virtual world the way we work and engage is constantly evolving. This has led to a greater need for bosses that are emotionally intelligent; who generate trust, build engagement, provide leadership and embody empathy.
After all, many businesses have been forced to challenge assumptions and deal with the different, uncertain and complex situation of a COVID world. This has seen many organisations putting aside years of resistance to “working from home” and move from a physical to virtual workplaces.
Working from home has a number of benefits for employees — with increased flexibility, respite from the time and money expended by commuting, along with freedom from the distractions of the office.
There have also been challenges with home working. Some struggle with the loss of the boundaries that separate their work and domestic life, along with the dilution of identity for those that define themselves by “where they work”. Then there’s the unexpected challenges of working from home, such as access to the internet, domestic and space issues. Also, staff now have to deal with the stress of home-based interruptions and no longer have the opportunity to “decompress” after work.
While operating in a virtual world may be more productive, employees can be deprived of the vital emotional and interpersonal connections that make teams and their members more effective. Gone too are those morale boosting spontaneous “corridor” or “kitchen conversation” moments where issues can be informally raised and advice dispensed. This poses the question “how do you get the best from your team during these times?”
Emotional intelligence improves employee performance
Even though we are technologically more connected, isolation and social exclusion are very real issues for our workforce. It’s something that can have an impact on their productivity and psychological wellbeing. It is ironic that while we are more connected than ever, we also have an epidemic of loneliness in many of our communities.
Emotionally intelligent bosses provide clarity of purpose with humility, without ego getting in the way, who can create the psychological safety that it’s not ok to have all the answers. This empathetic approach is very important to ensure staff feel welcome, wanted, understood, valued, respected and needed.
Employees want their bosses to listen to them. While it’s easy to talk into a computer, leaders must hone their listening skills, with active listening that reflects empathy to deliver insight that helps provide trust and support. Being available and making an effort to connect with those staff who may be feeling isolated and undervalued is key.
As part of being emotionally intelligent, leaders must set and honour clear expectations with staff, by spending time listening, talking to and taking a genuine interest in them. It’s important not just to be seen to listen but to actively reflect and respond to your staff. This is particularly important in an age when many businesses have been hit hard financially and needed to make tough decisions on staffing numbers. Those bosses that have been clear in their communications, demonstrated integrity and been honest, respectful and empathetic have generated trust — a precious currency today. It’s those leaders that lack courage or integrity, and are ambiguous, who will erode trust. Unfortunately, the legacy of such poor leadership will delay recovery and growth at an organisation, possibly for many years.
Don’t forget the disruption to recruitment, onboarding and team building that has occurred due to virtual working. Emotionally intelligent leaders must recognise this and spend more time and effort to build a sense of connection and belonging for both new starters and current teams. This requires them to take time to connect with staff, be available and accessible.
Finally, virtual working has meant we all increasingly have a window into the personal lives of our colleagues that they never sought. This should not be taken for granted. And while boundaries between work and home life are blurring, emotionally intelligent bosses need to respect the borders and be courteous in the demands they put on colleagues.
By John Harte, Managing Partner at Integrity Governance