“For too long managers have seen emotions at work as noise cluttering the rational operation of organisations. But the time for ignoring emotions as irrelevant to business has passed” (Daniel Goleman)

Our world has changed irrevocably in the past few decades – not just from continual increases in computing power, the spread of e-commerce, the rapid diversification of the workforce, the globalisation of the economy, and the relentless ratcheting upward of the pace of business, but also from the impact of pandemics, wars, and natural disasters, many of which are associated with global warming. Daniel Goleman (Primal Leadership) notes: “Leaders everywhere confront a set of irrevocable imperatives, changing realities driven by profound social, political, economic, and technological changes. Our world, not to mention the business world, is in the midst of transformational change, calling for new leadership.”

This “new leadership” must manage their own emotions during disruptive and accelerating change as well as empathise with and manage the emotions of employees. Goleman insightfully emphasises: “As market share erodes or profits plummet, leaders can panic, their fears fuelling denial – the futile ruse that ‘everything is fine’ – or poorly conceived knee-jerk solutions. They can turn, for example, to cost-cutting measures that focus on the people cheapest to lose rather than those vital to retain. Anxiety debilitates the brain’s ability to understand and respond; when fear cripples leaders’ decision-making, an entire organisation can crash and burn.”

Emotionally intelligent leaders know how to care for their employees. They neither ignore the presence of emotion nor do they get defensive when emotional concerns are raised. They rather demonstrate this needed care by creating safe environments where anxieties can be discussed without fear of retribution. They affirm that concerns are natural, and they provide focus and necessary information to allay fears. They attempt to give employees confidence in the way ahead and show how each person’s role is going to accelerate change and future growth. They stress the importance of contribution, new ideas, and recognise those who are working hard to achieve company goals. They demonstrate the company’s values internally and not just before customers. They treat every employee with dignity and respect and have frequent conversations about direction, the ‘big picture’ vision, and quality, service and other issues. These new leaders are ‘present’, on the shop floor, encouraging everyone.

These emotionally intelligent leaders seek to understand their employees and attempt to meet staff needs. David Rock, neuro leadership expert, in his SCARF model, identifies five areas of human need that need to be met before high levels of productivity are achieved in the workplace:

  1. Status – a demonstration that an employee’s role is important and showing respect and appreciation for the work that the employee is doing.
  2. Certainty – the ability of the employee to predict the near future. Leaders must therefore provide sufficient information to minimise uncertainty.
  3. Autonomy – the perception of exerting control over one’s environment. Leaders must not micro-manage (“snoopervise”) employees, but rather give them scope to plan and make choices about how they are going to accomplish their work.
  4. Relatedness – feeling safe in relation to others; feeling ‘in’ and not ‘out’. Leaders must create emotionally safe environments for team members and include all staff in ideas creation and their implementation.
  5. Fairness – the perception of being treated justly and equitably. Employees need confidence that leaders will treat everyone fairly, listen to concerns, and be wise in decisions made.

As Goleman valuably notes: “Resonant (emotionally intelligent) leaders know when to be collaborative and when to be visionary, when to listen and when to command. Such leaders have a knack for attuning to their own sense of what matters and articulating a mission that resonates with the values of those they lead. These leaders naturally nurture relationships, surface simmering issues, and create the human synergies of a group in harmony. They build a fierce loyalty by caring about the careers of those who work for them, and inspire people to give their best for a mission that speaks to shared values.”

Now, more than ever, the world needs emotionally intelligent leaders who are values-driven, more transparent than leaders of old, and who care deeply for those who work for them. Their passion for a compelling vision will be contagious and will generate enthusiasm in their followers. Employees of such leaders find their sense of ‘place’ and feel secure that they are valued and needed.

Free To Grow offers the programme, Engaging Leadership, to provide managers with the skills and the tools to engage with employees in an emotionally intelligent way.

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