“Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” — Mike Tyson
That punch has a name: COVID-19.
Priorities have changed dramatically since the pandemic began and organizations are finding it harder and harder to retain their highest-performing people. Companies, now more than ever, have to really consider the root causes of employee attrition like: burnout, isolation and a lack of mobility within their organizations -- especially during remote and hybrid work.
This has impacted the shift in leadership consultancy to move away from basic talent acquisition to finding exactly the right person for the right job, often focusing on emotional intelligence and empathy, two things the pandemic has pushed to the top of the list for companies trying to survive the current economic upheaval.
Leading the way is Heather Haas, President of ADVISA. Hear what she has to say about emotional intelligence, leadership optimization, and how empathy is already altering the way companies and their employees work on Resilience the podcast, Episode 5: “Situational Fluency and Leading Before You’re in a Leadership Role.”
So What’s So Great About Emotional Intelligence?
Pre-pandemic, many companies didn’t want to talk about emotional intelligence (EQ), thinking that it was too touchy-feely to waste energy on. Now they’re starting to see just how impactful an empathetic framework can be during times of change and on the overall employee experience.
In its simplest terms, emotional intelligence is being aware of one’s own emotions and the way you express yourself to business colleagues. This seems like the common courtesy we should all treat each other with, but as Heather Haas points out, emotional intelligence is still an unknown area for some business leaders.
“That’s another interesting silver lining, I guess, to this whole thing. Prior to this COVID-19, shelter-in-place thing, you know, it was a bit of an uphill battle for us in some of our leadership programming to actually get certain types of people to embrace the importance of things like empathy and emotional intelligence. Breaking through that wall of ‘Are you serious? I have to learn this?’ was so hard. Well, fast-forward to the situation that we’re in now, and many of those leaders, they’re not sitting around anymore saying, ‘Why do I have to learn this?’ They’re calling me saying, ‘Can you help me do this? I have to do this like right now. What do I say to these people? How do I reach into their home? What do I do when their kid runs onto the Zoom meeting?’”
Lead Regardless of Your Title
As she has proven herself, Haas firmly believes that anyone at any level in a company can have a tremendous, positive influence on both colleagues and superiors. Haas recounts the best tip she ever got on this subject:
“One of the most powerful pieces of advice that my mom gave me when I was young, that I’ve kept with me ever since, that I think perhaps maybe guided me into the track of education for a career was that she always told all of us to surround ourselves with people we could learn from. No matter what, that in every setting, attach yourself to the brightest, strongest, best person in the room so that you can learn from that person and you can take those learnings and apply them to your own life.”
Haas’ own EQ has driven her forward. She quickly became a trusted force multiplier at ADVISA, where consultants wanted her to go to meetings with them because she uncovered more opportunities and prioritized making as many plays as possible for other people.
“At my core, I believe that there are leaders at every level, that leadership is not something that comes with position authority. So for better or for worse, I guess… you know, I always saw myself as a leader, that even if I didn’t have direct reports, even if I didn’t have the title, the way that you lead is by growing your influence. You lead by, you know, pouring into other people and caring about the other people that you work with such that they start to come to you for guidance or for help.”
Ask All the Dumb Questions
Another component to leadership is just asking questions. It gives you opportunities to tune in to your team, consultants, and clients so everyone succeeds.
Haas points back to an indispensable lesson she learned from teaching. “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Questions and listening allow you to show how passionate you are, and that’s where Haas has seen success in building relationships. Most kids want structure and accountability, and that directly translates to leadership at ADVISA.
Haas adds, “I always tell young, new people that at least join our team, you have this really special window of time when you’re new that you can leverage that to such a great advantage in terms of asking all the dumb questions and kind of winning some points for it.”
The Post-COVID Workplace
During a time of extraordinary change, the ideas Haas believes in are going to be one of the most effective tools leaders have as they navigate the post-COVID world. Shifting to working from home has its own challenges, like introducing another way for employees to be siloed from the rest of the team or company. Again, there’s a growing need for emotionally intelligent leaders.
“Prior to this, you know, pandemic situation, I would’ve said, Yeah, I mean, you’ve still got a lot… especially in manufacturing and some of these more traditional type industries, banking, accounting, law… These are industries that are sort of… they’re built on structure, and so, you know, people who come in and want to break down some walls and shake things up maybe don’t have the welcome wagon waiting for them, but what we were starting to see when we were at full employment and, you know, everybody was saying, ‘Oh, we could grow if we just had this skilled labor, if we just had the talent.’ I was starting to see a shift that more leaders, owners were starting to recognize the importance of creating a magnetic work culture that offered opportunities for development for people and for flexibility.”
That’s to meet the demand of Millennials and Gen Z who want a more flexible work arrangement. The empathetic leader needs to draw the young workforce during what Haas calls “the greatest displacement of talent in human history.”
The prime business results behind increased emotional intelligence and empathy at work are that team members end up being less burnt out, more productive, innovative, and more likely to stay in their jobs. Another important reason to prioritize these skills, as Haas points out, “It’s just the right and kind thing to do.”