Emotional Intelligence: The 3 Things Every Leader Needs To Know For Leading Remote Teams
Today, Zoom experienced major outages – causing millions of students to cheer, parents to weep and businesses to ask, “What’s next?” At least one hurricane is pointing at the patch of land between New Orleans and Houston. One in four workers under 25 have lost their jobs, and 13% of those aged 25 to 34 are out of work. Welcome to a heaping handful of 2020 (oh yes, there’s more ahead). Every remote worker is sharing a similar emotional state – and leaders have to use emotional intelligence (EQ) to help remote teams in the new normal. Because the emotional challenges – for all of us – are many.
Author Bruce Feiler calls it a “life-quake”. That’s according to his new book, Life Is In The Transitions: Mastering Change At Any Age. In a recent interview, he explains that, “A life-quake is a massive life change that’s kind of higher on the Richter scale of consequences and has aftershocks for years.” Sound familiar? For Feiler, the key to surviving a life-quake (from a leadership perspective) is inside a four-word story: “You are not alone.” Powerful words for our times.
The paradox for remote workers? It feels like we are alone. What can emotionally intelligent leaders do, to create connection? Start by accessing a deeper understanding of the three areas where everyone is impacted by the pandemic. Here they are:
- We Are All Going Through the Grieving Process: what is it that you have lost, or that you are missing, right now? If you or your employees have lost someone to this horrible disease, you know firsthand the sense of grief that is the immediate and sharp bite of this pandemic. (It was one month ago today that I lost my dad to COVID-19. Believe me, I know loss firsthand, during these difficult days). The pandemic has taken something from all of us. We all share disappointment, in some form or fashion, around the new normal. As leaders, this emotional intelligence points us towards the three most important words in the leadership conversation: “I hear you.” Those three words build a bridge that can help us to overcome the new normal. A message of recognition that says, “I see you. I see what you are going through.” What are you doing, as a leader, to demonstrate deeper listening for your organization? How are you leading with empathy, and turning acknowledgement into a powerful tool? The opposite of acknowledgment is denial. A lack of awareness isn’t leadership. You can’t lead by turning a blind eye to your team. Creating trust starts with acknowledgment. Recognition. Honesty. Sometimes giving your team members an opportunity to get real is the most powerful thing you can do, as a leader.
- Climb Out of the Time Hole: Do you find yourself wondering what day it is? The answer, for most remote workers, is Groundhog Day. You know the 1993 movie where Bill Murray relives the same day, over and over? It’s as if we’ve all fallen into a loop – a time hole – where commutes and conversations and conferences don’t break up the day, so it all feels the same. Everything from work to dating to talking with your rabbi is happening in the same room: the zoom room. The room where you face the screen to face the world. Leaders have to have some emotional intelligence around the way that time has been bent and spaces have been reshaped. Top organizations have turned to micro-meetings: 15 minute bursts, ideally suited to an iterative process. Top leaders are encouraging meetings outside of video calls, to break out of the time hole. What happens if you shorten your online meeting format to 15 minutes? Your emotional intelligence would point towards the need for brevity, clarity and more focused communication. Will that work? Consider the alternative: what happens if you expect your team to sit on Zoom for two hours? Three hours? Every leader knows shorter is better, even if it means more micro-meetings to get the job done.
- Go Beyond Empathy: While empathy is important, leaders can’t be therapists. You can’t wave a magic wand and suddenly bring fans back into a baseball stadium, or stop a hurricane. You can’t grant a struggling employee a big fat raise, a nanny or a private school tutor. What leaders can do is innovate. The good news is: Bruce Feiler is right. You are not alone. How can you point people towards their own resources and resourcefulness (even in 2020 where the “hits just keep on coming”)? The only way that I’ve ever discovered to get what I want is simple: I have to ask for it. How are you asking your team for what you need? Caring is the start of commitment: what agreements are you forging, what resources are you tapping, what new ideas are you harnessing? Are you pointing people towards innovation and new solutions – recognizing and rewarding powerful change, instead of advocating for the status quo? 2018 just texted me, and said that the status quo isn’t going to create the future. But leaders – leaders who go beyond empathy – will.
Empathy without action is empty. Empathy, when it’s at its best, leads to agreement. A commitment to conquer the status quo. That’s the outcome of true emotional intelligence. Be the kind of leader that cares – and who isn’t afraid to ask for more. What can you do in your next one-on-one meeting with your employees, to share these two sentences, “I hear you” and “You are not alone”? More importantly, how are you transmitting that message to your customers – and showing them that you hear their concerns, you share their concerns, and your company is taking action around their concerns? Connect around caring – it’s not just a soft skill, it’s a leadership requirement in the new normal. Turn up your EQ, tune in to new ways to navigate beyond the status quo.