For some managers and leaders, it can be a challenge to keep a team engaged and focused. And in a crisis environment, it can be even more difficult to keep employees on task while also meeting them with care.
However, there are skills that can be developed to help employees navigate challenges in a way that is sustainable, effective, and resilient.
At Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI), we’ve learned that this requires increased emotional intelligence. We partner with companies and organizations to implement trainings that enhance wellbeing, leadership, resilience, and collaboration. Our approach leads to improved team performance, and emotional intelligence is the backbone of what we do.
Emotional intelligence – the ability to deal productively with our own and others’ emotions – has always been an important skill, especially for managers and leaders. However, in this time of heightened emotions, with unprecedented stress, distraction, and disconnection, the need for emotional intelligence is all the more acute.
We want to share a few emotionally-intelligent strategies for managers, leaders, and even supportive colleagues to keep a team engaged during challenging times.
1. Model self-care
Anyone who's flown has heard the phrase: “In the event of a sudden drop in pressure, an oxygen mask will fall from above. Secure your own mask first before assisting others." As a leader, you need to make sure you can care for yourself while also tending to your colleagues. This allows us to be at our best and to role model the practice of balancing work and our own wellbeing.
Taking a quick pause to tend to yourself during the day can be powerful. As you pause, see if you can meet yourself with compassion. You might remember that this is uncharted territory that we’re all in, that it’s ok if it feels hard, and that you won’t get everything exactly right.
Tip: Take a quick self-compassion break in between meetings or emails as a reset, and use that time to give yourself grace and compassion.
2. Expect distraction and pause for empathy
An undercurrent of stress and uncertainty erodes focus and increases distraction. Expect that your team will be more distracted and have periods of lower productivity while working from home. It can be hard to remember everything that others are going through, so this is a call for empathy.
Empathy helps create an environment where team members feel safe to ask questions or express concerns. This, in turn, creates psychological safety, which is the number one predictor of a team’s success because members can feel at ease to contribute to creative solutions.
Tip: Discern when you might need to just listen to how your colleague is doing without fixing the issue immediately. Respond with empathy by acknowledging their feelings and making sure that you understand their perspective. If you’re having a hard time making the connection, try this Just Like Me practice.
3. Normalize ups and downs
During a crisis, there is the initial sprint of reaction: shifting to working from home, changing strategies, and moving online. Then begins the marathon: things continue to shift and change, and as they do, there are ups and downs with emotions, energy, and focus.
There will be times when you’re energized and engaged and times when you need recuperation. This applies to teams as well; there will be times when your team can move quickly and time to rest, connect and zoom out.
As a manager and leader, you can call this out explicitly and normalize that people should take time off and unplug. At the same time, also pay attention to the overall patterns to ensure that your team members are restoring and not just checking out.
Tip: As a simple way of acknowledging a range of feelings, try starting team meetings with a quick “stoplight check-in” where each person picks a color (red, green, or yellow) to describe their energy level or emotional state.
4. Offer skill-building opportunities
It is a trainable skill to process difficult emotions – including anger, fear, and anxiety – while maintaining inner balance and productivity. Your team may need new emotional intelligence techniques to manage stress and build focus and resilience and could benefit from online training.
Even without a budget for training, you can help build skills in small ways. Start a meeting by pausing for a few deep breaths together or call on others on your team to share practices and techniques that are helpful for them.
Tip: Hold mindfulness practice sessions to help people pause and learn new ways to create calm, focus, and resilience. We’ve seen many of our clients start to hold regular mindfulness practice sessions and created a toolkit to make it simple to get started.
5. Encourage connection
Even in crisis, when individuals are focused on their personal lives and obligations, there is still a deep need for social connection, including with our colleagues. It’s challenging to recreate the same informal and personal connections with everyone working from home, so it’s all the more important to create intentional ways to connect with virtual colleagues and allow time for connection beyond the usual tactical meetings.
Tip: Try hosting a virtual “Water Cooler” meeting; it can just be 30-minutes for socializing. If you are quite senior, you might encourage someone else to host this to help keep it informal.
Keep paying attention and adjusting
In the midst of uncertainty, we can be sure of one thing: there will continue to change. Supporting your colleagues and team with emotional intelligence means staying aware of these shifts and responding with presence and compassion.
As things change and change again, keep coming back to these ideas to ensure that you care for yourself, support your team, and adjust what’s no longer working. This is what cultivates resilience for yourself and supports your team to stay engaged, healthy, and connected.