In times of crisis, especially unexpected ones, we humans tend to react with a fight-or-flight response. We are hardwired that way; it was programmed into our primitive brain from the time we lived in caves. During times of crisis and fear, such as we are now experiencing, we look to our leaders more than ever to provide us with guidance, hope, and support. While our leaders will not have all the answers, we have expectations that they will find the right people to help them, provide moral support and direction, and shine a light to help us find our way to a better place. We are looking for someone who we trust to have our best interests at heart. This requires a leader who has a level of emotional intelligence in order to manage their emotions and help us in managing ours for the better good of all of us.
Here are five things that emotionally intelligent leaders demonstrate in times of crisis:
Maya Angelou said, “People will forget the things you do, and people will forget the things you say. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” How leaders are judged in a difficult time is not necessarily what they said or did, but how they made people feel. While they may say the right words read from a teleprompter, many people will sense if the leader is not being authentic, or simply saying what is expected of them. Leaders who are genuinely empathetic and concerned for the needs of those they represent will come across as honest, sincere, and authentic.
Like all of us, leaders have the full range of emotions. Because of their power to influence so many people, the expectation that they will keep their emotions in check are much greater than they are for the rest of us. During times of crisis, the most effective leaders are able to control their fear, their impulse to avoid any responsibility and blame others, that we all struggle with during the most difficult times. To keep their emotions in check, leaders need to be aware of what they are feeling, what emotions may be most difficult for them to manage, and work on having them under control before communicating publicly.
During a crisis, the situation may change drastically and constantly without warning. It is crucial that leaders are able to move along with the crisis as it changes. Being uncomfortable with not having all the answers, being vulnerable, and relying upon others who are knowledgeable are all traits that highly adaptable leaders share. They don’t pretend to have answers that they don’t have, but they provide assurances and comfort in letting us know that answers will be found.
Emotionally intelligent leaders are aware of how the crisis is affecting those involved and think of this before they communicate publicly. A major fail in this regard came about after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, when BP CEO Tony Haywood stated, “I just want my life back.” His lack of awareness of how this came across to the loved ones of those who lost their lives and everyone who was affected made him sound totally tone-deaf. It showed a complete lack of empathy and awareness of how others might feel and see things during this time.
Strong authentic communication
While it is important that a leader have good communications skills during crisis situations, it is also important that they speak with authenticity and in a style that they speak in naturally. People who are used to hearing them speak will pick up when a leader is communicating differently than usual and question their genuineness and authenticity. Communicating through a crisis is often the most difficult thing a leader has to do, and it can push them far out of their comfort zones. The best leaders rise to the occasion and push themselves to the point of allowing the best of themselves to come through.