Key takeaways for coaching leaders more effectively post-pandemicDr. Steven Stein
The pandemic has taken us, our relatives, friends, and organizations through various ups and downs. In the early days of this pandemic, our focus was on adapting to new protocols and isolation and thinking it should all be over soon—a few months at most. More recently, it has morphed into bouts of malaise, depression, burnout, bewilderment, and “The Great Resignation.”
People everywhere have taken time to re-evaluate their lives, values, and work over the last two years and many have made big decisions on where to take their next chapter. Millions of people from front-line contributors up to C-level executives have made bold moves into new frontiers, many decisions occurring without even a quarter of the due diligence they would have ordinarily (pre-pandemic) carried out.
What about those who weathered the storm? How have leaders fared through the pandemic? While it’s not over yet, and it may be too early to draw any definitive conclusions, we’re starting to see some hints. As the world’s leading assessment company for emotional intelligence, and the first to start measuring it, we have accumulated millions of evaluations of emotional intelligence over the years. We were, like many of you, curious as to what impact the pandemic had on overall emotional intelligence. We looked at two independent samples of leaders assessed for their emotional intelligence pre-pandemic and two years into the pandemic. These individuals were all assessed using the Emotional Quotient Inventory 2.0 (EQ-i 2.0®), the first choice for many of today’s leading organizations.
How has the pandemic affected the emotional intelligence of leaders?
What is different in the emotional intelligence skills of these two groups of leaders? How may the pandemic have affected leadership? Do they show more emotional intelligence after having to cope with the crises? Or have they been burned out and displayed lower levels of emotional skills.
Our two samples included 114 leaders’ results recorded pre-pandemic and 104 different leaders’ results recorded one year into the pandemic (March 2021). They are all from the same company in the financial services industry.
According to our data, there are no statistically significant differences among the two groups of leaders we examined (this follows the same pattern we found when we examined a sample of thousands of customers who completed the EQ-i 2.0 from March – November of 2020: average EQ-i 2.0 scores remained unchanged during the height of the pandemic).
However, within our samples of leaders, while there were no significant increases or decreases, there were trends, both positive and negative, that we can observe and learn from.
The most notable differences were observed for the subscales Self-Regard, Assertiveness, and Stress Tolerance. It seems that leaders have become more self-confident. Successfully navigating your way through a crisis helps build self-confidence. You feel stronger after managing to deal with complex life events. COVID certainly provided leaders with their share of obstacles. Whether it’s dealing with people who are struggling or difficult situations—such as supply chain shortages—leaders tended to show greater confidence during this time period.
Another aspect of dealing with crises as a leader is maintaining your ability to be assertive. Maintaining assertiveness could include expressing how you are coping and sending clear messages to your teams and contributors on your expectations of them during the crisis. Good leaders know how to express themselves well and keep everyone in the loop.
It should be no surprise that leaders who have continued leading through these times have stronger stress tolerance skills. These skills, of course, are essential for getting through situations like this pandemic and being an effective team leader. Managing their stress and those around them has proven to be a valuable skill.
However, a few emotional intelligence skills seem to be less pronounced in the second cohort of leaders (that is, those studied two years into the pandemic). These are the skills of Empathy and Emotional Self-Awareness. In times of stress, it seems many leaders tend to lose some of their focus on understanding their own feelings and the feelings of others. There may be a need or urgency to get things done and keep things moving, and less of an inclination to check one’s own feelings and the feelings of others. This scenario is a time when empathy and understanding how those around you feel can be essential for leaders. Empathy is a skill that many leaders pay less attention to compared to the other emotional skills. The payoff for empathy is not always immediate.
Caring about others tends to pay its dividends further down the road. This skill is one of those supposedly “soft” skills that is harder than it seems. When things are in crisis mode around you, often the last thing you want to do is listen to someone else’s problems and how they may be feeling about them right now. But feeling understood by someone else really builds the bond that people need to become engaged with their leaders and believe more strongly in their team and mission.
Coaching leaders effectively through post-pandemic fatigue
If you coach leaders, there are several takeaways from this data. Of course, as always, focus on your client’s own strengths and scores, following their lead with what areas they wish to improve on.
1. An excellent place to start is with self-awareness. We all have some degree of stress related to the pandemic and its effects on work. Try and get a sense of where your client is at.
- How have they been managing?
- Have they taken any rest or breaks? This has been a time of self-reflection for many people.
- Have there been any changes in how they see themselves coping – at home, at work, among friends? What has it been like emotionally? How are they dealing with those emotions?
- How are they spending their off-work time? Are they satisfied with their amount of off-work time?
2. Then check out their empathy experiences.
- Have they been able to connect with peers, subordinates, and supervisors?
- Are they aware of how others around them are coping?
- Have they taken any steps to deal with other people’s challenges? Have the leader tell you about some of the experiences their subordinates and peers have had dealing with the pandemic. Discover what those experiences have meant to them? Is the leader fully appreciative of what others are going through?
- How can they be more aware of others in their orbit? Just making leaders aware of others and what they may be experiencing can open the door to increasing their empathy.
3. Take a temperature check on any key strengths as well.
- Are they being overused?
- Are leaders being overly assertive at the expense of empathy? This is where the balancing parts of the EQ-i 2.0 reports come into play. Talk about the healthy balancing of skills.
These are challenging times for all of us. The effects of the pandemic are unprecedented in our lifetime. Fortunately, tools like the EQ-i 2.0 provide us with both a baseline and a gauge of our clients’ emotional management during these times. As a coach, helping others find their balance can be stabilizing for you as well. Some coaches have reported how energizing it was personally for them to assist others in navigating these times. So, use the latest and most relevant information to help drive great outcomes for you and your clients.