When a crisis happens, especially an unexpected one, we humans tend to react with a fight or flight response.
As humans, when the unexpected happens and launches us into a place of fear, we are hard-wired to respond with a flight, or fight response, programmed into our primitive brain from the time we lived in caves. During times of crisis 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, 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 to manage their emotions and help us manage 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.
2. Self Awareness
Like all of us, leaders have the full range of emotions. Because of their power to influence so many people, the expectation to keep their emotions in check is much greater than they are for the rest of us. During times of crisis, the most effective leaders can control their fear, their impulse to avoid any responsibility and blame others that we all struggle with during the most challenging 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. Leaders must be 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 provide assurances and comfort in letting us know that answers will be found.
4. Social Awareness
Emotionally intelligent leaders are aware of how the crisis affects those involved and thinks of this before they communicate publicly. A major fail in this regard came about after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, when 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 tone-deaf. It showed a complete lack of empathy and awareness of how others might feel and see things during this time.
5. Strong, Authentic Communication
While a leader must have good communications skills during crises, it is also important that they speak with authenticity and in the style they naturally speak. People who are used to hearing them speak will pick up when they communicate differently than usual and question their genuineness and authenticity. Communicating through a crisis is often the most challenging thing a leader has to do and 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.