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Crucial Qualities Leaders Need in a Time of Crisis

Today, inside a fired kiln, businesses and leaders sit scorched by the heat of the current crisis. Will they survive the heat?

A kiln’s heat reaches temperatures upward of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit to refine the clay and make it permanent. Crisis is a refiner’s fire, and the pandemic is applying pressure to business leaders in ways never before experienced. The rules of engagement have changed—the unexpected threat awakens us to our greatness (if we accept the invitation that can feel much more like a shove right now!)

An empty restaurant during COVID-19Will your business survive (or rebound) from this economic downturn and hardship? No problem if you own a grocery store chain. And you’re in the clear if you’re Proctor Gamble with its 65 brands, net worth in the billions, and a hefty 10% sales increase last quarter due to the recent demand for cleaning supplies. However, other industries and businesses are under siege. If you own a restaurant, a retail clothing store, salon, or an arts and crafts store like Michaels, it’s a discouraging, frightful time.

Emotional Intelligence Is Essential to Survival in a Business Crisis

The purpose of the kiln in pottery is to bind the clay together, to make it permanent. This pandemic is binding us together globally in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. And it can unify and strengthen your company team, too, and push you to new heights as a leader if you let it. If you open and allow yourself to lead from within, you’ll match the heat with dedication, fervor, and innovation to not only survive but rebound and thrive.

Pottery kiln firing pots

A crisis pushes and pulls us in new and unexpected ways. It exposes our weaknesses and pops the bubbles of complacency, excess, and short-sightedness, much like a potter rolls out the air bubbles in clay. When the heat and pressure are applied, mistakes are often made—in particular, knee-jerk reactions to circumstances.

Michael Hyatt says that the #1 mistake of leaders in a time of crisis is that “leaders tend to hyperfocus on managing the threat and neglect long-range thinking. That’s a mistake because vision is critical both for evaluating short-term decisions and for creating a better future.”

Of course, they do! When your house is burning down, you’re not planning this week’s dinner menu, are you?

Hyperfocus is a natural and healthy response to a threat; the brain’s survival mechanism kicks in. Yet, we can’t stay there, as Hyatt says. A sign of emotional intelligence is resiliency. To be resilient is the ability to bounce back and face whatever comes with courage and hope. Our response must be agile; we must not just seek to survive but strategically and thoughtfully envision how to reinvent ourselves and push through the presumed limitations. However, vision without realism can become sugar-coated denial.

Related reading: “Why Emotional Intelligence Is Crucial in Business Today”

The real mistake is not shortsightedness; it’s to leave one’s center of power and strength when making decisions. If we react to what we cannot control from outside of us, we have handed over our greatest strength—connection to our inner resources. Leading from within is a crucial key. We have access not only to vision, short-term and long-term planning but also to our intuition.

“One of the primary reasons top leaders are able to make tough decisions is because they have learned to trust their intuitive instincts…. The facts are great, and we need them, but sometimes it boils down to what we feel in our gut. Facts are the ‘math’ of decision-making while intuition is the ‘art.’”
~John Maxwell

Woman business leader reflects during a stressful timeIt takes guts to act responsibly (Response-ABLE) during a life-changing, real-time challenge—everything inside shouts to pull in and retreat (survival brain). Our greatness lies in the courage to act fearlessly (frontal cortex leading; mind over emotion). Then, we ignite creativity and innovation while uplifting and inspiring those around us. We are no longer reacting to outside forces but grounded in the best part of ourselves.

So, what are the qualities you need to be a successful leader in a crisis? Here are some essential ingredients of successful leadership at any time, but most especially in difficult times of uncertainty and threat.

Increased Self-Awareness

The more aware we are of our inner world, the more adept we are at keeping ourselves anchored in what really matters. When we sense we are off-balance, we can bring ourselves back, knowing our business and those who depend on us look to us to lead. We know when self-care is necessary yet stretch to reach new heights.

Heightened Self-Management

One of the most critical abilities in a leader is to be able to modulate their emotions, shift fear to illumined action, and self-calm when the unexpected is hurled their way. Effective leaders have a watchdog observer, continually mindful of their role of leadership. Managing oneself also means managing your responses to those you lead, ensuring that what you say is authentic and encouraging. Performance under pressure is a sign of great leadership.

Authentic Communication... much more often!

A vital role you play as a leader is to communicate in a timely, effective way. Communication is a lifeline, especially in a crisis. Whenever people lack facts and accurate information, their minds will have a heyday in fearful storytelling. Therefore, you must communicate frequently, even consider over-communicating when concerns run high. Are you present to your employees’ concerns? Do you keep them up-to-date? Do you speak in a calming, yet motivating way that is also rooted in realism and truth?

The more attentive you are to honest communication, the more at ease people around you will be (including customers and clients). Your reassurance and confidence will enhance their ability to focus on what's needed to envision a new future.

Empathy in Leadership

The ability of a leader to help their employees and customers feel heard is vital. They need to feel heard—it’s a human need that we all crave. When we’re surrounded by uncertainty, our need to feel connection increases to counter the feelings of isolation. This empathetic support is particularly crucial with Zoom meetings dramatically increasing and so many people relying on virtual connection globally.

A Zoom meeting conducted with empathyEvery person is navigating the coronavirus pandemic differently with varying degrees of anxiety. Leaders can build the morale of their team by checking the climate of their employees' emotions and assisting them to feel safe. How you show up as a leader now will reverberate for months and even years.

Related reading: “Emotional Intelligence and Empathy in Leadership”

Yes, I want to learn to be more empathetic!

Leadership Presence Is Indispensable

What does leadership presence mean? It means that your attention is undivided; you are fully there, completely present with attentiveness and caring. A leader is not a leader without presence, a presence that fills a room and embraces everyone in it with a sense of safety, hope, and encouragement. The more present you are, the more you will know how to respond in a positive, uplifting, and honest manner.

What makes an effective leader? Leading from within.

When confronted with the unknown, seek your ground within yourself, not in changing circumstances outside of you.

Focus on your strengths. Allow the heat of the kiln to give permanence to your leadership strength in this disruption of businesses worldwide.

If you’d like customized support and leadership coaching, check out Heartmanity.com/business or contact us. We’re here to sharpen emotional intelligence skills that are so critical for leaders and businesses to not only survive but to thrive.

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To learn more about the four main components of EQ, read "What Is Emotional Intelligence?"

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Jennifer A. Williams / Heartmanity for BusinessJennifer A. Williams / Heartmanity for Business
Jennifer, the Heartmanity Founder, is an Executive Coach and Relationship Strategist. Her decades of expertise in training leaders and teams give her amazing insights. Jennifer's primary focuses are authentic leadership, effective communication, and emotional intelligence in the workplace. Jennifer teaches a holistic approach, specializing in transforming unproductive behaviors into emotionally intelligent actions, which creates thriving work relationships and catapults a company to success.

Posted in Business and Leadership

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