Leading with Emotional Intelligence During the Covid-19 Crisis

It has long been acknowledged that emotional intelligence is a potent skill that gives great leaders an edge over ordinary run-of-the-mill leaders. It is a skill that allows you to effectively interact and collaborate with mixed up moods and attitudes while displaying the power of poise, which is characterized by dignified grace, calmness and confidence. Particularly in a time of crisis, it is imperative that leaders make every effort to avoid being overwhelmed so that they are better positioned to motivate themselves and others to achieve peak performance and flow. In order to facilitate this, leaders will have to give greater diligence to self-care, that is, their mental, physical and emotional state. The Covid-19 crisis, admittedly, took us all by surprise. We certainly did not expect such massive changes to our deeply entrenched routines, neither were we prepared to navigate the onslaught of protocols that currently guide the very way we lead our organisations. Emotionally intelligent leaders will now likely have to step back from the situation, establish priorities, and figure out which self-care strategies work best for them.


Emotionally intelligent leaders must practice self-care

The essence of self-care is being aware of your own fears and emotions with a view to addressing them. There is no shame in being fearful of the coronavirus; but emotionally intelligent leaders have to find courage. It is common to experience acute fatigue; but emotionally intelligent leaders have to find time to rest and sleep well. It is human to feel physically ill; but emotionally intelligent leaders have to visit their physicians, eat well and exercise regularly. We often feel stressed and overwhelmed with our workload; but emotionally intelligent leaders have to set aside work-free hours where they disconnect from work and connect with their personal lives. Specifically for this crisis, emotional intelligent leaders have to take extensive breaks from the news aired on mainstream and social media; follow established guidelines for reducing risks of infection; connect with close friends and family members to talk about emerging fears and concerns; and make time to unwind and engage in other activities that reduce stress and anxieties. When emotionally intelligent leaders practice self-care, then will they be better able to lead with C.A.R.E.


Leading with C.A.R.E.

Emotionally intelligent leaders care more about what they can do for their employees than what their employees can do for the organisation. In other words, they are acutely aware that leading the staff with care is the means to building a successful organization. If your employees feel valued and appreciated, acknowledged and accepted, particularly in a time of crisis, productivity will be maintained or even enhanced. Leading with C.A.R.E involves four proven measures that will guarantee success even after the crisis has passed. These include: Communication, Awareness, Reflection, and Empathy.

  1. Communication: Given that many employees are working remotely, organisations have been using a variety of communication tools as part of a wider means of managing process flows and other activities. In most instances, this happens through WhatsApp groups and video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Google Hangouts. Be mindful of those employees who are not interacting as regularly or with the same level of enthusiasm as they normally would in the office space. Reach out to them privately and have a conversation about anything but work. Get a sense of how well they are coping with the crisis and the types of support that they will need in order for them to be their best selves. Do not be afraid to share some of the very fears you may have initially experienced as well as some of the steps they can take to overcome them. Most importantly, listen to what they have to say without diminishing or rubbishing their concerns or anxieties. When leaders open up communication portals and invite the staff inside, opportunities emerge for effective leadership strategies such as influencing, persuading, motivating and encouraging.
  2. Awareness. Leading with emotional intelligence requires an awareness of self which will ultimately enhance a leader’s ability to become aware of the variety of personalities and, hence the unique needs of individual staff members. The emotionally intelligent leader has to demonstrate sound judgement in ensuring that these unique needs are met without fostering an atmosphere of favouritism or inequality. Develop an awareness of ‘high maintenance’ employees who require constant affirmations; who ask a lot of questions thus requiring more guidance and scaffolding; who are perpetually pessimistic or introverted; and who are inflexible or resistant to corrections or constructive feedback. With employees working remotely during a crisis, emotionally intelligent leaders have to be aware of additional factors that impinge on these already problematic characteristics. Dealing with each employee will require practical sagacity which can be further developed through trial and error strategies.
  3. Reflection. Reflection is essential to the development of emotionally intelligent leadership as it provides multiple opportunities for analysis of strengths and weaknesses with a view to improving with time. Leading with emotional intelligence also prompts reflection into the way we treat our employees, particularly during the crisis. Do we chastise delinquent employees, or do we provide supports for their transition to remote engagement? Do we use emotive language in emails or verbal communications to employees displaying negative attitudes, or do we consider the possibility that the crisis may be having a significant impact on their personal life? Emotionally intelligent leaders do not use ‘knee-jerk’ approaches to address issues that will invariably emerge. Leaders who ‘shoot from the hip’ create a cowboy perception of themselves that leads to a low-trust, fear-filled and unproductive environment.
  4. Empathy. An emotionally intelligent leader must be able to understand the perspectives and emotions of their employees and react in ways that empower rather than disenfranchise them. Sharing the burden of our employees is one effective way of leading with care. The current crisis is not far removed from any individual. There may be employees who have been affected themselves; whose family members or friends may have been affected; and who live in communities with high rates of infection. It is important that emotionally intelligent leaders destigmatize exposure to the Covid-19 virus by disrupting the negative narratives associated with the crisis. If you become aware of employees who have been affected, walk long enough in their shoes until you feel their hurt and can, therefore, provide the leadership support they require.

Leading with C.A.R.E is an attainable feat if you invest your time and patience. This investment guarantees high dividends and your organization will be better for it. Be intentional and deliberate in the development of these skills, then effortlessly experience the ‘power of poise’. Note: The term Emotional Intelligence was made popular by Daniel Goleman through his bestselling book: Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ


Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Cheryl A. McLaughlin, PhD is currently the Director of Programmes at the National College for Educational Leadership. She has spent over 15 years overseas working in tertiary and post-secondary education systems where she gained valuable experience in curriculum development, instruction, and educational research. Her research has informed several conference presentations and peer-reviewed publications primarily in the area of STEM education, and teacher development in professional learning communities. Dr. McLaughlin received a Master of Education at the St John’s University in New York and a Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Florida. She was employed at the University of Florida for approximately five (5) years where she taught pre-service teachers, in-service teachers at the master’s level and practicing principals at the doctoral level.



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