The Guiding Light in the Storm: EQ Matters

By: Dr. Hise Gibson & MaShon Wilson

The past year has significantly impacted organizations of all sizes. As organizations and leaders determine the future of work, leaders must take critical lessons from their COVID experiences. We suggest the post-pandemic landscape will favor leaders who acknowledge the importance of emotional intelligence (E.Q.), leverage frequent engagement, and organizational ownership. The frameworks below will lay out some lessons for organizations to better enable engagement with their teams, which will help drive greater skill proficiency, worker productivity, retention, and profitability.

The remote and hybrid working environments have negatively impacted E.Q., as emotional intelligence requires thoughtful reactions to both verbal and non-verbal communication. Teleworking platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Webex limit critical non-verbal cues. This critical challenge needs leaders to be more engaged and ask additional questions to their teams to gain greater context for the team’s total well-being. A leader’s ability to influence and guide one’s team is directly connected to the ability to read, and more importantly, understand the people with whom one interacts.

Managers and leaders at all levels, especially senior leaders must know their audiences better and use more emotional intelligence; they must realize the state of their environment. For example, most of their employees might make 1/6 to 1/7 of these senior leader’s annual income. It becomes imperative for leaders to be mindful in the public display of their very fortunate circumstances. These conversations, usually accompanied by awkward laughs and people shifting in their seats, indicate that it is probably not good to make remarks around income variance in that situation. E.Q. is more important for organizational leaders to consider in remaining virtual or in a hybrid work model, where fewer in-person interactions will occur. Here are six questions leaders may want to ask themselves before engaging their audience:

1. Who is my audience/team (background (race/gender/sexual orientation/education/family life), geographies, experiences)?

2. How might their experiences differ from my own, and in what ways?

3. How is my audience feeling?

4. How might my comments be received?

5. What is the key message that my audience should take away?

6. How might the broader events in society/world impact my team’s ability to show up today?

These engagements are increasingly more important, as team members interact with less frequency and have fewer informal interactions (water coolers, coffee breaks, happy hours, etc.). Employee engagements initially increased, as teams operated across greater geographic/office diversity. Organizations developed various ways to continue frequent employee engagement in the pandemic through virtual coffee chats, happy hours, trivia/board games, fitness classes, and other activities. However, as the pandemic persists, “Zoom” fatigue has become commonplace. Thus, creating another mandatory ritual in the weekly cadence of many workplaces. Extending individuals an opportunity to engage in conversations with individual teams/team members to check their overall well-being proactively rather than reactive is a recommended leader activity. Here are two examples below:


Context: Weekly performance rater check-in

Manager: “X, how are you holding up?”

X: “Doing as well as can be expected given the circumstances.”

Manager: “Given your leadership experience, how you recommend checking on people while also avoiding the blurring of lines between professional and personal lives?”

Not Recommended:

Context: Team call four weeks after the George Floyd incident, after a company’s and practice’s statements were published. The discussion into a team of several people, where only one is a person of color.

Senior: “Good Morning Team, we just wanted to take some time to discuss the recent issues in our nation,”

Team: “Minimal response more than several moments of awkward silence.

In assessing these two approaches to engagement, the first component is effort. This component is an important lesson that we learn quickly in the military because perfection or analysis paralysis can often be the enemy when it comes to taking decisive action. Beyond the initial effort, the first response is different in its timeliness, tailoring it to the specific person and asking questions to leverage a personnel experience to drive employee engagement and buy-in. On the other hand, the second option comes across as reactive and performative, given that the potential of the person/people most impacted by this issue makes up a small piece of the team. It would be better to engage in an individual setting before a team dialogue. The key lesson here is to personally engage your team and organizations, as the pandemic blurred between work and personal life. It remains crucial for leaders to demonstrate care for total well-being and enable their teams to feel comfortable including them in that kind of dialogue.

Potential questions/thoughts:

1. How are you holding up? (pressing beyond the cursory okay)

2. Are you creating opportunities to connect with new and junior team members?

3. Are you being vulnerable about some of your challenges in COVID and beyond?

4. Do my statements and actions, reflect a sense of urgency to fix an issue within my team?

A leader must find a way to better understand and connect with their teams in this ongoing remote/hybrid setting. These challenges will require leaders to use E.Q. to empathize with people dissimilar from themselves, introspect their communication, and ask themselves and others more questions. The leader will also need to find new ways to drive employee engagement frequency and quality, especially as remote work and virtual offices become more prevalent. It essential for leaders to establish a safe environment that allows team members to be candid and transparent, which requires a leader to be vulnerable in their struggles. Finally, a leader must take ownership to improve one’s organization rather than hoping someone else will fix or address the issue at hand.

Dr. Hise O. Gibson is an Academy Professor of Systems Engineering at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated with a B.S. in Operations Research from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a Doctorate of Business Administration in Technology and Operations Management from Harvard Business School. His expertise is the intersection of operational effectiveness and human capital development to enable more effective ways to maximize the integration of Technology, People, and Processes throughout an organization.

MaShon Wilson, MBA, is a management consultant. He graduated with a B.S. in Economics from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and an MBA in Strategy and Decision Sciences from Duke University. His expertise is at the intersection of growth strategy and organizational decision-making in the education and technology spaces.

Passionate about the intersection of Operational Effectiveness & Human Capital Development by leveraging a Systems Thinking framework to solve complex problems.