While most of us have been through a year easily described as hellish – we are now seeing at least some light at the end of the tunnel, gathering together with vaccinated friends and family, and rejoicing in a slow but sure return to our pre-pandemic lives. It feels good, especially as the weather warms up (finally, Chicago) as our kids finish up a tumultuous year at school, and as we consider returning to the office either part or full-time. As we contemplate those returns, many of us are wondering if our employers and executives will understand what we’ve been or are still going through: are we working for High EQ leaders?

We’ve seen a million articles with this headline and I’ll echo it here: we may be returning to our regularly-scheduled programming, but WE are changed. Many of us have dealt with and are still dealing with significant life changes, illness, the illness or death of a loved one, mental health issues, and are craving a work/life balance where we are valued, where we work hard, and where we are understood as humans with full, complex lives. We need High EQ leaders who understand the complexity of our lives and want to help us streamline what we can, be more effective, have more impact, and truly rest when we’re away from work.

What is a High EQ leader?

This is why we need High EQ (EQ=emotional intelligence) leaders now, more than ever. Empathy is just one trait of High EQ leaders, which can also include self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, and social skills. (Source.) But for now, based on what we’ve been through this past year, let’s focus on empathy.

Empathy is, very simply, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. What we’ve seen recently, is that leaders and companies can be empathetic, without losing sight of goals and revenue. When leaders and companies employ empathy, their employees feel more valued, work harder, and stay longer. Empathy = good leadership. “In studies by the Management Research Group, empathy was found to be the top competence for good leadership and one of the three strongest predictors of senior executive effectiveness. Similar results were found by 2016 CCL analysis of 6,731 leaders from 38 countries, where enhanced empathy was linked to superior performance.” (Source.)

How are we doing at empathy?

Unfortunately, empathy is not always a stated goal for leadership. In Business Solver’s most recent State of Workplace Empathy study, 68% of CEOs admitted they fear they will be less respected if they show empathy in the workplace – a 31 point increase over 2020. While empathy ratings of CEOs increased, only 25% of employees said they experience sufficient empathy at work. (Source.) And, employees notice this discrepancy. A 2019 study found that 82% of employees would leave their current employer for a more empathetic employer. (Source.)

How can we become High EQ leaders? Through action.

How can leaders build their empathy, to ensure great employees feel valued? What can employees ask for from their leaders? How can we go back to work in a more understanding, encouraging environment? Here are some ideas.

  1. Communicate openly and honestly. Acknowledge that this has been an incredibly hard year for people, that many people are still grieving, and that some people have been internally changed forever by this pandemic experience. (If you have trouble believing that, heads up, you are out of touch.)
  2. Ask questions. Ask people about what has changed in their lives since the pandemic started. The answers may be as simple as, ‘I treasure my time with family more,’ to ‘my elderly parents now live with us.’ Gather responses and analyze what needs to change (flexible work schedules? Child care reimbursement? Better understanding of FMLA?) to accommodate your employees’ life changes.
  3. Make sure that your employees have access to solid health insurance and child care options. Many of us have been caring for small children around-the-clock in 2020-21, while continuing to work and provide value. While health insurance is still tied to employment, we must offer the best options possible.
  4. Reimburse upskilling and re-skilling. We’re hearing a lot about these terms and employees want to feel valued and valuable more than ever. Give people time and professional development funds to be better employees.
  5. Truly imagine yourself in someone else’s situation. This is what empathy’s all about, right? What would life be like if your elderly parents were suddenly living with you? If you lost someone dear to you, to COVID-19? If you were unsure of your employment? If you wanted to be a more valued employee, but didn’t know how?

The Future for High EQ Leaders

Leaders at all levels can take us through this experience and out the other side with a better understanding of ourselves, our value, our impact at work and how our work and home lives can support each other. Leaders have the opportunity, right now, to flex their empathy muscles, reinvigorate their employees, and drive results.

Are you a High EQ leader? What has changed for you this year? If you’re returning to the office, how will you ensure that your colleagues are supported?

I’d love your thoughts and shares! Stay tuned for my next post that will focus on how to convey your impact as a High EQ leader on your resume, LinkedIn profile, and in your job search. I’m honored to work with many High EQ leaders. If you want to find out if your LinkedIn profile and resume convey your leadership, book an intro call here.