I heard an interview recently with Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. During the interview, he described research that indicates that human beings under stress lose their capacity for empathy. It occurs to me that his research has important implications for business leaders managing their businesses in these difficult economic times.
Leading an organization during times of challenge, complexity and change requires that leaders make tough choices. Choices such as, laying off employees, addressing inefficiencies in the organization, and restructuring the business, create stress and stir up emotions in leaders as well as their workforce. Leaders under stress can intensify the emotional atmosphere of an organization without even realizing the impact of their own emotions. Destructive emotions can interfere with alignment of teams and leaders as well as impact performance.
In times of challenge and stress, leaders need to focus not only on their business leadership, but their emotional leadership as well. This is what we mean at The Bailey Group by “Relationship Based Leadership”. Confidence in the senior leadership of the firm and the quality of an employee’s relationship with her direct manager are the two most important drivers of employee commitment and engagement. This means that, especially in stressful times, leaders need to make certain that they are taking the time to communicate and stay connected with their employees. Some specific strategies to focus on include:
Choose your behavior carefully. During times of stress, it is easy to respond to situations and people without thinking through how your behavior might impact others. Learning how you respond when under stress and being more deliberate about how you choose to respond can have a positive impact on the performance of your team.
Listen for emotional messages. The emotional worlds of employees are complex and employees express their emotions in a variety of ways. Under stress, some people talk more and others less. Make it a point to spend more time walking around and pay attention to how things are said, not just what is said. Be particularly aware of finding opportunities to praise good work and thank people for their efforts.
Focus on the opportunity. In tough times, it is natural to focus on what is not working. However, the upside of this time is that it forces businesses to shed inefficiencies and look for new opportunities. Alter your internal thoughts from negative to positive ones and look for new opportunities.
Communicate about the future. Help others in your organization understand the opportunities you see in the future. Communicate your aspirations and your enthusiasm in your interactions with others, but also be realistic about the challenges the organization is facing.
Leveraging your emotional leadership can have a powerful impact on moving the organization forward and achieving results. How can you use emotional leadership to inspire your workforce?