Leadership in Turbulent Times
by Randi B. Noyes

September 11th changed our world. In so many ways life will never be the same. We will never be the same. Although the events were horrific, and many of the challenges we face today are daunting, we have all been given an opportunity to dig deeper, harness wisdom and grow as never before. As a leadership coach I have been approached with the pressing question: "As a leader, how do I deal with what happened?". What follows is some straightforward advice on how to "lead yourself" and others through the turbulence - whether you are the CEO of a large company or the head of your household.

The bottom line? Now more than ever it's important that leaders tap into their emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence?

Dr. John Mayer of the University of New Hampshire and Dr. Peter Salovey of Yale University created the first scientific definition of emotional intelligence as "the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional growth." In short, it is the capacity to understand your emotions and use the information from your emotions to think better.

To a leader, it means to achieve the desired results needed by being able to access, use, understand and manage your emotions and the emotions of others. It is the intelligent use of thoughts and emotions -- heart and mind working harmoniously to make better decisions and to foster improved relationships.

How can I be a good leader in turbulent times?

In the midst of all this fear and confusion you as a leader still face the pressure to get things done and succeed. All of the same "rules" still apply. Self-confidence, a relentlessly sharp focus, and clear action steps lead to positive outcomes.

What's the added challenge? Emotions - and specifically their role in strengthening and developing relationships - become even more important. In tough times, good leaders express their emotions to foster closer connections with their family, friends, employees, and business partners.

According to LeRoy Malouf, Chairman of leadership firm, LMA, Inc., "While some have said emotion has no place in business or in government, in fact, emotions are a key ingredient to creating success in an organization and in a single human life." It's only when leaders learn to make their feelings work for them that they spark growth and change in themselves and in the organization. Don't risk alienating your employees by adopting a "macho" or unemotional pose. Instead, use the opportunity to be authentic.

What should I do?

First, take care of yourself. This is critical so you have the needed energy to help and support your people, at home and at work. Now, more than ever, know what is important in your life. Be true to yourself.

At work, take breaks throughout the day and week to catch your breath and refocus. If you are conscious of what you are experiencing, inevitably you will make better decisions and be more aware of the organization's needs. Along those lines, consider temporarily reducing your expectations of yourself and your employees. Not only does this ensure that you accomplish what is most important, it also helps prevent you and the people you lead from feeling overwhelmed.

Especially in hard times, people need to feel successful in something every single day. Take smaller steps and make constant progress. Keep in mind, if you become more strict with yourself and others right now, it will most likely cost you in the long run by leading to deep discouragement and burnout. Set firm limits on how you spend your time. This is a time to say "no" and stay focused.

Remember the Chinese symbol for crisis, which is composed of two characters, meaning "danger" and "opportunity". Let us all strive, then, to look for the opportunity at this painful moment. The lens a leader looks through generally determines what outcomes he or she creates. A great leader dares to use his or her emotions in an intelligent way. By acknowledging and dealing with painful emotions you can find - and help others find - all the good we can possibly harvest from this.

In my twenty three years of work in this field I have never seen so much hunger for sharing and learning about emotions. If this doesn't make us stop and take feelings seriously, I don't know what will. If we do take feelings seriously, though, we will have an opportunity for growth like never before. This could be the chance for a real paradigm shift. One which takes your leadership to a much higher level by reaching to deeper, healthier and more universal values.

Leaders need to first access their feelings, then integrate or channel them, so they become wiser before they act. If you act out of anger, or simply react, you and your organization will likely get into trouble. Likewise, it is healthy and normal to feel afraid. However, it is important to not let the fear take over. Simply feel your fear and then do what you know is right. Then you are in charge and the fear is not in charge of you. Lead by example.

How can the events make me a better leader? What are the traps to avoid?

Without question, the worst thing you can do - for yourself, for your family, and for your organization - is to repress your feelings and pretend that everything is okay when it isn't. In fact, now more than ever, it's important to experience your feelings fully. This is essential so that you can move forward in a healthy way.

Why? Because if you don't, pain and confusion can linger for a long time and you can get stuck. In short, if you invest in the time to process these feelings ultimately the painful emotions will subside and you will again feel strong and confident.

As a leader, keep in mind that your people will need different lengths of time to go through this process. When a tragedy occurs it is normal for people to feel numb at first, then all the feelings of anger, sadness, and loss surface. What leaders can do is to support their employees in this process. Allow yourself and your people time to grieve!

What does research show about tapping emotional intelligence?

Research shows that emotional intelligence (EI) is extremely important to create the life we want. In fact, emotional intelligence has been shown to be just as important as IQ in getting results. It is a real intelligence that can be measured. But more importantly, EI can be harnessed and emotional skills can be developed.

Dr. Mayer and Dr. Salovey 's four-step process to develop one's emotional intelligence and ultimately make better decisions is:

  1. Access your feelings - face and identify what you are feeling. (Be aware of other people's feelings)
  2. Integrate your feelings - by feeling them fully or channeling them out of you! (Use the kind of emotional tools that work for you, i.e. write out your feelings, talk into a tape recorder, etc.). The result will be that you think more clearly.
  3. Understand what your feelings are trying to tell you - Remain open to the abundance of information your feelings can give you about your past and present. This will help you make better decisions for the future.
  4. Manage your feelings - this is leadership! Listen to your head and heart combined when making decisions and influencing others. This is the highest level of emotional intelligence. Know that when you are feeling calm you will create calm around you. Closeness to yourself, creates closeness to others. Trust in yourself creates a trusting environment for others. Since feelings are extremely contagious, you will create what you are able to give, no more, no less.

Don't try to skip a step in this model, especially if you are sad, angry, irritated, or afraid. You won't fool others, (although you might fool yourself). There are no shortcuts here. Especially in turbulent times, your heart and head need to be aligned(EI) with what you want to create or you will not manifest the desired result. That is your greatest challenge and responsibility as a leader. You are not a victim, you make the choices. Put simply, you'll never lead others constructively if you can't lead yourself first!

Seize the moment!

In sum, if you do your "emotional homework," in other words the steps outlined above, you are better prepared to lead in the face of any challenge, today or in the future.

This is a time for reflection and introspection, as well as compassion. Lip service won't cut it and will ruin your credibility as a leader. Unite people by demonstrating your highest values. Be a model of empathy and honesty. Stay visible and communicate openly and frequently. Show that you care. Remember, you are being watched closely in these moments and people are looking to you for guidance.

Ultimately, this time is a golden opportunity to bond with people that you never connected with before. It is also an historical opportunity to become a better leader. It's a chance to create a better future for yourself, your friends, your family and your organization. The choice is yours.

Randi B. Noyes is a leadership consultant and executive coach. A pioneer in the practical application of Emotional Intelligence and President of Leadership International, Inc., Randi has provided leadership coaching for thousands of individuals and for corporate clients such as AT&T, Exxon, Mobil Oil and Phillips Petroleum. for more information visit: http://www.leadership-international.com .

Randi is the author of the bestseller "The Art of Leading Yourself: Tap the Power of your Emotional Intelligence" available on www.amazon.com or visit www.leading-yourself.com .

Many more articles on Personal Development, Executive Performance and The HR Refresher in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2001-2002 - Leadership International, Inc. All rights reserved.

Current Issue - Archives - CEO Links - News - Conferences - Recommended Reading