Leading through Crisis: Creating Shared Purpose

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Kerry Goyette for the EVE webmagazine

As we approach the end of 2020, there’s no question it has been a challenging year. People are wondering how long will the pandemic last, how soon a safe vaccine will be available, and what will happen to the economy. Even as many of us adapt to working remotely, these constant uncertainties cause stress and anxiety, which make it harder to be creative, motivated, and engaged at work.

So what’s a leader to do?

In my work and research, I’ve found an element most organizations overlook: the emotional intelligence required to navigate a team through trying times. As a leader, you can make a difference in these stressful times. You can use emotional intelligence to inspire hope and unleash motivation.

Emotional intelligence, or EQ means you understand some of the brain’s tendencies and use that knowledge intelligently. In other words, you use what we know about emotion to empower yourself, your team, and your environment to support your goals. This last piece is crucial–and often overlooked: EQ is as much about your environment, and how you shape and contribute to it, as it is about yourself.

To build an environment that supports your team, you need to use emotional intelligence to create a shared purpose. Here are three things you can do right now to lower stress and boost performance:

  • Provide clarity about where your team is going.

The emotional centers of the brain crave certainty. We want to know what is happening, when, and why. Certainty allows the brain to relax–or at least not work as hard. The best way to cut through uncertainty is to share a vision with your team: not just once, but multiple times. Keep reinforcing the vision and allow people the freedom to contribute to it creatively.

  • Explain why your team is pursuing that vision.

Alongside certainty, the brain wants to know why it is doing something. Why expend that effort? What is the purpose? In addition to reminding your team of the vision, communicate why it matters. Link “small” tasks to big goals. When someone delivers a result or your team achieves an accomplishment, articulate how that contributes to the “why.”

  • Take time for connection and, whenever possible, laughter.

When the brain is under stress, we pay more attention to bad news and are more pessimistic. Why? Because stress causes us to hunker down and assess our environment for threats. And while you can’t eliminate the stress of this year, you can make sure the environments you shape allow for connection. In his research on Social Baseline Theory, neuroscientist Dr. James Coan demonstrated the importance of social connection: when we are attempting difficult pursuits alongside others, we believe they’re less difficult than when we think we have to go at them alone. Prioritizing social connection and laughter–which is shown to relieve stress–helps your team take on difficult tasks.

The year 2020 was difficult–and as much as we may wish flipping a calendar page into January will make it better, we know it will take time to move beyond crisis. As a leader, you’re in it for the long haul. So rather than hunker down and allow fear to motivate, it’s your responsibility to take the long view: offer a shared purpose, inspire your team with why, and make time to build and grow the connection we’ll all need to see things through.

Kerry Goyette is the president of Aperio Consulting Group, a certified professional behavior analyst, a certified forensic interviewer with postgraduate studies in psychometrics, and the award-winning author of The Non-Obvious Guide to Emotional Intelligence. Connect with her on Twitter @kerrygoyette and LinkedIn @kerry-goyette.

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