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Jo Maddocks

JCA Global

Chief Psychologist

Read more from Jo Maddocks

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Emotional intelligence: navigating today’s leadership challenges


Leaders who are great at coping under normal conditions are sometimes not best equipped to cope with adversity.

Unfortunately, leading organisations in today’s business climate means that adversity is never far away. That means we need resilient leaders, who can bounce back and respond effectively to difficult and arduous circumstances.

The key to resilience is being able to understand and manage our own emotions. As we know, there has been considerable growth in the field of Emotional Intelligence (EI) at work since the 1990s.

There are a number of key reasons for this, not least the neurological evidence on the importance of emotions for effective leadership – for clear thinking, decision-making and effective behaviour.

Perhaps the main reason organisations recognise the importance of EI is an increased need for emotionally intelligent leaders who are resilient enough to cope with the demands of current day working.

The Thrive Cycle of Resilience

When a leader understands their emotions, the more effectively they can move through each stage of the Thrive Cycle of Resilience: survive, adapt, recover, and thrive.

Understanding the levels of day-to-day stress is important to help leaders become resilient and to decrease the burnout experienced by senior leadership teams.

Below are five key demands placed upon current leaders and the relevant Emotional Intelligence Profile (EIP) scales developed to help address each demand.

1. The rate of change

We live in a constantly changing world, led by advances in technology, access to information and increased globalisation. This typically comes with a high human toll as leaders are expected to be more resilient, adaptable and responsive to changing circumstances.

The Roffey Park annual survey shows that the percentage of managers feeling supported by their organisation to cope with change has declined from 20 years ago.

This is despite investment in leadership development and significant efforts to build the capacity of leaders to manage change. In short, the rate of change has outstripped leaders’ growing capability to manage it.

In terms of managing demands, leaders need to be aware of their automatic and ingrained responses (self-awareness) and then learn how to move outside of their comfort zones to adapt to a changing world (flexibility).

2. A changing economic climate

The health of the economy cascades down to organisations and their leaders. When the economy is buoyant, organisations experience rapid growth and leaders are expected to adapt quickly, manage more resources and deliver to high expectations.

During an economic slowdown, organisations consolidate and leaders are expected to do more with less, remain competitive with reduced resources and cope with job uncertainty – for themselves and others.

EI and resilience in the workplace is about helping leaders manage their emotional state under challenging conditions to perform effectively.

A resilient leader who copes well with such changes will develop their EI, provide others with emotional support (connecting with others), be flexible enough to move outside of their comfort zones and become stronger from the experience (reflective learning).

3. Increased competition

With globalisation, and in times of economic crisis, comes increased competition. If a leader is to come out on top they must have emotional resilience in order to cope with and persevere after setbacks.

Self-awareness is also important, to draw on creativity and intuition, along with the ability to connect with others and engage with clients. Effective leaders must also have a balanced outlook in order to maintain a positive rather than a pessimistic outlook.

4. A job is not for life

Unlike 50 years ago, very few CEOs or company directors have dedicated their working lives to the same organisation. Such dedication is often seen as a handicap rather than an asset. Today’s high-flier will not only work in different organisations, but different industry sectors.

This level of change requires resilience and the capacity to adapt to new environments and people (connecting with others), to continually learn from their experience (reflective learning), and to adopt versatile styles of working (flexibility).

5. Increased job demand

Although there has been improved efficiency with the speed of operating technology, leaders are working longer hours, having to absorb much more information and experiencing a greater variety of roles incorporated into their job.

Adversity can be a good thing for us all and make us stronger - as long as we learn how to apply our internal resources.

This increase has seen a corresponding rise in stress related problems, such as absenteeism, low morale, illness, increased turnover and underperformance.

Evolving demands

EI and resilience in the workplace is about helping leaders manage their emotional state under challenging conditions to perform effectively.

It’s about creating working cultures that engage people and help them work to their strengths. This can include developing EI attributes such as self-regard, regard for others, self-awareness and awareness of others.

We need to understand the growing and evolving demands of today’s workplace. Only then can we start to measure and evaluate the effect of stress and build executive resilience.

Adversity can be a good thing for us all and make us stronger. As long as we learn how to apply our internal resources – the behaviours and attitudes – to build our resilience, we will be far better able to cope with the strains and stressors faced as business leaders operating in a changing and demanding world.

Want to know more about building resilience within your team? Read Resilience at work: the building blocks you need for focus and productivity

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Jo Maddocks

Chief Psychologist

Read more from Jo Maddocks

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