Leading together in rough storms

Leading together in rough storms

The world’s attention has shifted to Covid-19 and businesses are scrambling not only to stay profitable, but also to survive in the wake of the pandemic

We place a great deal of pressure on our leaders; we expect them to display superhuman qualities. We also expect them to safeguard their people while ensuring that production continues. Business as usual!

In the last issue, I spoke about three essentials that employers should consider to ensure a baseline of health, namely, the sleep, nutrition and exercise of their employees. However, if we don’t ensure that our employers enjoy the same considerations, they will not be able to be the supporting pillars we demand them to be.

In this article, therefore, I will focus on the employer, our management, our leaders, and how to build their capacity to provide for others and cultivate a safety culture.

Leadership requires more than a healthy body and mind. It asks for maturity, for composure in all circumstances, and for a nuanced approach that accommodates everyone’s emotions, thoughts and feelings.

Daniel Goleman, the international author and science journalist whose primary interest has been emotional intelligence (EQ), outlines five components that comprise EQ: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy and motivation. Using these five components can help leaders build capacity for success in their role.

An old African proverb advises: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The ideal is for leaders not to develop their capacity in isolation, but to find ways in which they can collaborate and build networks of support. And it’s especially timely for them to do so in our current environment.

First, then, is self-awareness – the ability to recognise and track your emotions. We usually interpret self-awareness from the individual’s perspective, however, ignoring the role of “the other“ in cultivating that awareness. The technique known as Johari’s window – created by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955 – is a useful tool to understand the awareness of self and others.

The model has four quadrants representing a window; we distinguish each quadrant according to what is known or unknown concerning the individual and the other. Our primary concern here is on the quadrant directed by what is unknown by the individual yet known by others. We call this area the “blind” quadrant or the blind spot.

The blind spot represents things that we can’t see in ourselves and provides us with an opportunity to develop greater self-awareness. Johari’s window encourages individuals to ask for feedback from others to grow and unearth the unknown, incorporating it into our awareness.

It can sometimes be uncomfortable to ask for feedback, but the more honest it is, the smaller our blind spots get and the more capacity for growth we build. It is here that we, as leaders, need to both provide feedback and assist our colleagues in working through it.

The second and third components of Goleman’s EQ model speak to channelling this newfound awareness towards a constructive goal or objective that, more often than not, involves others. Self-regulation and social skills are about expressing our emotions towards activities that allow us to navigate social contexts.

Leaders regularly engage in group meetings and teams throughout their day, an opportune moment to invite other leaders to observe and note the social engagement that ensues.

As a leader, managing group dynamics is important in concisely communicating tasks and objectives. Again, leveraging off feedback comes to the fore when assessing one’s ability to respond to the input of the team.

The fourth component, empathy, is a critical element of being human. It requires us to recognise and understand the feelings and emotions of others. When we feel empathy, we can put ourselves in another’s shoes, acknowledging them as a fellow human who has struggles that we can identify with. “Quarantine” or “pandemic” fatigue is a state where our cortisol levels are overly and consistently high, and the result is increased burnout and depression. Now more than ever, empathy should be our go-to tool when working with others.

Leaders could, for example, organise platforms where they could talk freely with their peers to discuss their challenges as leaders and share their experiences. These forums would not only provide the structure to foster empathy but also positively impact decision-making, acting as a shared knowledge base for collaborative problem-solving.

The fifth component of Goleman’s EQ model is motivation – the result of meeting one’s own inner needs and goals.

A pandemic often compromises our personal needs and goals and tests our tenacity in ways we may have never imagined.

Leaders should find ways to lean on each other by not only re-evaluating their needs and goals but also carefully unpacking them for better congruence. When leaders share their thoughts with others, they actively participate in their thinking by working with the mechanics of the brain. They will then become more action-oriented and focused on attaining their goals as well as meeting their needs.

John Donne, the 17th century poet, put it aptly: “No man is an island.” We are social creatures, and we are all feeling the effects of limited movement and curtailed social engagement. By applying Goleman’s five components in a collective manner we can provide the necessary support needed by our leaders to act as the vanguard of a safety culture.

Published by

Kyle Bloch

Kyle Bloch is a registered industrial-organisational psychologist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). He is the operations manager at StratisQ Africa focusing on safety across multiple sectors and industries.
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