Carolyn Stern: Emotional Intelligence Speaker and Corporate Trainer

Navigating the workplace is never easy, and it’s been made more difficult since the pandemic started. While bosses are just as overwhelmed as their staff, it’s important that they try to stay engaged with their team and focus on honing their emotional intelligence. That’s where emotional intelligence expert and entrepreneur Carolyn Stern comes in. A business professor at Capilano University in Vancouver, she’s also an accomplished emotional intelligence speaker and corporate trainer helping companies build high-performing teams. The Edge caught up with her to learn about the importance of emotional intelligence and what that means in a COVID-19 world.

What are some ways that emotional intelligence can help people become better leaders?

Real leadership is about inspiring, motivating and igniting passion in others.

From a business perspective, understanding the attitudes and behaviours of your people is critical. It is the individuals who create an organization’s competitive advantage, and when you start treating your employees as people, it’s incredible what they can accomplish.

Corporations expect their people to know how to behave on the job. They assume employees innately know the importance of taking initiative, speaking up, being friendly, thinking clearly under pressure and producing high-quality work. In reality, senior employees typically possess superior technical abilities but have not developed the emotional intelligence skills required to increase the success of your organization.

Tuning into emotions is the key to effectively managing today’s multigenerational, diverse and virtual workforce. Emotional intelligence is the leadership superpower today’s managers need to boost productivity and employee engagement.

How can your techniques in emotional intelligence be applied to leaders in the workplace?

Professionals with high emotional intelligence have exceptional self-awareness, better control of their actions, and empathy for others. An increased level of emotional intelligence can also help individuals manage stress better, build healthier relationships and make good decisions. These qualities are all vital elements of effective leadership.

Learning to be bigger than your emotions is critical for success in school, business and life. We can use our emotions as data to make good behavioural choices.

The problem is we never learned this in school. Fortunately, emotional intelligence can be learned, developed, and enhanced. Our clients have found that incorporating EI into their repertoire takes their leadership impact to new heights.

What impact do you think the pandemic has had on the emotional and mental stressors faced by leaders/bosses? How can they lead better during a time like this?

COVID-19 has transformed the way we work. Our approach to hiring, communicating with our teams, assigning work schedules and determining how the work gets done has also permanently changed. The way we have been previously taught to manage our teams does not work in this new world.

Technology has also shifted the way we manage—all the cool apps are fun, but they are just Band-Aids on bigger issues.

Mental health is at an all-time low. There are no boundaries between work and home, and our employees are having a hard time separating the two.

People are missing social engagement. They miss the buzz in the office. No more impromptu water cooler talks or in-person brainstorming sessions.

Many are feeling isolated, disconnected and stressed with working from home. They also are having trouble staying focused. They are feeling unmotivated and lonely, having no one to talk to throughout the day. They are struggling with collaborating with their teams while working in a different time zone.

Organizations are scrambling to keep their head above water, which has muted real conversations about our current challenges. Now, communication is fragmented, and nobody knows who’s working on what and why it’s important.

For many, engagement is down, and it feels like many teams have lost their soul.Many are missing in-person connections and serendipitous interactions in the office that often lead to creativity. Some have lost their innovation entirely. They are not as productive. It’s been really tough to get people excited about work.

But each individual will feel, think and do different things in response to imposed changes. Change involves managing emotions, and for most organizations, they have unwritten and unspoken display rules about which feelings, if any, are okay to demonstrate at work.

What advice do you hold for people who wish to reconnect during the pandemic?

Leading others can be challenging, but when you compound the fact that geographic proximity is no longer needed in the workplace to effectively perform and succeed, staying emotionally connected with your distributed team can be difficult.

Many organizations are not focusing on their employees’ feelings. Why? Because we never learned how. Leaders must understand and appreciate the emotional response that change may evoke in their employees and the process of implementing change within the organization effectively.

Just because your team is not in the same office does not mean they can’t stay connected. Emotional intelligence is the key to leading remote teams with optimal results.

The key is first starting with a leadership mindset that builds trust and empathy for those you lead. Next comes listening to what your employees need to feel connected to you and the team. Then, act on their feedback and notice what happens. Finally, establish best practices to lead a team whose face-to-face time is limited.

Learning to lead with emotional intelligence is critical, now more than ever.

Given that the pandemic will have impacted people’s abilities to connect and communicate, how do you think they can effectively transition into a setting with loosened restrictions?

The average workplace will look very different than it did at the beginning of 2020. As we start to roll out our plans for reopening businesses and finally go back and re-enter the office, the importance of keeping our workers safe and comfortable is critical.

Companies have had to rethink the current work landscapes, employee schedules, extending work-from-home scenarios and limiting face-to-face meetings. Social distancing is driving a lot of decision-making and will be part of the new normal.

Every employee will have a different perception of risk and tolerance to your safety measures, so your plans must be clear to be successful. Your people have faced a myriad of emotions since the pandemic. Over the following months to years, we need to be acutely aware of how they feel about these new stressors in their work-life and how it impacts their productivity and emotional well-being.

Businesses that take decisive action to reignite the team at the first signs of trouble see productivity rebound quickly. As employees feel heard and valued, team morale strengthens, and the organization’s overall performance soars. Dropping engagement can be reversed or even avoided.

The problem is that people and culture managers have not been provided with the right tools to recognize the early symptoms and stop disengagement in its tracks. You’ve been so busy managing the avalanche of change your business and teams are facing—who’s had time to learn an entirely new way of leading?

How can leaders overcome the challenges of life after COVID-19?

For many of us, COVID-19 has been the most significant and perhaps most traumatic experience of our lives. Even when the pandemic subsides, there will be permanent changes in how we think about and behave at work.

Leading with emotional intelligence is the magic ingredient needed to connect authentically, communicate effectively and thrive collectively.

Learning to lead with emotional intelligence will give you and your employees the tools to engage openly and with impact. Once people care for one another, it is incredible to watch how far they will go for their colleagues.

At EI Experience, we do more than scratch the surface. All of our programs are purposefully designed to deliver an experience that your team will remember and an impact that stays with them well beyond the training or coaching session.

We also understand how people learn and what makes behaviour change stick.

We focus on the unique emotional makeup of your leaders and what are their unique challenges.

How can they leverage their natural strengths?

This powerful personal insight literally dissolves lifelong roadblocks to growth and change, amplifying their strengths and giving them the tools to manage life’s hurdles, clearing the path for the organization’s true potential to emerge.

The work we do extends far beyond the four walls of the business, improving employees’ lives and skills. People with strong, well-balanced EI enjoy better relationships both inside and out of the workplace. Happier, healthier families mean you benefit from more committed employees delivering higher quality work and more of it.

Dontei Wynter | Staff Writer

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