EQ has been strongly linked to high job performance and successful leadership over and over again. It’s controversial to claim that there are EQ differences between men and women that make women better leaders, or better suited to handling a crisis, like the global COVID-19 pandemic. So I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to highlight a piece of research that shows that overall, men and women are equally emotionally intelligent. However, (…there had to be a catch, right?!) there are significant statistical differences in the sub traits underlying the concept of emotional intelligence. These real sub trait differences are the source of the gut feel that we get when we think about the trait differences between men and women in the workplace generally. And these ‘gut feelings’ do go on to create perceptions, generalisations and even beliefs about differences between males and females.
When we dive a little deeper into the sub traits, as Stein & Book did in their 2011 study outlined in the ‘EQ Edge’, they found gender specific strengths fell to women across traits such as empathy, social responsibility and interpersonal relationships. Men, on the other hand, scored statistically significantly higher across traits such as self-confidence, assertiveness and stress tolerance. Stress tolerance has to be a very handy trait for personal coping during a global pandemic, and self-confidence and assertiveness are also going to be very helpful to anyone who has been unlucky enough to lose their employment. Of course, not all men and women fall into the gender specific patterns that the study found, and most of us know people who not only buck the trend, but can embody all of these traits at once. Notwithstanding the people we know that are different to this, it’s hard to argue with statistically significant patterns that emerge from an EQ study that encompasses 1.5 million people. So how can women better understand and leverage the strengths of empathy, social responsibility and interpersonal relationships that emerged as the natural strengths of women?
When a woman leader displays empathy, it can be seen as being too soft, or mutually exclusive from leadership strength and decisiveness. And yet, empathy is a key trait that enables listening to teams and clients, understanding deeply what is going on in the environment, and using that data to exhibit influence and steer people, priorities and projects in the right direction.
Now is the time to build harmony and morale and give people a voice in decisions as entire organisations adjust to new ways of working and a new normal (that may involve living alongside the COVID-19 virus for the foreseeable future). Being very sensitive to the impact that these changes are having on teams and individual people will be crucial for continuing team cohesion and the retention of key talented team members. Leveraging empathy allows leaders to ask – “what do you think?” and harnesses the creativity, insights and input of valuable employees, whilst also creating buy-in for a different way forward as companies respond to the demands of a new world.
There has never been a better time for an organisation to kick start any initiative that contributes to their community, whether that be inside the company or reaching out to disadvantaged groups in order to help. Social responsibility – or “helping” – causes endorphins or feel-good hormones, to be released into the blood stream and give us a boost in positive emotions and feelings. Through the pandemic I have worked with companies who are organising weekly zoom cooking classes for the employees completely led by volunteers, creating websites of kids activities for home schooling, volunteering to tutor kids stuck at home, cooking and delivering meals to elderly people in their neighbourhoods, and inventing creative ways to connect and build communities virtually across their organisation. Social responsibility leads to incredible positive impacts on organisational culture such as improvements in morale and motivation, loyalty and retention.
Shawn Andrews, a leadership researcher, asserts that “As organisations grow more dependent upon relationships, the ability to see decisions in a human context becomes and essential, and profoundly strategic advantage.” As so many of us are now working virtually, the ability to connect, create and deepen relationships has never been more important. Connecting daily to the people that matter, even for five minutes a day, will have a profound effect on relationship strength. Now is the time to acknowledge what is going on for people both at home and at work, celebrate successes and achievements, and remember the personal details of the people you are connected to so that they feel included and significant.
One thing we are missing out on is the casual, water cooler conversations that once took place in the office that are now either non-existent or, if they are happening, dominated by the COVID-19 news. Once upon a time these seemingly casual conversations were a source of getting work done, and sparked cooperation, ideas, improvements and even innovations. Re-creating these means that we must be more deliberate, use the technology we have available, and create COVID-free conversation zones. I have clients that have created ‘water cooler’ zoom meetings for exactly this purpose, and also coaching clients that are mapping their networks and deliberately working their way through their contacts to ensure that no relationship is left un-nurtured or neglected during this time of disruption to their usual communication channels. As working from home may be here to stay for a while, this systematic and deliberate approach to networking and nurturing relationships may become the new normal and therefore a critical workplace skill.
There’s never been a better time to play to your strengths around empathy, social responsibility and interpersonal relationships than now, no matter what gender you belong to. This is the time when your home, workplace and the world need these strengths the most. Everyone stands to benefit from women and men stepping up to the challenge and leveraging feminine EQ traits through the difficult and disruptive environment we are now living in.