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Emotional Intelligence is the Secret to Leadership in Times of Crisis

While we often think of courage, intellect, or decisiveness as hallmarks of great leadership, research shows that one set of characteristics rises above the rest: emotional intelligence

By | Scott Taylor | Wendy Murphy |

Amid the chaos of recent months, the world has latched onto leaders who seem capable of righting the ship. Some we may have expected, such as heads of state like New Zealand’s popular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Germany’s longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel. Others were perhaps less obvious, including NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, 3M CEO Mike Roman, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

David Lees | Getty Images

However, the connection between all of these figures can be found in the words used to describe their leadership styles. Ardern’s response to the pandemic has been characterized as “empathetic,” Silver’s as “honest,” and Cuomo’s as “reassuring.” They each have a relational approach to leadership that enables them to cultivate a positive emotional climate and obtain buy-in for a shared vision of how to weather our current crises. For instance, after Ardern was turned away from a crowded café due to social distancing rules, her office said that “she just waits like everyone else,” demonstrating her willingness to share the same hardships as her fellow New Zealanders.

It’s all comes down to feelings

Our research over the past two decades demonstrates that emotional and social competence are essential components of effective leadership, particularly the kind of entrepreneurial leadership needed to navigate the uncertainty and ambiguity we currently face. Entrepreneurial leaders have an outward focus and a growth mindset that empowers them to work collaboratively with others to solve complex, undefined problems and generate new opportunities. They draw on their social and emotional skills to promote a positive emotional climate and meet the needs of employees and citizens for trust, security, and connection in the midst of turmoil.

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