Lead with Emotional Intelligence in Uncertain Times

I love researching data-backed leadership interventions that actually work which I can translate to my clients in a meaningful, actionable way.

There are myriad business books out there to provide you endless iterations on ideas that have been recirculated for generations of leaders, some of which are effective because they’re grounded on solid principles of how humans actually work, and some of which are just magazine fodder and click-bait on websites to sell more advertising or capture attention.

In times like these, leaders need something that actually works.

In my opinion, one of the most worthy questions in leadership research is the impact of emotional intelligence on the performance of leaders. We were just beginning to ask this sort of question seriously about 15 years ago (Brown et al. 2005, Boyatzis et al. 2002). Now whole research teams are organized to answer the question of how emotion plays a part in our leadership performance (see Richard Boyatzis’ work). 

How leaders exhibit their emotional intelligence during the COVID-19/Corona virus will define their leadership brands for years to come.

What makes an emotionally intelligent leader in uncertain times?

One of the distinct challenges of the day is leading when all plans are off, the future is uncertain, and teams are looking to you for stability and assurance. This is where you get to put your emotional intelligence to work. 

First, listen deeply to concerns. Normally, we don’t have the time, but I think one of the hidden blessings of the COVID-19/Corona virus is that it’s forcing everyone to slow down. Though the economy doesn’t like this, it’s what humans need now more than anything.

When you slow down, your energy and attention shifts. You start to hear more, sense more, know more because your brain has time to digest the information. Your brain is leveraging the automatic processes written indelibly into your unconscious almost 90% of the time, leading to very predictable decision outcomes. That’s not what you want when the whole context of your work environment has shifted. Your unconscious is not in the business of creating something new.

Second, shift your thinking. When responding as a leader to novel pressures like the Corona/COVID-19 virus and the fear installed into people by the news, it’s time to shift your thinking. It’s time to shift your thinking to produce something new, something different, something innovative. When you slow down your thought processes, bringing your cognition out of the unconscious into the conscious, moving from the ‘old’ reptilian brain stem to the ‘new,’ creative, pre-frontal cortex, you can create something new. 

It’s this conscious, creative area of your brain power that will deliver you the best results in this uncertain time. It’s what allows you to reframe a time of crisis into an opportunity for growth and expansion. At times like these, you may not have a choice to reframe, but it’s what your people are hoping for. 

To help you begin to reframe common mistakes your team is making, here are some multiple ways to look at a problem:

Immediate Perception Shift After Some Thought
It’s a problem. It’s an opportunity.
We don’t have enough resources. We are wasting the resources we do have.
We need to gather more input. We need to pay more attention to the input we’re already getting.
We don’t have any power. We haven’t found the points of leverage in this (new) system.
We don’t have enough time to do all these things. We have to decide what to do now and what to do later.


The inquiry is drawing interesting connections, baffling synchronicities, and uncovering the hidden patterns that communicate ‘leader’. What do you think makes a good leader? And what traits do you think a powerful and effective leader should have? Inquiring minds want to know. 


  1. F. William Brown, and Dan Moshavi, “Transformational Leadership and Emotional Intelligence: A Potential Pathway for an Increased Understanding of Interpersonal Influence,” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26, no. 7 (2005): 867-871, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4093959 (accessed January 13, 2014).
  2. Richard E. Boyatzis, Elizabeth C. Stubbs, and Scott N. Taylor, “Learning Cognitive and Emotional Intelligence Competencies Through Graduate Management Education,” Academy of Management Learning & Education, 1, no. 2 (2002): 150-162, http://amle.aom.org/content/1/2/150.short (accessed January 13, 2014).