|Meet the productivity paradox, where the very thing that often slows us down at this time of year – anxiety – can actually be harnessed to speed us up. You read that correctly. Here are some nifty techniques that can transform anxiety from a productivity killer into a productivity booster.
What: This is your go-to technique when anxiety starts buzzing like an overeager alarm clock.
How: Simply breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven, and exhale for eight. This isn’t just any breathing – it’s like giving your brain a mini spa day.
Why: It slows down your heartbeat, tells your brain to chill, and shifts your focus away from worry.
The ‘What If’ Game:
What: Flip the script on anxiety’s favourite question: “What if everything goes wrong?”
How: Ask yourself, “What if everything goes right?” Imagine the best possible outcomes.
Why: It’s like mental judo – using anxiety’s momentum to throw it off balance and foster a positive mindset.
The Power Pose:
What: Stand like a superhero – hands on hips, chest out, head held high.
How: Hold this pose for two minutes. Yes, you might feel silly, but no one’s watching!
Why: Research shows this can increase confidence and decrease stress. Plus, who doesn’t want to feel like a superhero for a minute?
The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique:
What: A grounding exercise that brings you back to the here and now.
How: Acknowledge five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste.
Why: It’s like a reset button for your brain, pulling you away from anxious thoughts and into the present moment.
The Pomodoro Technique:
What: A time management method that breaks work into short intervals.
How: Work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. Repeat.
Why: It keeps anxiety in check by preventing work overload and keeps you cruising along with regular breaks.
Remember, harnessing anxiety is a skill, much like learning to ride a bike. It might feel wobbly at first but with practice, you’ll turn those anxious jitters into productive spins. The next time anxiety comes knocking, welcome it in and put it to work.
Written by Eileen Pease at Dynamic Learning.
Have you ever found yourself holding back a brilliant idea out of fear of ridicule or dismissal by your colleagues? This hesitation signifies a lack of psychological safety in the workplace. But imagine a different scenario—a workplace where you feel comfortable expressing your opinions openly, regardless of their imperfections. A place where you trust that your team members will listen respectfully and be receptive to your feedback. This is the kind of workplace where psychological safety thrives, the kind needed for employees and businesses in times of transformational change.
Psychological safety in the workplace is a critical factor for promoting employee well-being, job satisfaction, and productivity. Practically speaking, it means individuals can share opinions, ask questions, and express concerns without facing negative consequences. When employees feel psychologically safe, they proactively solve problems. Executives see innovation, job satisfaction, and higher returns. But how can an organization achieve psychological safety?
Psychological safety in the workplace
According to a study by Rockmann and colleagues (2019), workplace psychological safety is closely related to brain functions, enzymes, and processes that regulate emotions and cognitive processes. The amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hypothalamus are key brain areas involved in psychological safety and emotional regulation. The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure located deep within the temporal lobe, plays a crucial role in processing emotional information, particularly fear and threat detection (Phelps & LeDoux, 2005). When employees feel psychologically unsafe in a workplace, the amygdala can become overactive, leading to heightened emotional responses and a heightened sense of threat.
The prefrontal cortex, located in the front of the brain, involves cognitive processes such as decision-making, impulse control, and working memory. It regulates emotions, particularly negative emotions such as anxiety and fear (Davidson, Putnam, & Larson, 2000). When employees feel psychologically unsafe in the workplace, the prefrontal cortex can become less active, impairing their ability to regulate their emotions and making it more challenging to think clearly and make effective decisions.
The hypothalamus, located in the brain’s center, is critical in regulating the stress response (Ulrich-Lai & Herman, 2009). When employees feel psychologically unsafe, the hypothalamus can activate, releasing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Over time, chronic activation of the stress response can lead to physical and mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and burnout (McEwen, 2007). Therefore, promoting workplace psychological safety is not only crucial for employees’ well-being, but it can also lead to increased productivity and organizational success (Edmondson, 2018).
Enzymes such as monoamine oxidase and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) regulate emotional responses in the brain. Monoamine oxidase breaks down neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, crucial in regulating mood and emotional responses. COMT breaks down dopamine, which regulates emotional responses and reward-based learning. These enzymes can be influenced by environmental factors such as stress and social support, which can impact emotional regulation and psychological safety in the workplace.
The Practical Value of Psychological Safety
Businesses operate in an ever-changing landscape and a heightened level of transition. To manage the speed of change and keep costs in control, the best executives want every employee working as part of a team. They want teams to become more engaged in error prevention and for solutions to challenges to quickly emerge. To achieve that kind of speed and focus, psychological safety encourages honest feedback, quick adaptation, and personal growth to remain relevant in the market. Consequently, employees are more likely to contribute and help without needing to be asked to do so.
Strategies for Creating Psychological Safety
Creating psychological safety requires ongoing effort and commitment. Here are some tips to help you achieve it:
- Start with Leadership. Leaders set the tone. Effective leaders play a crucial role in fostering psychological safety by modeling desired behaviors, including acknowledging their own mistakes and demonstrating vulnerability.
- Encourage Open Communication. Active listening, non-judgmental feedback, and respectful communication contribute to an environment of psychological safety. Share stories and examples of how psychological safety has improved workplaces, recognize and encourage open communication, and engage employees in collaborative problem-solving.
- Foster Inclusivity. Encourage cognitive diversity as a driving factor for innovation. Create a workplace that celebrates and embraces cognitive differences, where everyone feels capable of sharing their ideas. Train employees to recognize and mitigate cognitive biases that can hinder critical thinking and data processing.
- Continuously Improve. Create an environment where it’s acceptable to make mistakes and learn from them. Regularly evaluate policies and practices to ensure that they support psychological safety, making changes when necessary.
Remember, creating psychological safety is an ongoing process that requires commitment from employers and employees alike. To foster a workplace culture that values psychological safety, promotes well-being, and drives business success is an intentional act of leadership.
Denise Cooper is a executive trainer, author, podcast host, and Chief People Operations at Custom Health and Founder and CEO of Remarkable Leadership Lessons, a company that assists senior-level business leaders and managers in raising their game. Katrina Hardie is a Workplace Wellbeing Culture Consultant who helps individuals, leaders, and teams recognize how their work environment impacts their health, well-being and performance and teaches them methods to turn this around in a sustainable way.
Rockmann, K. W., Ballinger, G. A., & Buckley, M. R. (2019). Managing for team psychological safety. Organizational Dynamics, 48(1), 6-15.
Phelps, E. A., & LeDoux, J. E. (2005). Contributions of the amygdala to emotion processing: From animal models to human behavior. Neuron, 48(2), 175-187.
Davidson, R. J., Putnam, K. M., & Larson, C. L. (2000). Dysfunction in the neural circuitry of emotion regulation—A possible prelude to violence. Science, 289(5479), 591-594.
Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Herman, J. P. (2009). Neural regulation of endocrine and autonomic stress responses. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(6), 397-409.
McEwen, B. S. (2007). Physiology and neurobiology of stress and adaptation: Central role of the brain. Physiological Reviews, 87(3), 873-904.
Edmondson, A. C. (2018). The fearless organization: Creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation, and growth. John Wiley & Sons.
Excerpted from: https://hughculver.com/the-art-of-asking-for-what-you-need
When I was a kid my Dad was my hero. He wore a 3-piece suit to his accounting office, was always in control, and could fix anything. On weekends, the older kids became his soldiers marching around the property hauling downed branches, stacking wood, or some other work we couldn’t screw up. If it needed doing, we did it.
Rarely did I see him ask for help.
In my businesses, I readily adopted a similar philosophy, even when I had partners. I was the soldier braving the way, preferring to work in solitude. So I worked long hours and prided myself in being able to solve any challenge. My mantra was “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.”
Now, years later I feel the heavy burden of my misguided philosophy. Instead of strength, it was a recipe for burnout and staying small.
It’s a funny thing to ask for help.
It seems so simple. You need advice or help to get a project off the ground, but instead of looking for help, you do what you always do and struggle to do it yourself.
What holds us back from simply asking for help?
Western societies value independence, argues psychologist Dale Miller. so asking others to go out of their way to help us may seem selfish – even wrong. “We tend to apply a more pessimistic, self-interested view about human nature,” writes Miller.
Asking for help can feel like weakness – like reaching up for a hand when you know you are sinking. One study revealed that by the age of seven children begin to connect asking for help as looking incompetent in front of others. Stanford researcher, Kayla Good suggests that our hesitation to ask for help could stem from being overly concerned about burdening or inconveniencing others.
Or we can make it feel like an invitation.
What if you reframe the ‘ask’ into an invitation? The invitation is for someone to enjoy doing something they like doing and you aren’t good at or don’t have the time for.
I’m leading a team in our City to build a new building for a not-for-profit and needed a volunteer with construction management experience. I don’t know anyone with those skills, but I knew that over the last decade, we had accumulated a large mailing list of members, supporters, and families. So, despite the doubts of my project committee, I sent out a short email inviting someone to volunteer for the role.
Within an hour I had two responses.
By the end of the week, four experienced project managers had all put their hands up willing to help. In fact, it worked so well that I repeated the campaign a month later and received three volunteers for another role that needed filling.
If you ask for help, it can feel like a gap you need help filling. Like you are failing and need to be bailed out. But, if you invite someone to help it is like offering a gift.
My father taught me that one kind of strength is independence and self-reliance. “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.” Another kind of strength – the type I used to label as lazy or self-serving – is asking for help.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.” Barack Obama said in his speech to high school students in 2009. “Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new.”
I’m really good at a few things, competent in a few others, and pretty well hopeless in almost everything else. Knowing my limitations is a strength.
It’s not a weakness to ask for help—it is a strength.
Over to you…
Where in your life or work do you need to ask for help?
When someone says something insensitive, use this simple three-word phrase to stay productive and move on.
Picture this – “Still working?”
It was an innocent question, but it triggered me. I just smiled uncomfortably and walked away, silently seething.
Why, you ask?
In the moment, with no control over the rush of thoughts going through my head, here’s how I interpreted the question:
- “Why do you work so much?”
- “You work for yourself. Why don’t you call it a day already?”
- “Why don’t you spend more time with your kids?”
- “What’s wrong with you?”
Of course, I doubt Dad was thinking those last two questions (although I’m sure he was thinking the first two).
You want to be the bigger person and just let it go, but you’re not sure how.
Well, I’ve discovered a simple, three-word phrase that helps me deal with comments like these.
That phrase is: They don’t know.
Why is this phrase so effective? The reason has to do with the meaning behind the phrase, and its foundation in emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage emotions. (If you find value in this lesson, you might be interested in my free course, which teaches you how to build emotional intelligence in yourself and your team.)
How to move on
“They don’t know” is shorthand for one or more of the following:
The goal of “They don’t know” isn’t for you to look down on the other person, or to demean them. It’s simply recognizing that there’s no possible way they could know what it’s like to walk in your shoes.
Acknowledging this fact frees you from attaching too much emotional significance to what they’ve said.
It changes your feelings from: “I can’t believe they said that” to “Oh, yeah. They don’t know. All good.”
Like, my father-in-law has never owned a business, so he doesn’t know what it’s like. He also only sees a small snapshot of my life.
- They don’t know what it’s like to work for yourself.
- They don’t know what it’s like to have four kids.
- They don’t know that I didn’t start work until 11 a.m. today … because I was cleaning up and running errands.
- They don’t know that every day, I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with my family.
- They don’t know that I drop work when my wife or kids need me.
- They don’t know that, even though life’s not perfect, I actually prefer it this way.
“They don’t know” can also help you.
Think about the client or vendor that misunderstands you: They don’t know.
The friend that makes clueless comments: They don’t know.
The member of your volunteer group, or your kid’s teacher … who just doesn’t get it: They don’t know.
Use three little words and remind yourself: They’re not mean or horrible or bad.
They just don’t know.
In the era of constant hustle and the pursuit of productivity, I was drawn to a different path. One of less haste and a slower pace, one that I set myself. This is the path known as slow living. An alternative to the fast-paced, stress-filled life that our modern society so often promotes and produces in our lives. It’s an intentional shift in perspective, a choice to prioritize the quality of our moments over the quantity of our tasks.
I work hard each day but do it at my pace, on my terms, and for myself. My top priority is not earning more money and doing more work; it’s doing what I enjoy when I want to and fitting into the context of my complete life. I optimize my life for happiness, ease, and enjoyment, not hustling every minute and hour of the day. Working smart will take you farther than working hard; if you work smart and hard, you will be unstoppable. The key is to turn work into play by focusing on your passions and then doing the work on a schedule that optimizes your work energy. Everyone is different.
What Is Slow Living?
Slow living isn’t just about slowing down. It’s about embracing a more intentional and meaningful approach to life. It focuses on quality over quantity, simplicity over complexity, and presence over distraction. By adopting these principles of slow living, we can alleviate our stress and anxiety, inviting peace, joy, and satisfaction into our daily life.
You can cultivate the following eight habits to create more enjoyment in your day-to-day experience. Let’s slow down and focus on what is most important.
1. Practice Mindfulness In The Present Moment
Mindfulness encourages us to immerse ourselves entirely in our current activity. It could be as simple as savoring the taste of your morning coffee, paying attention to the sensation of warm sunlight on your skin, or noticing the rhythm of your breath as you sit quietly. The beauty of mindfulness lies in its simplicity – it requires nothing more than your presence and attention. Mindfulness slows down the pace of our lives and can bring peace as we focus on the present moment escaping the memories of the past and the perceived urgent tasks waiting for us in the future. Be cautious of getting trapped in a lifestyle that is so fast-paced it creates mindlessness.
2. Disconnect From Technology For Set Periods
Unplugging can feel liberating in a world of constant notifications and digital noise. Try setting aside specific times when you step away from screens during the day. It could be during meals, before bedtime, or even a few hours in the afternoon. This daily period of digital detox allows you to connect more authentically with your family and your thoughts. Intermittent digital fasting can give you periods of peace without external noise from social media, emails, texts, and notifications. If you want to slow down, escape your phone.
3. Engage In Relaxing Activities
Pursue activities that bring you joy and relaxation. It might be losing yourself in the pages of a captivating book, tending to your garden, sitting by the pool, lake, or beach, immersing in the soothing melodies of classical music, or engaging in a fun, slow-paced game. These leisure moments are not just pastimes; they are essential to living a balanced and fulfilling life. Diversify your time and life to include enjoyable, peaceful, fun, and relaxing activities. Everyone is different, so choose your personal favorite.
4. Spend Time In Nature Daily
A daily dose of nature can work wonders for your well-being. This could mean a brisk walk in your local park, time at the beach or lake, a mountain hike, or simply enjoying a beautiful sunrise or sunset from your backyard or balcony. Nature can ground us, reminding us of our connection to the world and life cycles. Watching wildlife like birds and noticing the clouds or rain can all be relaxing and slow down the pace of life at any time.
5. Practice Gratitude
Embrace the power of gratitude. Take a few moments each day to reflect on what you appreciate. It could be as important as a loving family or as simple as a delicious meal. Cultivating gratitude can help you to see the abundance in your life, shifting your focus from what’s missing to what’s already there. Gratitude can slow down the mental grind for more when you stop to notice what you already have. Happiness can grow the day you realize you already have more than enough.
6. Maintain Meaningful Relationships
Prioritize relationships that bring joy, support, and understanding into your life. These might be with family members, friends, or a life partner. Relationships are at the heart of our human experience, and nourishing them is fundamental to our happiness and sense of belonging. The inverse of this is getting toxic people out of your life helps reduce suffering exponentially. Bad marriages, bad bosses, and toxic family members are not the path to an enjoyable life at your own pace.
7. Simplify Your Life
Consider decluttering your physical and mental space. Remove nonessential items, commitments, and thoughts that don’t serve your well-being. Creating a more minimalist lifestyle makes room for what truly matters – ease, clarity, and contentment. Focus on what is essential for your happiness and eliminate what is unnecessary or wanted. An enjoyable slow life is not busy with the upkeep and maintenance of many material things.
8. Practice Self-Care
Self-care isn’t an indulgence; it’s a necessity. Pay attention to your mental and emotional health, exercise regularly, nourish your body with wholesome foods, and prioritize restful sleep. Your well-being is the foundation for building a fulfilling and meaningful life. You must slow down enough to be able to take care of yourself. Fast pace lifestyles are dangerous for the bad habits they create, like eating fast food and junk food, a lack of exercise, and destructive paths for stress management like drinking and smoking. With a slow lifestyle, you are the top priority.
- Cultivate mindfulness to experience each moment fully.
- Schedule tech-free periods for authentic connection with yourself and others.
- Delve into relaxing activities to restore balance and contentment.
- Embrace the healing power of nature for grounding and connection.
- Develop a gratitude practice to shift your perspective towards abundance.
- Nurture relationships that bring joy and understanding.
- Simplify your surroundings and commitments to create space for what truly matters.
- Prioritize self-care as the cornerstone of well-being and fulfillment.
The principles of slow living offer a roadmap to a life of less stress and more fulfillment. By embracing mindfulness, we immerse ourselves in the depth of each moment. By disconnecting from the digital world at times, we forge authentic connections. Inviting relaxation through activities we love, spending time in nature, practicing gratitude, nurturing meaningful relationships, simplifying our life, and practicing self-care all contribute to this enriching philosophy. Each of these elements, when woven together, creates a system of slow living. This suggested strategy is a gentle reminder that life isn’t a race, but a journey to be savored, one beautiful, intentional moment at a time. I escaped the fast-paced life of corporate careers and big-city living long ago and have never had any regrets.
Excerpted from: https://hbr.org/2020/08/thinking-of-skipping-vacation-dont
Several studies indicate that performance nose-dives when we work for extended periods without a break. In addition, the benefits of taking a vacation are clear: It results in improved productivity, lower stress and better overall mental health. It also spurs greater creativity — for example, Lin-Manuel Miranda conceived of Hamilton while on vacation.
Research on elite athletes shows that rest is what enables them to perform at peak levels, and the same is true for us. Taking a vacation allows us to come back feeling refreshed and recharged, with renewed focus. Vacations may even help your personal bottom line: Research shows that those who take more than 10 days of vacation are 30% more likely to receive a raise, and those who take regular vacations have greater job satisfaction.
Below are some guidelines to help you reap the benefits of vacation, wherever you go.
Get a change in scenery. Vacation doesn’t need to entail extensive travel. The fun of it is going somewhere that is different from your daily life. This may be a short drive from home, an extended road trip, or an excursion to the other side of town. One friend rented a beach house for her family 10 miles from her home. A team member rented an RV with her family and drove to the mountains with another family. Another colleague took a solo weekend a few hours outside his city at an Airbnb to read and reflect. Another team member planned gourmet food excursions in her own city, seeking out the best versions of her favorite foods in different neighborhoods across town.
Plan ahead. While a spontaneous getaway can be exciting, research shows that the stress of poorly planned vacations can eliminate the positive benefits of time off. In particular, planning a month ahead and focusing on the details in advance versus figuring things out while on vacation has been shown to result in a better vacation experience with more positive outcomes. Planning ahead also gives us something to look forward to — something that Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says not only makes us feel good, but also adds an “atmosphere of growth” to our lives and makes us optimistic. Even if you’re only going across town, you can still identify which days you’re going to take off and plan what you’re going to do in advance.
Identify the type of experience you want to have. The ideal vacation is different for each of us. What is your idea of recreation? What allows you to recharge? What nourishes you? For some, it’s soaking up the sun by the water. For others, it’s a creative pursuit, exploring a new location, trying new cuisine or engaging in an adventure sport. Knowing this will help inform potential destinations and activities. You might not be able to take that cooking class in Provence, but you can still go to the countryside, have a gourmet experience, and cook Provençal cuisine.
Spend time outdoors. Research shows that spending time in nature benefits us both mentally and physically. Moreover, these benefits are reaped whether you are in a national park or an urban park, and with as little as two hours in nature per week. Whether you’re traveling or staying home, build in time outdoors as part of your vacation, whether it’s taking a morning walk, skipping stones on a lake, watching the waves crash at the beach or picnicking in a small park.
Unplug. A 2017 Glassdoor study showed that two-thirds of Americans work on vacation. Doing so has been found to negatively affect intrinsic motivation and causes us to enjoy our work less. Unplugging from work is a big part of what makes vacation feel like vacation. It’s down time for our brains from the barrage of cognitive demands that come with our jobs. It creates the space for creativity to emerge and allows us to be fully present with our families or travel partners. My colleague who went on the RV trip sans laptop and cell reception felt liberated and like she was able to truly slow down and reset. She let clients know in advance she’d be unavailable during that time. My friend who rented the beach house brought games, puzzles, a good book, and some wine and relished being able to disconnect from work. To be sure, disconnecting can feel difficult — many people fear missed opportunities or the back-to-work email dread. Identify a colleague who can answer questions while you’re away and indicate this as well as how you’ll be following up (if at all) in your out-of-office message.
Create memories. Vacations are also great opportunities to create lasting, positive memories. Several studies show that recalling happy memories can head off stress, anxiety, and depression — something that is much needed in our busy lives. Since it’s easy to capture the most enjoyable moments of our vacations with a smartphone, go ahead and record singing around the campfire while eating s’mores. Take pictures of the scenic views, your picnic spread, the fish your teenager caught, or the thousand-piece puzzle your family put together. You’ll enjoy revisiting these memories in the months and years to come.
As easy as it might be to keep on working and skip a vacation, don’t. Following the suggestions above can provide you with an experience that leaves you refreshed and re-energized, and you don’t have to go very far to do it. So, get packing and go. You’ll be glad you did.
About the Author: Rebecca Zucker is an executive coach and a founding partner at Next Step Partners, a leadership development firm. Her clients have included Amazon, Clorox, Morrison Foerster, Norwest Venture Partners, The James Irvine Foundation, and high-growth technology companies like DocuSign and Dropbox. You can follow her on Twitter: @rszucker
Excerpted from https://factorialhr.com/blog/emotionally-intelligent-leaders
When you hire managers in your business and consider the traits of a good leader, make sure you also think about emotional intelligence, not just hard skills and qualifications. An emotionally intelligent leader can help you nurture a motivated and loyal workforce and drive your business forward.
Let’s take a look at 6 common traits and habits of emotionally intelligent leaders so that you know what you should be looking for. These are also fantastic traits that you should encourage your existing managers to develop so that they can keep up with the evolving modern workforce.
Practice active listening
Of all the leadership qualities that a manager might possess, this one is potentially the most powerful for making employees feel valued and heard.
An emotionally intelligent leader is very good at active listening. They pay attention when someone is speaking to them and give them their undivided attention. They listen to the message that someone is communicating, but they are also good at detecting tone and body language. This helps them understand what employees are thinking, even if an employee finds it difficult to express themselves. As a result, employees tend to warm to emotionally intelligent leaders as they meet three basic human needs: belonging, respect and accomplishment. In contrast, if employees feel they are not being listened to, they are more likely to develop a sense of mistrust towards their manager.
Although listening may seem like an easy thing to do, many leaders actually find it quite difficult. This is especially true when a leader is stressed or distracted. That’s why emotionally intelligent leaders are so effective: they can give employees their undivided attention even when they are busy. Why? Because they are better equipped to handle emotions like stress or feeling overwhelmed.
Emotionally intelligent leaders are good at cultivating self-awareness.
Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions, behaviors, beliefs, and values. Leaders who are self-aware understand that their emotional state has a direct impact on the performance of their team. They have the right cognitive skills to transmit positivity, inspire confidence, and energize their team. This gives them a powerful degree of influence over the emotional pulse of the team. They can then use this influence to drive positive outcomes.
Self-awareness is a highly valuable skill in the modern workplace. This is because employees these days increasingly value the development of workplace relationships founded on trust and transparency. Self-awareness also enables emotionally intelligent leaders to cultivate authentic relationships with remote employees, despite the distance.
A good emotionally intelligent leader is able to establish and stick to clear boundaries. This includes setting clear boundaries between leading and managing. It also includes setting personal boundaries.
Setting boundaries is important as a leader. Boundaries define clear guidelines for what is accepted and what is not. Leaders with this emotional intelligence skill understand where their attention is needed, which behaviors they should nurture in their teams, and which tasks they need to delegate. Employees understand their role and that of their manager. And this is important for departments, especially those with high workloads.
There’s another important reason why boundaries are essential in the workplace. An emotionally intelligent leader that has set clear boundaries is able to create a certain detachment between what is happening and what they can do about it. This gives them valuable time and space that they can use to form a response based on logic, not emotion.
As we mentioned at the start of the post, a big part of emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage emotional responses. Instead of reacting in the heat of the moment, an emotionally intelligent leader can take a step back from their emotions and regulate them.
Don’t confuse this form of leadership with not experiencing emotions, however. Quite the opposite, in fact. Emotionally intelligent leaders are highly in tune with their emotions. They are just better at managing them. And this means that they are far less likely to let negative emotions like stress and anger influence those around them.
Even when faced with a challenging situation, they can self-regulate their emotions and form more objective reactions based on reason. As a result, they transmit a sense of calm and composure which reassures their team and instils a sense of trust and confidence.
Emotionally intelligent leaders are open to developing their emotional intelligence skills. They recognize their abilities, but they seek continuous development as they understand that there is always room for improvement. As a result, they tend to proactively seek opportunities to challenge their existing perspectives and step out of their comfort zone.
An emotionally intelligent leader will often have a natural curiosity about what others think and feel. They value every interaction as an opportunity to learn. This makes them very open and approachable, not just in the eyes of their team but in the workforce in general. And this is one of the key foundations of building a collaborative workforce with a strong sense of organizational commitment.
Practice empathy and compassion
Finally, emotionally intelligent leaders are experts in showing empathy and compassion. They understand what others are feeling both from a cognitive and emotional perspective. If an emotionally intelligent leader asks you how you are feeling, they are probably not just being polite; they have a genuine interest in what you are experiencing (situationally and emotionally) and they want to understand how they can help you.
Moreover, emotionally intelligent leaders with strong skills in empathy and compassion understand that people make mistakes, and they don’t always meet expectations. They are able to understand people’s errors rather than judging them. As a result, they are much better at helping employees overcome any issues rather than criticizing them.
Empathy and compassion are essential skills to cultivate in your workforce. They form the backbone of the human side of your business. In fact, unless employees feel that an organization’s leaders genuinely care about them as people, not just employees, then it will be incredibly difficult to develop a solid and cohesive corporate culture.
How to spot an emotionally intelligent leader
Now that we understand what makes a good leader, let’s finish by sharing a few tips to help you spot an emotionally intelligent leader.
Think about the leaders in your organization when you read this list. Are they emotionally intelligent? Do any show potential for developing the traits of a good leader? How can you promote and develop these leadership qualities in your business?
Clues to help you spot an emotionally intelligent leader:
- Gets along well with others and takes a genuine interest in team members and colleagues
- Aware of both their strengths and weaknesses
- Honest and transparent
- Aware of their own feelings and emotions as well as those of others
- Well-placed boundaries
- Able to respond with an open mind to criticism and feedback (not defensive)
- Authentic at all times
- Willing to step out of their comfort zone
- Able to manage and self-regulate their emotions and respond to difficult situations in a calm and collected manner
- Relates to others on a human level
- Has a positive mindset and doesn’t let setbacks derail their goals
There’s no magic switch for developing emotional intelligence. Some people naturally possess it, and others don’t. However, there are always opportunities to develop emotional intelligence with the right mindset and a shift of perspective. Encourage your managers to work on developing the habits that we have discussed today. With time, effort, and patience, they can expand their soft skills and become the emotionally intelligent leaders you need to drive your organization to success.
Your team has a lot to accomplish, so you can’t afford to have anyone on board who consistently lets their colleagues down. You need individuals who understand their responsibilities and feel obligated to deliver — a team full of people who feel accountable. But building an accountable team is easier said than done.
You can’t make someone else accountable; accountability is a feeling. Sure, you could use incentives to try to coerce them into caring. Or you could use threats, penalties, or the stink eye to make it more likely they’ll feel responsible (you certainly wouldn’t be the only one to try). Unfortunately, our typical language and metaphors for accountability evoke this kind of punitive approach.
Your challenge is to create accountability using compassion instead of fear. When you’re a compassionate manager, your team knows that struggle is allowed, understood, and even embraced. As an empathetic manager, you flex what you expect when the situation warrants. But as with most leadership behaviors, you can have too much of a good thing; overdoing it on compassion misses the point that being kind isn’t always nice. So, how do you find that elusive blend of accountability and compassion? Here are some techniques to instill in your team the sense that they can be simultaneously vulnerable and responsible.
How to Foster Accountability While Demonstrating Compassion
Set Clear Expectations
It all starts with creating clear and shared expectations. If you short-change the upfront dialogue and fail to answer the why, what, and who questions, you’ll likely find that the outputs your employees deliver will miss the mark. Then you’ll be forced to intervene after your team has invested time and energy, which can be demoralizing (not to mention inefficient).
Instead, foster accountability through clear expectations. One tip: Clear expectations are adjective-free. Adjectives are slippery, slimy clarity-killers. It’s hard for your direct reports to take accountability for being innovative, timely, or collaborative when those words conjure vastly different images to each of you. Substitute nouns and verbs in place of adjectives, so “collaborative” becomes “make sure to get marketing’s assessment of the opportunity and incorporate it in your analysis.” Setting expectations is your best approach to creating proactive rather than punitive accountability.
The next step is to add processes and tools to keep everyone’s focus on progress. Knowing that everyone on the team has visibility into progress (or lack thereof) can enhance accountability. If your team is physically together, you can make use of a command center where you post visual reminders of commitments and track delivery of milestones. If you’re a remote or hybrid team, you can switch to digital roadmaps, progress trackers, or whiteboards as touchstones. Don’t stop at increased visibility; instead, review your tracking in one-on-ones and team meetings and use it as an opportunity to surface any concerns or looming issues.
Create Psychological Safety
Regardless of how precisely you set expectations and how well you monitor progress, you shouldn’t expect perfection. The next step in promoting accountability is to create a psychologically safe space for employees to share their struggles.
When perfection is the only option, some employees might feel incapable of taking accountability. If, instead, you invite your team to share their difficulties, you get the opportunity to coach and guide them toward a clear understanding of the problem and a set of viable solutions. But watch out: Guiding is helpful, whereas solving their problems for them erodes accountability rather than strengthening it because it teaches your employees that they don’t have to be accountable because you will be. What’s worse is that coming to your team members’ rescue can leave the impression that you don’t trust them, so now you’ve eroded accountability and compassion in one fell swoop! So instead of trying to avoid the discomfort, encourage them to work through it by saying something like, “I agree that this is our most difficult launch ever. That’s why I put you on it. Can you take me through some of what you’re grappling with?” The secret is acknowledging their difficulties while demonstrating that you’re confident they can deliver.
Be a Coach, Not a Micromanager
Although you need to be careful not to provide answers or dictate how your employees should complete their tasks, you want to give a perspective they can’t get on their own. Just make sure that your feedback comes in a series of minor course corrections rather than a dump of disappointment or disdain. As you coach each employee, your primary responsibility is to guide their attention rather than dictate how they should work. Ask questions that allow them to interrogate their approach and teach them to spot their own assumptions or to play out alternate scenarios. Help them see the unintended impacts of their approach. In the previous example, you might guide them by saying, “I feel like the most important thing in this launch is getting the right pilot region. You have the West Coast first in your current plan, and I’m worried about how our big East Coast accounts will react. How are you thinking about the criteria for where you’ll launch first?”
Use Appropriate Consequences
Sometimes leaders are surprised to hear that I encourage them to use consequences as a fundamental part of learning. The caveat is that you should be on the lookout for beneficial, constructive behaviors so that most consequences you dole out are positive and reinforcing (like acknowledgment, rewards, or greater responsibility). Then, when necessary, use negative consequences that you’ve tailored to the situation. Start with relatively innocuous interventions (such as increasing the number of milestones for someone who is missing deadlines), and if you don’t see a change in their behavior, escalate the consequences accordingly. And remember, while consequences are essential, compassion means recognizing the situations where no action is required on your part because the person’s disappointment and discomfort are consequence enough.
When All Else Fails, Allow for a Graceful Exit
Finally, I’ll share the most counterintuitive advice of all: Compassionate leaders understand that sometimes the kindest thing you can do is release someone who isn’t performing. That’s because teams have social dynamics, and once an individual has lost your confidence, it’s often obvious to their colleagues that they’re in trouble. That sets up an untenable situation where they lose the confidence of the group and therefore have little chance of succeeding. In that situation, it’s best to channel your compassion into helping the person make a graceful exit and supporting them as they look for a new role.
It’s a tricky balance to promote accountability for business outcomes while demonstrating kindness to individuals. The secret is to over-index on clear expectations and then provide frequent, low-impact coaching and feedback to give your team members assistance without ever transferring ownership. It’s a winning formula for a happy, healthy, and productive team.
In 1938, Harvard researchers embarked on a decades-long study to find out: What makes us happy in life? The researchers gathered health records from 724 participants from all over the world and asked detailed questions about their lives at two-year intervals.
Contrary to what you might think, it’s not career achievement, money, exercise, or a healthy diet. The most consistent finding we’ve learned through 85 years of study is: Positive relationships keep us happier, healthier, and help us live longer. Period.
The No. 1 key to a happy life: ‘Social fitness’
Relationships affect us physically. Ever notice the invigoration you feel when you believe someone has really understood you during a good conversation? Or a lack of sleep during a period of romantic strife?
To make sure your relationships are healthy and balanced, it’s important to practice “social fitness.”
We tend to think that once we establish friendships and intimate relationships, they will take care of themselves. But our social life is a living system, and it needs exercise.
Social fitness requires taking stock of our relationships, and being honest with ourselves about where we’re devoting our time and whether we are tending to the connections that help us thrive.
How to take stock of your relationships
Humans are social creatures. Each of us as individuals cannot provide everything we need for ourselves. We need others to interact with and to help us.
In our relational lives, there are seven keystones of support:
- Safety and security: Who would you call if you woke up scared in the middle of the night? Who would you turn to in a moment of crisis?
- Learning and growth: Who encourages you to try new things, to take chances, to pursue your life’s goals?
- Emotional closeness and confiding: Who knows everything (or most things) about you? Who can you call on when you’re feeling low and be honest with about how you’re feeling?
- Identity affirmation and shared experience: Is there someone in your life who has shared many experiences with you and who helps you strengthen your sense of who you are?
- Romantic intimacy: Do you feel satisfied with the amount of romantic intimacy in your life?
- Help (both informational and practical): Who do you turn to if you need some expertise or help solving a practical problem (e.g., planting a tree, fixing your WiFi connection).
- Fun and relaxation: Who makes you laugh? Who do you call to see a movie or go on a road trip with who makes you feel connected and at ease?
Robert Waldinger, MD, is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, and director of Psychodynamic Therapy at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is a practicing psychiatrist and also a Zen master and author of “The Good Life.” Follow Robert on Twitter @robertwaldinger.
Marc Shulz, PhD, is the associate director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, and a practicing therapist with postdoctoral training in health and clinical psychology at Harvard Medical School. He is also the author of “The Good Life.”