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  • Writer's pictureJenny Bates

Emotional Intelligence, Wellness and the impact of Covid19 on Leadership

I caught up with Emotional Intelligence passionista and executive leadership coach, John Bentley. John highlighted the importance of Emotional Intelligence in business leaders and how the way they operate has been seriously impacted by the effects of Covid19. We discussed how leaders can ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of their people and how using values such as empathy and trust can facilitate this. Finally, we talked about the Go Vida Employee Wellness platform and how this can be used as a tool for ensuring physical and mental wellness within an organisation.

John, please could you start by just telling me a bit about yourself and your background

Well, I have been in the Middle East, since 2003, where I opened up Hitachi Data Systems, as the Regional Sales Director. I later moved HP where I ran the Middle East, Mediterranean and the African region. it was very much due to HP, that I am where I am now because whilst I was there, I had a huge region to run - almost 80 countries. And I noticed quite a considerable difference in the performance of some of the teams that I had. So, I commissioned a study with the in-house HP training and development people to discover the underlying reasons; it turned into very much a leadership study.

It was also where I discovered what Emotional intelligence was all about and how important it is in terms of leadership ….basically because 80 to 85% of the time we make decisions that are based on emotion. So, if we can better understand our emotions, this will allow us to make better decisions.

As a consequence of this I started to set my path for my third career: I became qualified as an executive and leadership coach specialising in Leading with EQ.

I'm still based in the Middle East, serving the whole of that region, working with organisations to develop their leadership, communication and enable complete organisational wellbeing.

And so, what values, do you think, make up a good business leader?

That’s a very good question and there are many different values.

Empathy comes into it in a huge way. The reality is that for a leader to be resonant and sustainable he or she needs to demonstrate understanding, care and commitment to grow the team as well as the company. Empathy is at the heart of that and it's difficult for people to fulfil their true potential, unless they have it. So that's one of the major ones, the other one is trust. Without a doubt, you have to have trust, and you cannot have trust easily unless you really do develop empathy. Empathy is a vital component of trust, but to build trust amongst your people and your teams, is an incredibly important value to have.

And then to establish a connection with people, but that's also back to empathy.

Some of the other values - the drive, the energy, the motivation, the optimism and an overarching purpose of the vision as to where that leader wants to take either their immediate team and or the company, or the division, or whatever it happens to be. There are five specific business drivers to the people side. One is, you must be able to motivate people. Second one is you can take a strategy. You've got to turn it into something real life. So, to do that, you have to accommodate change. So, your ability to be a change maker is another huge value accommodate change, make change. Carry change through with motivating people to do that. Thirdly, if you're going to take strategy down to a meaningful conclusion, you need to be able to execute. So, you have to be able to execute in some way, but you can't do that alone. It involves teamwork. So, those four things, motivation, change, the ability to execute and work in a collaborative way, all of that. All those things are vital business qualities in the leader and central to it all is trust. Trust. And a lot of that is coming from empathy.

Thank you, very interesting points on how leaders use values in their organisation. How do you think COVID has affected the way leaders have to operate?

From the COVID scenario 3 types of people have emerged:

The first type – those who accept the situation, recognise the need to adapt, to re-invent and commit to doing this to move forwards.

The second group of people are in complete denial that there is any change required – they are waiting for things to “get back to normal”.

The third group of people have just given up – completely daunted by the overwhelmed by suddenness and prevalence of change.

Those are the three types of leaders that I've seen in this COVID epidemic.

Again, this is where empathy plays a huge role, actually, in understanding the present situation. COVID has had a huge impact and has forced significant change within organisations. The strongest leaders emerging from the situation are those who can motivate their people to move with them in the right direction because they have to be creative and think of new ways of working these are the winners.

And so, it seems like in today's world, there's quite a lot of emphasis on considering employees physical and mental wellness. How do you think, exactly, business leaders can ensure the mental and physical wellbeing of their employees?

It’s an interesting fact that from various research projects it was estimated that 59% of employees in January of this year, are generally disengaged. So, the process of disengagement in the world was beginning before COVID. Bu, as you can imagine, COVID has accentuated this. Insightful leaders recognise that there is this disengagement and that they have to be cognizant of the mental and physical impacts of COVID.

We have seen here that many of the strong leaders are actually taking care and taking time to understand their employees’ wellbeing. For example, there was a big hotel chain here in Dubai. Their goal was to avoid retrenching their team members. True leaders will forgo benefits in favour of their people. And that's what happened in this hotel, they did have to reduce the salaries, only, only after the senior leaders themselves had taken a cut. That's the first thing. The second thing is they made sure the people were housed correctly, that they were cared for, they even brought them food and made sure they had everything that they needed to stay comfortably in isolation for the prescribed period. And then also they were in constant communication, reassuring them and offering help and advice.

These leaders no longer worried about the typical performance indicators used to measure people. Rather they worked to monitor their teams and offer support to those who most needed it.

This is where the mental health aspects come into it, because many people are alone and some people have indeed found this very difficult to overcome. And, fearing that they may lose their jobs, or are likely to lose their jobs. So, the leaders in this particular hotel chain made daily calls to everybody, to check that they were ok. And only if everything was fine, then they would assign relevant tasks that were needed.

It’s become more and more necessary now for leaders to think seriously about people's well-being, long term and so many different types of well-being programmes are now being introduced l. Of course, you still get those organisations that haven't done anything, except lay off a lot of people because that was their first resort and not really caring about people's well-being or mental state at all. And so, one person we know went back to work and previously had enjoyed the job. But once they went back, it was not the same place. And they had not demonstrated what they thought their leaders should have done and as a result, they're very unhappy and disengaged.

What COVID has actually done is identify the true sustainable leaders who build trust and motivate their people.

And finally, how do you think, Go Vida helps with leaders and employees, physical and mental well-being.

What Go Vida offers is a unique plaform for a holistic corporate well-being strategy. Some employers, believe it or not, they haven't actually got too much of a well-being strategy. What we have found is that when they are presented with Go Vida, they realise they can actually use it as a platform to develop their own well-being strategy, using the reward system that’s already in place.

So, it adds it adds another dimension. As a digital platform, it’s measurable, it's fun, and is minimum cost really per employee.

So, this again goes back to the point about engagement - employees feel much more cared for which of course increases engagement. The ultimate aim is to improve productivity and performance and that comes down to motivation.

So, Go Vida has tremendous benefits to both the employer, and to the employee in a real terms.

I think that's all my questions unless you have anything else that you'd like to add just on general leadership, and well-being.

I think if you can, just think about those five business drivers of motivation. The ability to change and be able to handle change, motivate that change, execution and teamwork, but overall build trust and with a vital component of empathy and credibility and reliability. Can employees trust their leaders, do they keep their promises? And do leaders pay attention as you rightly said before, to both the mental state of people in this COVID time especially, and also to their physical needs, and be more caring about employers’ employees generally. That's what I think it is, but you know what, Jenny. It wasn't just COVID, this was happening before.

Stress competes with empathy, because the tendency is to forget about people when we're stressed. And so, the ability really to understand and develop Emotional Intelligence in leadership helps tremendously with combating that stress and to focus on growing people

This is another way … there is a better way.

Written by Jenny Bates – Marketing Executive at Powerbase – GoVida Middle East

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