It’s been a challenging year for everyone; from front-line employees to senior leaders, it feels like the work force has been climbing one mountain after another, all while the realities of economic shifts have added to the variability and uncertainty ahead. For leaders, guiding their organization through the constantly shifting socioeconomic landscape has been like trying to steer a ship through quicksand. The stress of leading a team through such complex times would take a toll on even the most effective leaders. With the holidays coming up, it’s a good time to check in with yourself on your stress and emotional health, and develop a plan to refill your cup and step into the new year feeling renewed.
Practicing self-awareness and advocacy when it comes to your stress levels, emotional well-being, and personal needs falls under the umbrella of emotional intelligence skills. Emotional intelligence (also referred to as EQ) is now considered an essential trait of an effective leader, but we often forget that the foundational components of emotional intelligence are those related to self-awareness. For example, Daniel Goleman, a pioneer of emotional intelligence research, defined EQ using four categories:
When it comes to leadership, a leader’s ability to connect and respond appropriately to their team’s emotional needs is typically how their emotional intelligence is assessed; however, this neglects the crucial first two aspects of EQ: self-awareness and self-management. According to Deloitte research in 2022, 96% of C-suite executives feel responsible for their employees’ well-being and around 87% of executives are taking direct action to cultivate a healthy workplace. However, nearly 70% of C-suite respondents also said that they were “seriously considering” leaving their role to find a job that would better support their own well-being. Executives are trying to be there for their employees and create environments that support their emotional well-being, but the story isn’t the same when it comes to recognizing and fulfilling their own emotional needs.
Assess Your Emotional Needs
The importance of C-suite executives and leaders practicing introspective emotional intelligence cannot be overstated. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some quick and easy steps to check in with your emotional state:
Refill Your Cup
Practicing self-awareness by checking in with yourself is a great first step to take as an emotionally intelligent leader. Next, it’s time to practice self-management. High-EQ leaders who are skilled in self-management understand that emotions are your body’s way of communicating its needs to you. Stress can result in heightened emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, or frustration. After recognizing the stressors that are the root of these emotions, you need to identify ways that you’re going to practice stress recovery, the process of recharging emotionally and decreasing your symptoms of stress. There are ways that you can bring stress-recovery activities into your work day, like taking micro-breaks; however, one of the most important ways to recover from stress is to spend time psychologically detached from work.
This is extremely hard to do, especially since research has revealed a “recovery paradox”, a term coined when it was observed that our ability to practice stress-recovery activities, like taking time away from work, is significantly impaired when we are already in a high-stress state. As a result, nearly half of US workers fail to use all of their allotted vacation days, even though burnout survey results indicate that we really need the time to rest and recover. Furthermore, Forbes research found that over two thirds of people still work while on vacation, because they worry about falling behind.
Thinking about work or even just having your work cellphone nearby can reduce the positive effects of detaching from work, so setting boundaries around your time off is crucial. If you are a senior leader or C-suite executive, it may feel unrealistic to be fully disconnected from your team for multiple days. In this case, consider switching off your work notifications but informing your colleagues that you will be checking email once at the same time each day, so you can practice detaching but if there is anything urgent that needs your attention then you can still be reached. If you have an assistant or trusted colleague who is working and could filter your messages for you so you only receive urgent news, then this can also be a good way to take a step back without adding additional stress about missing important communications.
Practice Setting Boundaries
The holiday season is the perfect time to practice setting boundaries around work, since in many industries it is the most common time that people already expect their colleagues not to be working. Especially in the digital age, it’s hard to step back from your work; however, this means practicing healthy detachment is even more important, especially if you’re the boss. Here are a few research-supported reasons why setting boundaries to protect your time away from work will help both you and your company:
For senior leaders in 2023, emotional intelligence is more critical than ever. Developing your EQ doesn’t just mean connecting emotionally with your team. First, you need to connect with yourself. Take the time to check in with yourself this holiday season, and practice setting boundaries to promote healthy detachment from work. It’ll all still be there when you get back, so do what you can to come back to work refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges that the new year may bring.
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