Emotional Intelligence Leadership Needed in a VUCA World

Here are a few strategies to be the best leader for your team and family.

We now live in a different world than we did just a week ago. COVID-19 numbers are growing, the stock market is tanking, and families are sheltering in. This is the time to lead with Emotional Intelligence (EI). An EI stimulus boost is needed now, where leaders can up their game to influence and reassure an anxious world.

Today emotions are heightened, with anxiety, apprehension, fear, uncertainty, overwhelm, and worry. You and your team may be feeling some or all of these moment to moment. We have what the military call a VUCA environment: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. There are many unkowns and many feelings, and this is when people need their leaders to step up, connect, support, and soothe. This is the leadership Super Bowl.

  • VUCA Environment: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity
  • VUCA Leadership: Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility

As leaders, this is the time your team and family are using you as their emotional thermostat. This is the time that how you are dealing with the changes directly influences them. This is the time they need Your VUCA Leadership: Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility to move forward. These are all EI competencies that can be an immunity for your culture and team performance.

I have often said most leaders underestimate their influence over others and thus they and their team underperform. It is usually because the task takes more focus than the person, plus shortcuts take precedent over thinking long and hard. In addition, it’s easier to gloss over feelings than truly explore them. This is the time to practice Emotional Intelligence even more to stimulate and encourage others.

This is the time to pay attention to your emotions, honor and accept them, and inquire and accept the feelings of your team. The simple definition of Emotional Intelligence “is being smart about your emotions.”

Below is an EI Stimulus checklist of key actions to enhance your VUCA to manage yourself. In my next blog post, I’ll explain how to manage others.

Self-Awareness and Self-Management

1. Emotional self-awareness. Identify and be able to name or label what you are feeling. Emotions are sensations in the body and when you go to your brain to label it then it is a feeling. So, feelings are cognitively saturated.

2. Accept your feelings as information but not right or wrong. It is information about what is going on for you. Can you look at these feelings in a non-judgmental way?

3. Managing anxiety. Much of anxiety is about a future threat. What if I get the coronavirus or someone in my family does? What if I lose my job? What if we can’t pay all our bills? Many of these anxieties can be exaggerated or catastrophized. Ask yourself: Is it true? How do you know it is true? What would be your plan if it was? Making a plan brings in more cognitive certainty than perpetual anxiety. You will feel more in control.article continues after advertisement

4. Ruminating. This encompasses the worry, apprehension, fear, and unknowns about coronavirus. Newberg and Waldman (2014) wrote:

If you ruminate on negative thoughts and feelings for 5-10 minutes, those chemicals begin to harm the memory and emotional regulation centers in your brain.

What this means is your unconscious worry and fear can lead to a “hijack” of losing it with a co-worker or family member because your impulse control is worn down.

Change your “what if’s” to “how can I best handle this?”

5. Mindset management. Turn your perceived threats into a challenge. As a leader, you can change your mindset of fear into seeing this as a challenge for you and your team. Just this change in mindset can produce more creativity and productivity. See it as an opportunity to learn and develop.

6. “Go to” feeling. What is your “go to” feeling that can prime you for hard conversations? It gets you ready, like empathy, curiosity, compassion or flexibility. Use it like an athlete has key rituals to ready themselves for a performance. What is yours?

7. Self-control. Identify your triggers so you can catch them and redirect your focus. What irritates you the most? Maybe it’s people rambling on, incompetence, overreacting to the situation, denying responsibility, or being unorganized. If you know what it is, you can change what it is.

8. Self-compassion. Be on your side. Germer and Neff (2018) wrote in Self-Compassion Workbook that there are three core components of self-compassion which help us accept what is. The self-compassion then is a choice rather than making a judgment automatically.

Three core components:

  • Self-kindness versus self-judgment
  • Common humanity versus isolation — understand that all people are now feeling similar feelings about the coronavirus and you are not alone with this challenge
  • Mindfulness versus overidentification, when relating to painful experience — observe without judgment

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Research demonstrates that self-compassion is related to psychological flourishing and reduced psychopathology.

9. Recharging rituals. What is your best way to recharge during these chaotic and stressful times? This imperative as your team and family will be leaning on you to be your best. You need to stay charged up so you give to others. What are you doing to maintain your charge?

Some of these only take a few moments: family time, expressing gratitude, exercise, sleep, meditation, deep breathing, enjoying nature, stretching, savoring food, good conversation, beauty, reading, watching some TV shows or movies, taking a bath, and connecting digitally with friends and family.

This is the time to be more focused on yourself and your people, to be the beacon and the soother. Upgrade your Emotional Intelligence practices above for yourself, each of which you can do in a few moments. In the next blog the focus will be on managing others strategies.

These micro-initiatives can have a macro-impact. Your team and family need you the most right now.


Newberg, A. and Waldman, M.R. (2014) in their Words Can Change our Brain
Nadler, R. (2011) Leading with Emotional Intelligence: Hands-on Strategies to Build Confident and Collaborative Star Performers
New York: McGraw-Hill

Germer, C. and Neff, K. (2018) The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive. New York: Guilford Press
Covey, S. (1989) Seven Habits of highly Effective people. New York: Simon and Schuster

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