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Leading with emotional intelligence defines workplace resilience

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Tanaya Das

May/June 2020

The current crisis and its collective psychological impact has meant that we are reconsidering the values we stand for and are looking to our leaders to do things differently going forward. Two trailblazers spoke to Insurance Adviser and shared their views and insights on workplace resilience.

Rapid disruptions are something we are all prepared for on some level, especially in the insurance industry, but the current situation is not something many could have envisaged.

There are people who believe this is the time for effective leadership to shine. The current circumstances need leaders to be agile, resilient and take decisions grounded in intellectual and emotional intelligence.
Dr Kirstin Ferguson, one of Australia’s leading company directors, author and award-­winning expert on leadership believes that developing mental resilience in life and at work is incredibly important. Everyone will face challenges and rather than falling victim to these setbacks, someone who is resilient will find ways to bounce back more quickly and to look for opportunities in the gloom.

“Everyone in our teams are struggling to some extent; whether that is adapting
to working from home, having to balance teaching children at home while also working, or perhaps the fear of losing their jobs. Leaders need to be in tune with the needs of each of the people they lead to be able to meet their individual needs through this crisis.”

Marsh Australia CEO, Scott Leney believes that we need behaviours that are rooted in empathy and harness the power of the human connection, to get through crises. He says, “Right now it’s about being there for our clients, for our colleagues and for the wider community. We need to be less rigid and operate in a way that is flexible and accommodating and definitely not too narrowly defined.”

“I think of the possibilities of the post COVID-19 world, the productivity we could gain, the energy we could save, the reduced carbon footprint from people not being constantly on the move and the deeper personal connections we could cultivate by having the time to invest in relationships.”

Australia – from catastrophe to coronavirus

The past few months have been extremely tiring for many individuals and businesses in Australia, with the drought, bushfire, flood, hailstorm and now a pandemic. Communities already reeling from natural catastrophes are now doing their best to survive an unseen threat that has held the whole world hostage.

According to Leney this predicament has impacted people across the globe and so far the response in Australia, across all quarters, has been impressive, “It’s proven that we as a nation have the intellectual bandwidth and gumption to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. We as insurance professionals can help alleviate some of the uncertainty by being authentic and communicating effectively.”

“Right now we need leaders who are decisive and courageous with a massive dose of transparency, empathy and emotional intelligence.” -Dr Kirstin Ferguson

Knowing when to ask for help is key

Dr Ferguson believes that everyone has the capacity to build their own personal resilience to challenging events as they arise. She says, “People who are resilient are often emotionally intelligent, having this particular advantage provides the self-awareness to understand if one is responding to crises in a helpful way and also ask for help when one is depleted.”

“Being emotionally intelligent allows us to show empathy for those we lead and to help them build resilience as well,” she says.

We’re all facing uncertainty with the current situation and Leney says, “Clients depend on insurance brokers to be around, and they need risk professionals the most when times are tough. These are the very times where our own resilience is likely to be tested and we may need to reach out for support.”

“Insurance intermediaries play an important role in helping people and businesses understand risk, obtain protection and invest to grow with confidence. But we also carry a responsibility to keep trading to ensure ongoing employment for the many people who choose to work in our organisations.”

Normal needs to be redefined

Leney says, “Looking forward, as leaders we will need to be open minded about what the future of work will look like and not be too wedded to the way things were prior to this pandemic.”

According to Dr Ferguson what we can learn from this crisis is that those leaders who calmly lead their teams in a way that balances a sureness of success with a realistic assessment of the brutal facts of our collective experience.

She says, “I think this crisis will forever change the way we work, whether that is our ability to rapidly work from home in the future or some roles that may never go back into the office.”

“I think organisations will also be looking at innovative ways to continue to use technology to reduce reliance on travel and face-to-face events to learn and network.”

Leney agrees with this assessment, “There will be a seismic shift in how we look at flexible working, having proof now of the ability to work remotely during this time of crisis. There will be a lot of thought put into things that we have perhaps taken for granted in the past.”

“Why do we need to have all these people jammed into trains and buses like sardines, so they can occupy our vast buildings and be away from their families for most of their waking hours?”

“There may also be a shift in attitude and expectations among our workforce. The current changed family dynamics may result in a different attitude toward frequent business travel and time away from home. The role of working parents in the lives of their dependent children, all of these things may create new ways of working based on what we have learned during this time, and my guess is there will be a quantum shift in workplace flexibility.”

“And above all, this crisis has proven that there are no actual barriers in corporate workspace and that differently abled talent can be an integral part of our workforce. Right now, all of us have the capacity
to change our world for the better and make it more inclusive in ways that were unimaginable before.”

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