• Simon Jones

Putting people first

Why emotional intelligence is the key to effective leadership – even in a virtual world

In business, right now, people matter. It is teams, not individuals, that make change happen. But it is leaders who, now more than ever, are tasked with keeping people positive – acknowledging that the situation is difficult but that we are all in this together.

I know from experience that in times of extreme business distress the key to calming a situation is building and placing trust in your people. And the leaders who can show emotional intelligence are the ones that will come to the fore. But can EQ still help you when all your communication is now virtual?

A chat in the corridor/lift/kitchen before or after a meeting is no longer an option. Large team meetings and long planning workshops are no longer really viable. The ‘human’ time that we do have needs to be focused and productive. But I think we’ve all been pleasantly surprised by how effective the technology is. So now we just need to make sure we use it to its best advantage.

In my opinion, there is no reason why emotional intelligence is any less valuable in the world of online management and here’s how I have been approaching it;

Adapting to the new

As we have adapted our businesses, so we adapt how we manage our relationships. It doesn’t mean being less assertive or letting things slide but it might mean sharing the humour in what can be difficult situations, checking people are ok and – more important than ever – staying positive.

Consistent communication

Check in with your team every day – even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Start with “Are you ok” and give people a chance to be human first before you move to the commercial agenda.

Size matters

If you have a big team, split the calls up wherever possible. Aim for no more than six at an online meeting and ideally keep it to four for optimal communication and the four-square screen.

Ears and Eyes

Even on a video call, you can gauge your team’s moods and attentiveness – and use your own tone and facial expressions to communicate. If you’re dialling in to a conference call you can glean a lot from tone of voice and language.

Be available

Keep to your ‘open door’ policy ­– metaphorically. Not everyone is having a great time right now so listen and understand. Offer your team members 1-2-1 chats whenever they need it.

Lead by example

Keep pushing forward but use humour, realism, honesty and reassurance as your emotional toolkit. And when difficult life impacting decisions are being made as a result of the socio economic fallout from the pandemic – like paycuts or cancelled bonus payouts – ensure that this is done top down or across the board. Even in difficult times you need to ensure you take people with you. Trust me, they will repay you by being the best they can be if you show them you are in this together.

EQ: The lowdown


Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you. 

There are five recognised elements to emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness

  • Self-regulation

  • Internal motivation

  • Empathy

  • Social skills

It’s as much about mastering your own emotions as it is reading other people’s signals and reacting appropriately to them.


People with high levels of emotional intelligence are better communicators, negotiators, and influencers. They also care more and tend to have more fun. That’s why they make the best leaders.


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