The idea of using Emotional Intelligence as the theme for our 2020 annual conference was formulated during 2019 – long before Covid-19 began to impact our lives. It proved to be extremely prescient as now, at the beginning of 2021, I am seeing a flurry of discussions, podcasts and articles about the importance of empathetic leadership during this uncertain time in our history. Major Project Association members can feel reassured that we have already explored this issue and created a useful guide and toolkit to help staff and leaders to determine what works for them.
I have just listened to a very enlightening discussion about the importance of being an authentic leader, about how critical it is to really connect on a personal level to demonstrate vulnerability as a way of giving permission to team members to do likewise. This is an idea we discussed at some length and which is covered in detail in our Guide to Emotional Intelligence. Event speaker Katherine Bew told us:
“You cannot instruct a person to trust someone; it has to be built over time. Building relationships is critical and provides something to fall back on when things get tough – and things always get tough.” Katherine Bew, Managing Director, PCSG
She told us that when project professionals are asked to describe the best collaborative project that they have worked on, the common defining factors are most often people focused. They include:
- Clear vision and objectives
- Win:Win incentives
- Strong team — keeps widening / including
- Shared goals
- Achievement + fun
Strong, committed leadership is central to creating these factors – particularly when teams are brought together as joint ventures or partnerships between different organisations. The behaviour of leaders creates the culture of the project as role models for the whole team and will be reflected throughout the project. The values and behaviour of leaders will therefore direct the behaviour of others – with both their positive behaviours and any conflicts quickly replicated throughout the project.
Leaders should be aware that changing style to become more open and emotionally intelligent is crucial – but it is not necessarily easy and will inevitably require courage and commitment. Buy-in from the leadership team is vital to bring commitment, enthusiasm, humility and stamina, and to create psychologically safe environments that help build vital trust.
It is clear that during business as usual, major projects can be a pressure-cooker of stressful situations which require exceptional leadership. During the additional strain of remote working, home-schooling, loneliness and grief it is even more important that we use our emotional intelligence to share vulnerability, offer authentic leadership and create a psychologically safe environment.