The global pandemic has created new challenges for employee engagement that traditional management tools may be incapable of addressing. However, by applying emotional intelligence – which involves leaders using self-awareness, situational awareness and relating to team members as individuals – the business aviation community will be better prepared for the safe, smooth and efficient transition back to full operations, while also building the foundation for more inclusive, empathetic and productive workplace environments.
“Business aviation has been in a holding pattern for more than a year, and while we will face challenges returning to some semblance of normality, this is a great time to consider improving some of our other skills and increasing our ability to interact and lead our teams in ways that haven’t been used before,” said Joe Barber, CAM, senior vice president of commercial operations at Clay Lacy Aviation.
“With proper training and increased awareness of emotional intelligence, managers will be able to raise the bar on how they motivate staff and discover more effective ways to communicate with team members,” explained Barber. “Equipped with a strong emotional intelligence, leaders also can develop mentoring and coaching programs to attract and retain people in an environment where skilled workers aren’t just in short supply; many are actively seeking new opportunities,” he noted.
“One of the advantages of focusing on and developing emotional intelligence is that it is so universally beneficial.”
Jen Shirkani Author and emotional intelligence expert
Leaders of trail-blazing organizations such as Space X and Amazon often are applauded for their emotional intelligence, but this skill translates far beyond this rarefied atmosphere by improving work environments at any level, says Jen Shirkani, an author, business leader and nationally recognized emotional intelligence expert. “One of the advantages of focusing on and developing emotional intelligence is that it is so universally beneficial,” she explained.
“It doesn’t matter what your role is – you could be a scheduler, a pilot, a technician or an executive – emotional intelligence makes everybody better because it gives them higher self-awareness and social awareness that enhances engagement,” declared Shirkani. “This is particularly important in a multi-generational workforce, where the stoicism accepted by older generations is wholeheartedly rejected by younger generations,” Shirkani added.
The importance of emotional intelligence will be heightened as the business aviation community emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. J.P. Pawliw-Fry, president and cofounder of the Institute for Health and Human Potential and an internationally renowned thought leader on leadership, performance and managing under pressure. “We are all so busy right now that the last thing we need is to lose top talent. Now, more than ever, leaders need to understand how they show up under times of pressure and appreciate how their actions impact the people around them,” he said.
“People don’t leave organizations; they leave people. It’s not about the barrier of pay, and it’s not because the leader isn’t smart enough or technically skilled enough, even in a highly technical field like business aviation. It’s about the emotional connection,” Pawliw-Fry added.
Emotional intelligence becomes more critical as managers rise through the ranks, noted Shirkani. “People at the mid-level of an organization tend to have the highest emotional intelligence because they are in that squeeze zone where they’re receiving input and feedback from above, but also having to receive it and execute on it. Conversely, at the highest levels of companies, you tend to see the lowest emotional intelligence. There are a lot of factors that impact that, so it is important to avoid surrounding yourself with people that think the same way or have similar experiences to ensure you have access to a diversity of opinion,” she noted.
Start With Self-Awareness
As leaders nurture their emotional intelligence – also known as emotional quotient or EQ – they develop a self-awareness of their own abilities and, importantly, how those skills may negatively impact their performance.
“We can overuse our strengths to the point where they can actually backfire and become a weakness,” said Shirkani. “Assertiveness, when overused, can look like aggressiveness, and someone detail-oriented can be perceived as nitpicky or as a bottleneck.
“There is a tendency when we get stressed to revert to the skills that got us promoted because that’s our comfort zone,” she added. “We have to have that self-awareness to know that when instinct says to act a certain way, we can use our EQ to see if it is the emotionally intelligent thing to do.”
Fortunately, emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned and improves with practice, says Pawliw-Fry. “If you’re not growing your emotional intelligence, that’s on you. The great news for people who are aggressive learners is that the more they learn about emotional intelligence, the more likely they are to perform at a higher level, which brings promotion, more exciting challenges and improved levels of happiness,” he noted.
“Recognizing the importance of empathy and using it to build strong collaborative relationships with your team, as well as other parts of your company and in the industry as a whole, can help create company and industry cultures that are more impactful, more genuine and better for us all.”
Lori Johnson Duncan Aviation
While emotional intelligence may be a novel concept for the business aviation community, it is a proven skill that produces results, says Lori Johnson, leader of Duncan Aviation’s marketing and communications team.
“Recognizing the importance of empathy and using it to build strong collaborative relationships with your team, as well as other parts of your company and in the industry as a whole, can help create company and industry cultures that are more impactful, more genuine and better for us all,” said Johnson.
This does not require leaders to discard their current approach to management either, notes Pawliw-Fry.
“You don’t have to make this monumental change in yourself to see a dramatic impact on results. The difference between plateauing and building on your success occurs by making some very small but important changes and having the awareness to know when to use certain skills,” he said.
“This doesn’t mean we all have to hold hands and sing kumbaya, but if a leader can tune in to what matters to people, tune in to how they feel, they will go through a wall for you,” Pawliw-Fry added.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
The idea that leaders need more than intelligence and technical skill to succeed emerged around 20 years ago after Daniel Goleman at Harvard University proved that the most successful business leaders combined self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills to create highly productive, and more profitable, working environments.
From this foundation, the study of emotional intelligence has blossomed under the guidance of experts like Jen Shirkani, a nationally recognized emotional intelligence expert, who sees three core principles to the practical application of emotional intelligence in the workplace.
“The first piece is self-awareness,” explained Shirkani. “This means recognizing yourself, knowing who you are and knowing your strengths, but also knowing your weaknesses, knowing your aspirations, knowing what motivates, knowing your moods and how those moods affect your responses or reactions to other people.”
“You also must have the situational awareness to read the room, appreciate how those around you are responding to you and determine if you are making sense to them,” Shirkani added.
Emotional intelligence also requires leaders to interact with team members as individuals, said Shirkani.
“You cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach and treat everybody exactly the same way. You have to be an emotionally engaging leader if you want employees to be emotionally engaged in their work. People want to be recognized and acknowledged for who they are uniquely and not treated just the same as everybody else,” Shirkani concluded.
Discover Emotional Intelligence
For anyone interested in learning more about emotional intelligence, leadership expert and President and Co-founder of the Institute for Health and Human Potential, Dr. J.P. Pawliw-Fry, recommends a combination of education and practical application to reach success.
“There are a lot of free resources out there, some great videos and podcasts, and lots of great digital courses on places like Udemy and Coursera. But there’s a number of things you can do inside your company. Start by finding someone to be a peer coach, someone who can hold you accountable,” suggests Pawliw-Fry.
“This is one of the most powerful things that you can do as a leader,” he notes, adding, “There’s a reason why Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, LeBron James and Tom Brady use a coach because it’s impossible to do it on your own.”
According to Pawliw-Fry, a peak-performance expert, a leader should ask their coach to assess one thing for a month and meet at the end of this observation period to provide feedback on the leader’s performance.
“When you have somebody in your environment watching you in a good way, in a psychologically safe way, it’s a reminder for you to consider how you are impacting those around you,” explained Pawliw-Fry.
Opting for a direct report to be your coach or observer can reap even more benefits, noted Pawliw-Fry.
“This is a great way to increase engagement with your team. Start by asking, “How can I be a better manager, a better leader?” Identify one thing and watch it for a month. If that person is in meetings with you, every time you see them it will remind you and then at the end of the month have that meeting,” said Pawliw-Fry.
“Not only do you get feedback, that direct report’s engagement will go up; they will appreciate your vulnerability and your openness to feedback. It’s a free, no-lose situation,” said Pawliw-Fry.