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Leading Through Grief with Emotional Intelligence

During COVID, we are grieving the loss of normalcy, connection, economic stability, and for some, the profound loss of a loved one. We are also dealing with anticipatory grief. We fear getting sick or dying, or seeing our loved ones suffer. We are collectively grieving with each of us responding in different ways and to different effects.  

As leaders, we play many roles; however, a grief counselor is generally not one of them. Nonetheless, as we’ve learned since COVID-19 forever changed our world, the ability to lead through grief is a necessary skill. The health and wellness of employees has a direct correlation to an organization’s bottom line. If you want to see your organization thrive, your employees must thrive.

So how can you effectively lead through this unprecedented time of global grieving?


What is Grief? Grief is complicated and difficult respond to. It is best understood as a loss of expectations.  Navigating grief requires you to re-imagine your life and your future with new expectations.


Understanding the four components of emotional intelligence and how to implement them is a good starting place:

  1. Self-Awareness: Knowing yourself; your strengths, areas for growth, values, impact on others, and ability to understand your own emotions. 
  2. Social Awareness: Relationship building, social responsibility, and empathy.
  3. Self-Management: Understanding what motivates you, how to manage your behavior in different settings and situations, and how to manage stress.
  4. Social-Management: Knowing what others value and how to motivate them, effective communication, problem-solving, and engaging in teamwork and collaboration.

Self-awareness is a key pillar in emotional intelligence and is critical to our ability to be socially aware. You must be able to respond to your own grief so you can help others. Likewise, it will help you to empathize with those you lead. 

Be compassionate and understand that everyone responds and navigates the different stages of grief in varying ways. As David Kessler explains, grief is not linear, and we can repeat stages. In addition, we are grieving at both micro and macro levels.  

Be patient and remind yourself to recognize each individual as a whole person. Our lives are not bifurcated, our personal and professional lives impact one another. Likewise, our intersectional identities inform our responses to grief and crises. Consider how you can offer support as they try to cope through the pandemic. 

Envision the future you want for yourself, employees, and organization. That vision will move your team forward.

Consider ways you can be in the present and let go of what is out of your control. Anticipatory grief can result in focusing on things that may never happen and can drain energy better spent on accomplishing something that will help you with your plan to re-envision.   

Create new routines and strategies in the workplace that will establish a level of predictability in a time where so much is unknown. Moods, thoughts, and activities are closely linked; thus, developing an opportunity for normalcy and consistency will reduce stress and refocus energy for you and your employees. 

Crises have rippling effects. When faced with an emergency it is easy to overlook the emotions and grief our colleagues are enduring; nonetheless, leading your teams through grief is not only compassionate, it is necessary. Emotional intelligence offers a path to lead with empathy and vision that will benefit employees and the organization.

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