In 2017, the World Economic Forum looked at the impact of EQ, or emotional intelligence, in the workplace, and what they found was incredible. When they tested emotional intelligence alongside a set of 33 other workplace skills, they discovered that EQ was the “strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58 per cent of success in all types of jobs.” They found that 90 per cent of top performers scored highly in emotional intelligence, versus only 20 per cent of bottom performers, noting that, “You can be a top performer without emotional intelligence, but the chances are slim.”

Not only are professionally successful people likely to have a higher EQ, but there is also an incredibly strong relationship between the skill set and financial rewards, with the research finding that those workers with a high EQ make, on average, $29,000 more per year than their less emotionally intelligent counterparts. The link is so strong and direct that “every point increase in emotional intelligence adds $1,300 to an annual salary”, a finding that remained true for people in all industries, at all levels, in every region of the world. The researchers noted that they “haven’t yet been able to find a job in which performance and pay aren’t tied closely to emotional intelligence.”

I find this surprising because it’s so different from the words and characteristics we usually use to talk about success and leadership. Yet, as we know, when the Glass Cliff comes into play, when we’re in a risky or precarious position, these softer, more personable skills are those that we turn to female leaders to provide.

As we’ve seen, one of the reasons that businesses are more likely to bring in women in leadership positions during times of crisis is because of a belief that women have a greater abundance of soft skills and that those soft skills are good for re-engaging a team that has gone through a difficult patch – which the research I’ve just mentioned seems to endorse.

So what is the value of soft skills for leaders? And are there particular sets of soft skills that really do help during times of crisis?

It seems that, especially in times of great uncertainty and fast change, rather than wanting a leader to be cold, detached or authoritative, what people want most is to feel that their leader understands and is empathetic to the difficulty of the situation and the challenges their team is likely to face. In this instance, the value of transparency becomes particularly important and desirable.

When things have gone wrong – wrong wrong, big wrong – it’s easy for people at all levels to fall into survival mode, to keep their heads down, try not to rock the boat and hope that things will get better soon. Talking about things that are going wrong is difficult and can make us feel vulnerable, and so it might feel safer to adopt a “business as usual” approach, despite you and your team all knowing that, just beneath the surface, nothing is actually as calm as it seems. But it could be that there is a real value in transparency and authenticity at times like this.

“Being transparent is critical during challenging times,” said Vanessa Akhtar of Kotter International, a management consulting firm based in Seattle and Boston, in an interview with writer Sara Connell. “The notion of taking care of your team, being vulnerable, and creating space for others to be vulnerable as well is really important. Showing that you’re human and creating as much clarity as possible will go a long way during challenging times.”

Another soft skill that seems to be required of successful leaders dealing with times of crisis is empathy – so much so that Forbes recently reported that it is a “strategic imperative in business.” The WEC research showed that 61 per cent of people surveyed with “highly empathic senior leaders report often or always being innovative at work, as compared to only 13 per cent of those with less empathic senior leaders”. Furthermore, 76 per cent of people surveyed “with highly empathic senior leaders report often or always feeling engaged, compared to only 32 per cent of those with less empathic senior leaders.”

Working with a leader who displays empathy allows people to be more innovative, to dream bigger and to take more risks in the hope of greater reward for the business – to such a degree that the researchers concluded that “cultivating empathic leadership is an effective strategy to respond to crisis with the heart and authenticity that many employees crave” – and boost productivity.

This is a truth that female leaders have known all along. Dr Jen Welter, the former professional football player and gold medallist who became the first female coach in NFL history, knew that she needed to be her true and authentic self if she was going to build connections with her players and earn their trust. “One thing I knew very distinctly,” she said on an panel about women in leadership, “I was never going to outman a man at being a man.” So she didn’t try to. Instead, she leaned into the skills and competencies that came naturally to her, instead of trying to follow an idea of leadership which felt forced.

So, while our perceived higher propensity for soft skills can land us in Glass Cliff positions – being more likely to be appointed into leadership when there is some kind of crisis to overcome – it seems that there is a real benefit to leaders, and their teams, when they take a more open, transparent and empathetic approach.

However someone feels as they find themselves in the precarious position of the Glass Cliff, whatever their involvement in leadership has been, I want to be clear – experiencing the Glass Cliff is no individual’s fault. I really hope that having some language to put around it, and a fuller understanding of the elements of women’s accounts of leadership to add context, can help people to see that, and can help those facing it to feel less alone in the experience.

It’s not you; the system is rigged, and no one is talking about it.

As we saw in the previous chapter, even when women outperform men, their scores for perceived potential are lower, meaning they have to prove and re-prove their leadership potential to be taken seriously and given leadership opportunities. And, as we’ve seen in this chapter, even after being appointed, there is very likely to be a whole host of factors, prejudices and expectations put at women’s doors that it would have been difficult to anticipate and prepare for.

Even at the most senior levels, women are still being expected to take on undervalued, unsupported caring and nurturing office housework in businesses that men are not expected to do. Is it any wonder, then, that, instead of waiting to be pushed out of leadership roles, women are falling out of love with the romance of leadership and taking matters into their own hands? Should we be surprised at the emergence of what researchers are beginning to call the Great Break-Up?

Excerpted with permission from The Glass Cliff: Why Women in Power Are Undermined – and How to Fight, Sophie Williams, Macmillan Business.