Many of you receive Entelechy’s Leadership Minute which provides a weekly tip on a leadership skill like coaching, managing performance, building relationships, etc. However, we thought that these unusual times call for a more targeted set of suggestions to help you deal with today’s unique circumstances. Many of us are facing once-in-a-lifetime challenges: downsizing, economic uncertainty, health concerns, and managing now remote teams, all while balancing family and a variety of emotions.
And employees are looking to you for clarity, hope, stability, and sense…all of which are in short supply right now. So, what can you do? Since I’m no expert in leading my staff in times like these (no one is!), I did what you may want to do: ask your people.
Below is what one of my employees wrote. Peggy Green is a Performance Consultant who has years of experience managing people in a variety of volatile situations…high growth expansion, downsizing, and consolidation to name a few. Here’s advice from Peggy:
First, a little background...
This topic is SO close to home for me and managing through change and crisis really turned into something hugely important in my personal leadership career. The topic brings me back to the times at [Company A] when I had to lead people for months as our jobs were cut or about to be transitioned to an offshore third party company. It felt like the same type of uncertainty that we’re seeing companies go through now. I grew as a leader during those times and really learned how to be there for people. Here are some tips I would give other managers who are now facing the uncertainty of leading teams remotely during this crisis.
1. Show Empathy
- Use phrases like, “I understand,” and “me too,” and “I hear you, and I think your thoughts/concerns are valid.”
- Be available to listen — Let your team know that you want to hear them, you are taking your time and making time specifically to talk to them. Not to hear their every concern or problem and try to find the answers, but to listen to them and what they’re thinking and feeling.
- Take off the manager hat and put on the counselor hat. Sometimes the best way we can be a leader is to be there for our people, as one person to another person. Sometimes the best thing we can do is say “scrap the professional work…I’m here for YOU. I want to make sure that YOU, as my friend, are okay. How can I help you? What are you feeling? What do you need?”
- Ease up. Don’t lose track of the important things you and your team need to accomplish, but ditch any commitments to unnecessary restrictions, rules, or structures in-place for office work. Things like breaks can be completely trivial in a remote work environment, and keeping tight reins on them will drive everyone nuts. Focus on what is important, and show flexibility and understanding around everything else.
2. Be the Resource
- Understand that your role is to not necessarily HAVE all the answers, but having the ACCESS to people, departments, and leaders who have the answers.
- Work FOR your employees and get them the reassurance, answers, and direction they seek.
- Push extra hard to get your people the answers they need — reiterating the importance of the above bullet point. YOU, as the leader, have access to communicate (or at least the confidence to communicate) to other people within your organization. If your team members have questions, (especially during this time when people are keeping to themselves,) related to the crisis or unrelated completely, take it upon yourself to be the one who facilitates and advocates communication.
3. Stay Connected
Everyday send out multiple forms of communication to individuals and the team as a whole.
- Personal messages — share articles or stories about things people like, ask about pets and family, share recipes, activities they might like doing with themselves or family. Anything that speaks to the message of “Hey, I thought of you when I saw this.”
- Positive feedback to help people feel confident about the work they’re doing — what they are doing well and what they can confidently keep doing.
- Daily updates about team progress (whatever work they’re doing, and whatever metrics you look at each day, SHARE THEM.) Show visual graphs of KPIs that you monitor — now is not the time to look at these things on your own, show people what you’re seeing and let them look along with you.
- Comments, sharing, and creating safe spaces to talk about the company messages that are being sent out. If there are any communications that are coming from HR or other departments to the company as a whole, comment on them to your team. Let them see you as an extension of the larger message so they know they can go to you with questions as well as HR.
- Get people talking. Provide daily or weekly check-ins. Facilitate or encourage email brainstorming sessions with the team. If you are working on something that could benefit from others, then send it out to the team and ask for their perspectives, ideas, and considerations. If you know a team member is working on a project that would benefit from the same type of hive-mind discussion, then ask them to toss it out to the team. Be structured when asking for feedback — ask that people reply all, ask that they respond by a specific date and time, and follow up with the outcome of the brainstorm session.
- Weekly fun check-ins — share/request fun facts, comics, light videos, pictures of everyone’s “new normal,” etc. Start calls with trivia questions. Host a virtual happy hour. Find a lighthearted way to connect that works best for your team.
4. Lead Remote Teams
- Take lessons from “Stay Connected” and make sure you’re communicating via email, IM, video messages, phone calls, video conferences, texting etc. Use ALL FORMS of communication to get with your team. Send them snail mail. Do what it takes so they know you are there for them and you are connected.
- Sharing yourself — start connections remotely by sharing anecdotal stories about yourself and your new normal.
- Connect one on one and as a whole team and communicate regularly — don’t forget about the individual, but also don’t forget about the importance of the team as a whole. Your team members will miss connecting as a team, and it’s up to you to facilitate the larger conversation.
- Give space for others to share — don’t assume that people don’t have anything to talk about just because they stay silent when you ask. Reach out ahead of time and ask if people want to talk. Don’t just send out an email, but during those one-on-one calls with people ask them if they have anything they want to talk about with the whole team. If you hear something being talked about during your other conversations, call it out as a great topic that would be good to bring up with the whole team. Embrace the time for people to talk, and don’t try to fill it yourself.
- Provide a lot of structure for communication so people know exactly when and where they’re expected to share — people are often afraid to open up remotely and can prefer to stay quiet. Creating the space that removes the unknown of when to speak up or interject allows room for everyone to contribute to a remote conversation. You can do this with agendas, with overly orchestrating the instruction during the call, and just being super detailed about what you’re doing when you’re on the call so people aren’t wondering who’s going to talk next — this gets people nervous.
- Use video — at least once — to get people to see each other when they’re talking. This can be something that’s fun that everyone does together, and fails at miserably, together. It can be something as minor as “that time we tried video conferencing and it was super awkward for everyone.” It could also be something that people get used to and an excellent way for people to stay connected.
Summary and Call to Action
There you go; Peggy’s advice and practical guidance for leaders dealing with today’s issues. I hope you find the tips useful.
I would like to offer one more piece of advice and that is to see today for what it is — an opportunity. Most of what we call “leadership” is fairly simple and straightforward; it’s day-to-day stuff that involves relationship, caring for people, developing them, and so forth. However, what we have NOW — and what you’re challenged with NOW — is a true opportunity to be the leader. Peggy’s provided some wonderful tips; the next step is YOURS.