This is a difficult time for leaders, particularly, new or emerging leaders. It’s difficult when you can’t interact with your team face to face. It’s difficult when you know their personal lives, as well as their professional lives, have been turned upside down. It’s difficult when your personal and professional lives have also been turned upside down but, as a leader, there are high expectations you continue to lead and lead successfully. Others, your team, your bosses, your colleagues look to you for direction, support, and performance.
What can you do to keep your team engaged, keep them motivated, keep them wanting to stay and be led by you? After all, by the time our workplaces emerge from this crisis, some of our best performers may have moved on, deciding to change their way of life. As their leader, you want to maintain a high level of involvement, you want to have your team emerge stronger and whole.
A key leadership role is as a facilitator of change. And boy, is this current situation an example of change, significant change. Normally, when we deal with change in the workplace, it is as a result of some break in our normal routine or a challenge to our beliefs and attitudes. But this change is all about doing everything differently, moving away from our normal routines, both at work and at home. The big difference compared to most workplace changes is that none of us can resist the change. It is here and we need to figure out the best ways to live with, and grow from, the change.
A few principles you can apply to help you mitigate the challenge of keeping your team motivated and engaged, while helping you to continue to grow as a leader.
Keep them close
Communication is the key. Use video as much as possible. This helps teams to feel they are interacting face to face. If you can, conduct daily check ins which helps team members, and you, to have that necessary social interaction that used to be at the office.
Let’s take an example of communicating remotely. You may think you can continue to connect with your team in the same way you did previously, only now using technology. Technology, albeit fantastic for connecting remotely, may not always meet the needs of each of your team members. Some may feel the need to connect more often, on an individual basis. This may require telephone conversations, email or text exchanges about their individual needs and challenges. It’s critical to keep in mind that holding a weekly video or telephone conference call with your team will not meet the needs of them all. Reach out to each of them individually, schedule regular check-ins using the technology that works best for each of them. This may be time consuming but necessary to keep them motivated and engaged.
Set goals for these daily check ins and weekly meetings and follow up with team members on progress being made. Make sure you have an agenda and stick to it. To provide opportunities for personal development, delegate, to members of the team, agenda creation and meeting management as well as subsequent progress updates. This will lessen the load on you while improving the skills of others.
Don’t forget the value and challenge of active listening, particularly when using online video tools, since, with most of these tools, only one person can speak, and be heard, at a time. Do you need to put a process in place to ensure everyone gets their turn to contribute? How do you ensure no one dominates the conversation? During these calls, listen for tone of voice, words used, and what is being emoted. Without the advantage of body language, listening skills are highlighted.
Take care of yourself
One of the best ways to build your leadership strength is to utilize Stephen Covey’s circles of concern, influence and control. Ask yourself, what keeps you awake at night (other than Covid-19 if you can), which of these things can you influence, can you possibly change? For those things you can influence, can affect positively, focus on what you can control. Thinking about your situation in this way helps you to become more self-aware – aware of your feelings. Being self-aware helps you to better understand and appreciate your emotions and others’ as well. Increasing self-awareness enhances your self-confidence making you better able to tune into subtle feelings.
You can’t do it all. As mentioned previously in this article, delegate. Give team members the opportunity to try new skills or tasks, new ways they can contribute. You might want to consider dedicating one of your daily check-ins or weekly meetings to training, one of your team members leading a short training session. Given that many employees have not experienced working remotely in the past, training in time management may be just the right skill to help them manage their workload at home.
Lead from the Heart
Kouzes and Posner in their book, The Leadership Challenge, speak to the need for leaders to encourage the heart. Leaders do this through recognizing contributions and celebrating accomplishments. Encourage your team to build a list of ideas to recognize the effort each other demonstrates. Then put them into practice as often as possible.
Be an inclusive leader, one who ensures team members speak up and are heard, who empowers them to make decisions, who encourages them to provide input and feedback to you about how you are leading during this tough time, Create opportunities for them to coach and mentor one another and share credit for successes.
Bloggers with the Hot Spots Movement group in United Kingdom, a group focused on the future of work, recommend leaders ‘build a narrative.’ “A narrative provides a way to make sense of events and communicate experience, knowledge and emotions. Creating a strong narrative does not rely upon the leaders having all the answers (now more than ever – this is clearly impossible). However, it does rely on creating an ongoing thread of communication that recognizes the deep uncertainty whilst also visioning the future, to help people connect with a sense of direction and purpose.” Creating this narrative can be cathartic for your team, especially if they are encouraged to share their personal stories. As Aisha Zafar, at Mohawk College Enterprise, says, “Stories evoke emotions and build human connections.”