Knowing yourself – knowing your people

We often share in our Maier meetings what we’ve seen out there on the latest publications lists around leadership and management – keeping on top of latest thinking obviously! What has been very noticeable in recent weeks, not surprisingly I guess, is the sheer volume of books on virtual leadership and managing people remotely. Some folk have wasted no time in coming up with a stack of reading for us; virtual team building games, long distance leadership, trust in virtual teams, creativity in virtual teams, leading project management remotely, the list goes on. It got us thinking, what would be on our own list of the totally arbitrary number of eight top issues and tips for leaders who, of course, are all now operating in a virtual environment at least some of the time.

  • Trust

    What actually wouldn’t be on the list (always like to start with a twist!) when working with our Exec and senior leaders is TRUST. This just hasn’t featured in our conversations, we really haven’t heard of concerns around not trusting people when WFH. Interestingly we operate a HOT (honesty, openness, trust) principle with all of our Exec teams based on the belief that if you invest energy into opening up, sharing and communicating the trust will follow. It seems to be bearing fruit in this new way of leading

  • Reading people

    Where we would place some emphasis is the ability to ‘read people’, to be able to pick up on the subtleties, nuances and cues in your interactions with your people whether in 1:1’s, groups or teams. Always an asset in strong leadership but when working virtually leaders may need to rethink how to pick up and respond to verbal and nonverbal signals both from peers and direct reports. This means eyes and ears everywhere as well as delivering on the issues at hand

  • Emotional investment

    Emotional investment follows on from this because what we actually have heard lots about from leaders is how much easier and effective virtual meetings can be in covering the tactical and transactional agendas. Result! A positive. BUT, equally we hear how much more demanding it is to pick up on the less tangible agendas around culture, tone, mood all of which ultimately count towards lasting effectiveness. Both are needed and personal levels of comfort and discomfort need facing up to and addressing – we all as leaders have to now, more than ever, dig deep and look to develop leadership qualities we are less comfortable with

  • Leadership styles

    This leads onto leadership styles and how working virtually may shift the emphases given to a range of communication strategies; when to ask and question more than tell, how to provide greater clarity on context and purpose, making sure everyone is participating (on or offline) even when a deadline is looming. To some degree it mirrors the art of good facilitation where inclusivity, challenge and achieving outputs with shared levels of commitment all need to happen within a prescribed time frame. Most importantly, the responsibility for initially making all of that happen seamlessly is with you as leader

  • Raising self awareness

    The good old Johari Window (which we have referenced before) comes into its own when looking to raise levels of self-awareness with its quadrants on Open/Blind/Hidden/Unknown. The challenge is to reapply it to the context of leading remotely, what does it throw up for you when viewed through this different lens of leadership? It’s a great exercise and so useful to compare with how you would have answered when you could actually sit in the same room as your teams and peers (remember that?!)

  • Creative intent

    The desire for creativity seems to be popping up more now than it was at the beginning of the pandemic. As we adjust to WFH and virtual leadership becoming part of the day to day fabric of how we all operate we’re increasingly hearing teams and leaders craving more creative input – but they don’t quite know how to encourage or engage with it. Almost Catch 22, this requires some creative intent and purpose before the creativity can happen! Working out inventive ways of changing agendas and ways of inputting to up the energy and creative buzz

  • Clarity

    Positioning with clarity – we could write that word in 6 foot high letters and it still wouldn’t be big enough! Now more than ever, if you want your people to become involved, to produce results through their own initiative and act at pace they need to appreciate the what and the why. We are all being stretched in so many ways, personally and professionally, and we don’t have the luxury (who thought it was one in the first place!) of a quick head round the door and just checking out what it’s all about to make sure you’re on the right track. There’s a fog that can get in the way of our messaging and we need to make sure we have cleared it before setting people onto task and into action

  • Mental wellbeing

    The responsibility of ensuring your teams’ mental wellbeing is in a healthy place, left until last because it’s probably the biggest challenge facing leaders now and one of the hardest to deliver. How many times we have heard in the past that folk can feel under appreciated by their leaders, or they simply don’t know if they are highly rated and most commonly the power of celebrations are undervalued and utilised. Magnify the feelings of insecurity this can lead to by whatever large number comes to mind in these times of virtual working. Genuine appreciation and kindness are being ranked higher than ever before in terms of organisational values and approaches to leadership. People need to know they are valued and if there are performance issues these need handling in sensitive and clear ways with some space for discussion and a checking out of the impact of the feedback

None of this is rocket science of course, it’s more about reevaluating our leadership styles, working out where we need to dial up and where we need to dial down some of our approaches and tactics. But excitingly, it’s also about where we might want to take some risks and move out of potentially inhibiting comfort zones and try some new and more intuitive ways of leading.

A final thought, as referenced by Peterson, Abramson & Stutman in HBR Nov- Dec  20

‘…style is distinct from personality. The latter is immutable; it’s who you are on the inside. Style is best described by what you do, how often and when’

What would you add to the list? Obviously that’s why we stopped at number 8 so you could add to it!

We’d love to hear from you.