By Stephen Amos, Fallston Group Performance & Executive Coach
The most successful and impactful leaders are those who strike a solid, healthy balance between productivity and relationship-building. These are the leaders who encourage their teams to arrive 20 minutes early for strategically-important meetings, to allow time for bagels, coffee, and catch-up. They are the leaders who add “how do you feel about our action plan” to the bottom of the agenda for those same strategically-important meetings. They genuinely want to know and are willing to adjust based on the voices of their teammates. They are honest and transparent; the kind of people workforces gravitate toward because they are trusted. They are “my door (or Zoom line!) is always open” kind of leaders. They care about things like health and wellness, work-life balance, how Rachel’s son did in his tennis tournament, and if Jacob’s mother’s surgery went as planned. They are real people, with big hearts, and they aren’t afraid to let it show. In fact, to them, vulnerability is a strength.
This past March, COVID-19 ramped up and businesses of all sizes and verticals quickly adopted new telework protocols. Leaders faced a whole new set of challenges. Scratching tasks off to-do lists in virtual work settings is one thing. Connecting with people on a personal level, using a phone or web-based platform, is another. Leaders have had to figure out how to set or sustain positive, encouraging, nurturing cultures, with groups of people they no longer see physically each day. They have had to think about and practice resilient leadership from a very different perspective – from a distance.
As I’ve interacted with leaders and teams from various businesses over the past several months, it’s clear that some are knocking the ball out of the park in making these necessary adaptions. Others are still struggling to manage business “as usual” with so many new workforce dynamics. I believe there are five tactics every leader who leads from a distance must embrace, in order to keep their team engaged and connected:
1. Make time on every conference call or web-based meeting for personal connection. Don’t assume you’ll have a few extra minutes at the end, after you get through the agenda, to catch up. Make this a prioritized agenda item.
2. Ask a lot of questions and make sure your people know you want their open, honest answers, even if they are hard to hear. Good leaders, and their teams, are transparent and elicit feedback from each other.
3. Make sure your people have the right tools, supplies, and resources to work remotely, for the long-haul. Don’t assume they have what they need or expect them to make out-of-pocket investments. Ask, and then put processes in place to resource them correctly, on the company’s dollar.
4. Encourage your people to create and commit to a work schedule with daily start and stop times. Without them, the line between work time and personal time gets a bit blurred and stressful. As leaders, while we appreciate that staff is willing to go the extra mile and put extra time in to get the job done, we also need to encourage balance – now more than ever. We need the best version of each person to present, daily.
5. Set a good example. Your people are watching you. They are listening to you. They may replicate your approaches. They may adopt your attitude. Approach each day, each meeting, or each priority the way you’d like to see your team approach it. Remember, the ‘shadow of a leader’ is alive and well.
Some say distance makes the heart grow founder. I believe distance makes a leader grow stronger.