Leadership in Action: How Managers Can Show They Care When Their Team is Remote
Ask any working individual about their experience with their boss, and you’ll likely get a lot of different responses.
May 2020 - 5 minutes read
In researching this article, we thought it was interesting (and telling) that the first autocomplete result when you search “how bosses” on Google was “how bosses are (literally) like dictators”. For every person who feels like they’re working under a masochistic autocrat, you’ll find someone else who loves their boss and feels supported, appreciated, and held in high esteem whenever they’re at work.
Being a great boss or manager isn’t just about being nice to your staff. People in leadership positions often need to make tough choices, enforce rules, and make the higher-level decisions that keep the company moving forward. Research from well-known analytics firm Gallup suggests that people look for four particular traits in their leaders following a crisis- trust, stability, compassion, and hope.
Instead of modeling these traits during a crisis, too many managers are focusing all their attention on their bottom line and keeping profits steady at the expense of their employee’s well-being and mental health. It’s especially difficult right now, when everyone is remote. You can’t pull your team into a huddle or company-wide meeting to talk things over in person. If you thrive on these types of team dynamics, it can be difficult to transition.
Today, we’d like to talk about leadership in action, and how you can model the types of leadership behaviours that are most reassuring and effective in a crisis even when your team is remote.
The Four Leadership Traits to Model in a Crisis
There are plenty of effective leaders on display in our current crisis. Whether they’re a restauranteur that transformed their newly opened restaurant into a community kitchen, or the CEO that made sure their entire stockpile of PPE was donated to healthcare workers, there’s no shortage of great examples in the media. These actions taken by Chef Melissa Miranda of Musang in Seattle and Mike Rencheck, CEO of Bruce Power in Ontario were both decisive and selfless, and show just how big an impact can be made by a single person.
Even if you’re not in possession of a giant stockpile of PPE, you can still make a huge difference to your company by modeling the four essential leadership traits we talked about earlier.
One of the most important things to remember in a crisis is that trust goes both ways. If you want employees to trust in your leadership and decision-making capabilities, you need to trust them to do their part as well. One of the easiest ways to do this is to allow employees to determine what schedule works for them, and trust them to get their work done on their own terms.
Employees also need to be able to trust that you’re using reputable and relevant information when creating policies that guide the company. Right now, that means relying on science-backed sources like Health Canada, the World Health Organization, and governmental policy straight from the source.
Some other tips to help model trust for your employees:
- Be open and transparent about the company’s current circumstances. If you aren’t able to communicate the situation clearly, employees will start to grasp on to rumours and gossip, potentially spreading false or misleading information.
- Give them the freedom to work on their own time. Set up systems of accountability, but don’t dictate how they should work unless they’re not being responsible with their time.
In a time when everything seems up in the air, most of us are just looking for an anchor in the storm. On a national level, we tend to latch on to political figures and other public leaders. Within your company, the leadership structure needs to model stability for employees on a smaller scale.
If a leadership team does not offer stability, it can stifle creativity, erode productivity, and make it difficult for employees to feel secure. Without security, long-term retention is difficult. Sure, the feeling of balancing on a high wire can be exhilarating, but no one wants to do it every day.
This is especially critical when your team is remote. Without face-to-face interaction, we’re judged entirely by our actions. If we’re continually breaking promises, adjusting deadlines, and operating reactively, it begins to erode trust.
Here are some ways that companies operating remotely can model stability:
- If your team has recently gone remote, carry on with your regular schedule of meetings just like you would if you were all in the office.
- Keep your word when it comes to deliverables and deadlines. If you need to make changes, be open and transparent about why you need flexibility.
There’s no question that compassion is a key aspect of leadership. Too many people make the mistake of considering it a soft skill that’s nice to have, but not essential. While being decisive, intelligent, and assertive are all great leadership qualities, they can quickly turn dictatorial if they’re not tempered with compassion.
It’s easy to tell when a workplace is managed by someone without compassion. These companies may be financially successful, but are a nightmare to work at. Typically, these companies have a high turnover rate, with employees burning out quickly because of the ruthless schedule, unrealistic expectations, and managers who don’t care about their needs.
Many people think that compassion is an innate trait, but like empathy (LINK to empathy article), it can be learned. It starts with managers being willing to listen to their employees, and creating policy that supports their needs.
Managers who are compassionate hold themselves to a high standard, and use the power of their role to encourage and lead others, rather than achieving results through bullying or fear.
Some tips for modeling compassion include:
- Enforcing a healthy work-life balance, even when staff are working remotely. This can be done by keeping meetings to standard work hours, and arranging for overtime or another form of compensation when staff exceed their regularly scheduled hours.
- Ask employees how they’re doing, and take an interest in how they respond. Try and ask open-ended questions to get the most unfiltered response.
- Acknowledge and praise employees who have done extra work, solved a tricky problem, or gone out of their way to help others.
Too many people equate having hope with blind optimism. There’s no question things are uncertain right now, but as a leader, it’s your job to encourage and motivate employees. A job can be so much more than a paycheck- it’s a source of satisfaction, self-esteem, and self-worth for so many people. If that is under siege, it can rock the foundation of someone’s life.
Offering hope doesn’t mean lying to people, or holding back critical information. It simply means that you can choose to focus on the good, and be solution-oriented instead of getting bogged down in grievances or anger.
Some tips for offering hope to a remote team:
- If your team is working remotely due to COVID-19, update them regularly about the company status, and a timeline for when you may be able to get back into the office.
- Don’t talk about “if”- talk about “when”.
- Send your team a reminder about fun times had together. This might mean sending them a funny photo from the last company holiday party, or a gift card to a popular take-out place near the office, so they can treat themselves when they get back.
- Acknowledge hard work done in the service of getting the company back to normal. This gives people hope and assures them that their efforts are paying off.
A Crisis Reveals True Leadership
In the last few weeks, we’ve seen over and over again how big an impact one person can have.
By displaying positive leadership in a crisis, you can have a huge impact on your team- even if you don’t make the 6 o’clock news. Leadership can be learned. You just need to go out and do it.