Leadership in a Remote World

Tomorrow I turn 44. It’s been one hell of a year. Many times I feel like I have been running on the spot for a whole year, as I find myself in exactly the same reality I was in when I turned 43 a year ago. This year has been tough on everyone. So now more than ever, business leaders must master all the strength inside them to support their teams. However, one thing that strikes me in various businesses I deal with is that many business leaders feel at a loss as how to lead and support their teams in a remote world environment.

As a business leader you need to keep in mind that online and remote work is very likely depleting the energy of your team members and employees . The evidence shows that many employees are working longer hours, under constant stress and burning out at levels they have never experienced. At the same time, we are all longing for our social connections. Hence a leader needs to constantly keep all this in mind.

However, my message to you, backed by the recent research on the matter, is that online and remote working doesn’t have to be a barrier to your capacity to deliver leadership presence, empathise and connect with colleagues and build strong workplace communities. Which leads me to 3 principles I can recall from my foundation days in Ignatious Spirituality, which are so much needed from leaders today:

  • Pause and notice what your mind is thinking about.
  • Make an extra effort to be aware of people that are with you virtually.
  • Shut out your own narratives, agendas, judgements and ego to offer your full online presence, evidenced through eye contact and responsive facial expressions.

With these 3 principles in mind, I strongly suggest you support your team and employees by:

Shift focus from doing to being: Offer your presence. Action is the hallmark of managers. It’s what they’re noticed for and measured on: Doing, achieving, producing, organiwing, controlling. New remote and hybrid working environments have all thrust managers and business into a excessive patterns of “doing.” But in such a difficult time, how you’re being can be more important than your actions. To cultivate trust and motivate and inspire others, pay attention to how you’re being with them. Are you rushed or distracted? Is your mind on the next meeting or your to-do list? To enhance the quality of your leadership presence with others, take a moment to reflect on your physical and emotional state when entering a new meeting. Through your virtual presence, what energy will you convey to this set of colleagues or clients? Will you bring the tough conversation you just had with someone else into this new one? Will you offer a sense of calm and reassurance? When someone is speaking, are you using the moment to check your email, send a text, or schedule a meeting? You may think that none of this shows in online working contexts. But just as in a face-to-face meeting room, virtual participants know whether and how you’re truly present with them — emotions and attention can be broadcast, felt, and contagious across virtual boundaries. Lead by example when working remotely. Try to have your camera on and ask others to do so if possible. Ensure others can feel your presence by establishing eye contact, and use your body and posture to convey interest and empathy. If you know you just can’t help but look, turn off those enticing email notifications.Shifting your focus to how you’re being doesn’t mean that things don’t get done. And none of these shifts in your awareness and attention take more than a few moments. But they do have impact on you and on those you’re working with.

From future to present: Be here, now. Managers are taught to relentlessly plan for the future. Yet always having your mind on next month’s targets or next year’s profits can mean you miss life today. You forgo important opportunities for connection and empowering others if you’re in your mind, planning “the next step” or worrying about something that might not happen. Take a moment to step back from the busy-ness and view your tasks with perspective. What or who is important right now? Ask yourself: Am I postponing life, thinking that all the good stuff will come next month, next year, or when lockdowns and pandemic restrictions end? Postponing life can exacerbate unhappiness and stress. We hold out for when things will improve but don’t see all the beautiful small things around us now: A fun meal with family, a morning walk or run. Next time you’re in a virtual meeting and notice your mind has wandered off, catch yourself. Bring your mind to where your body actually is — this present moment, right here, right now. Take a few seconds to anchor your awareness in the now by drawing on your senses. Look outside if you can, and take in any sky or green that may be visible. Relax your shoulders and your jaw. Breathe out. These momentary connections with your physical senses are the gateways to being more present.

From me to you: Enabling connection and community. When people are talking, where is your mind? Is it with them? Or are you waiting for a gap to jump in with your opinion or experience? Can you suspend your own agendas and ego needs to hear what people on the team need? Try deepening your listening. Try listening without wanting to “fix” people or (perhaps silently) insisting they get over things. Deep listening is generous. Encourage the person speaking to discover and voice a way forward. They will appreciate and be empowered by it, finding their own path or solution.

The latest research is indicating that there is some upside to virtual meetings as these can reduce barriers for people to speak and to have their voice and presence heard and felt. For example, tools like “raise hand” indicators enable different ways for people to offer insight and signal their contribution. Further, that everyone has one equal-sized window with only a headshot in a virtual meeting, which can diminish stereotypes, hierarchies and power differentials as certain physical and status markers are removed.

So my best suggestion is that as a mindful leader you should be aware of who is present and pay particular attention to inclusion. Welcoming everyone and seek people’s input, especially from those who usually don’t say much is extremely important. The circumstances of online working have sometimes meant we’ve had to get more real. People are tuning in from their living rooms and bedrooms. They have families, pets and other competing needs to accommodate. We’ve had to take off our office masks, our make-up and our constructed work identities and allow others to see us more fully. On one hand, this has been a good thing as we are able to see others in their full humanity, but on the other hand it has also made people more vulnerable with blurred demarcations between work and personal life. As a business leader your support to your teams and employees is today more of a necessity than ever before.

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