I bet this wasn’t the Q2 of 2020 you were expecting.
In the span of a few short weeks, your world has been turned upside down and inside out. You — and everyone else on the planet. And work? If you’re one of the lucky ones whose industry didn’t just implode, you’ve been scrambling to figure out how to become a completely virtual organization. If necessity is the mother of invention, she’s been laboring around the clock to get things rolling.
Now what? What’s the best way to lead in what’s become “the new normal” for the foreseeable future?
Effective leaders consistently practice fundamentals. These fundamentals are always important, but now, in these turbulent times, they’re more important than ever. There are three keys to effectively leading from a distance during this crisis: context, connection and constant communication.
This pandemic has accelerated the need to slaughter a sacred cow. Kill the time clock mindset. In this virtual remote world, it isn’t the time spent working that counts — it’s the results that are delivered. Don’t try to control or worry about how people are spending their time. Some of your team may work 30 hours a week. Others may work 60 hours. It doesn’t matter. What matters are the outcomes.
Instead, operate from the perspective that you’re now leading a team of consultants. They need to clearly understand the scope of the work project. They need to know the deliverables. They need to know the deadlines. They need to know who to go to with questions or for support. Make sure all these elements are crystal clear and tangible. If there’s any room for misinterpretation, rest assured — it will happen. Set a clear framework for what needs to get done. Your “consultants” will figure out how to do it.
This is the time for you to be exceedingly human. Focus on the person before you focus on the task. Everyone is trying to make the best of a bad situation, and everyone’s situation is unique. Some people have small children at home with them all day. Some have elderly parents at great risk. Some have no extra space for a home office. Others don’t know how they are going to pay next month’s bills.
Everyone is struggling through this — and some are struggling more than others. Empathy — showing people you understand them and care how they feel — is your most valuable leadership tool right now. Take time to connect and ask people how they’re feeling. Ask what’s distracting them. Holding the space to listen generously to others is one of the biggest gifts you can give right now. It’s also a gift that will be remembered well into the future.
When humans are in a stressful situation, no news is bad news. Our brains are wired with a negativity bias. In the absence of information, we instinctively default to think the worst. To counteract this default, you need to communicate — all the way to the point where it may feel like you’re overcommunicating.
Communicating isn’t about you blasting out emails or daily state-of-the-nation Zoom calls. It’s about creating intentional touch points to ensure shared understanding between you and every single person on your team. These touch points are a chance to connect, inquire, observe, coach and support both the person and the work they’re doing.
Perhaps the most valuable tool to help in this regard is the one-on-one. Set up a consistent, frequent series of one-on-ones with every team member. Then stick to your schedule.
Think of your one-on-ones as more of a check-in than a check-up. No one loves a micromanager. This is your chance to check in to see how your people are feeling and to check in on the progress of their work. If you’ve set clear deliverables and deadlines (see No. 1 — context), this is a chance for you to celebrate progress or offer support on how you can help them make progress.
These three principles have always been hallmarks of great leaders. Now’s the time for all of us to embrace them. Our current crisis is forcing everyone to up their leadership game. These circumstances demand that you be extremely intentional and proactive in your leadership. Figuring it out as you go won’t cut it. The good news is, when you do get to finally go back outside and return to the office, you’ll be a better leader for the experience.