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In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s classic novel ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’, a father tries his best to keep his daughter and her lover apart. In 2020, keeping apart through social distancing is a survival strategy for all of us. Businesses where possible have shifted to working from home and all of a sudden – you’re leading a ‘virtual’ team.

I use inverted commas because calling teams ‘virtual’ somehow lessens the expectation of their ability to be effective or have meaningful connections. When remote working is the reality for your team, this is the only kind of connection available and the only way in which to be effective. While digital connections are not the same as in-person, as the leader, it is your responsibility to make sure the team works to its best ability.

It may not come easily at first but be open with your team that you are all learning together and they, and you, will get better at engaging virtually over time. 

Most importantly, regular, consistent and proactive communication is key and you need to make sure you get the virtual ‘hygiene factors’ right. Good starting points for this include: 

  • Regular meetings
  • The right tech platform
  • Good connectivity

For some specifics and practical insights on how best to make your digital engagements work well, please read my colleague, Annie Hanekom’s, article here

As you lead your team through many upcoming digital engagements and virtual projects, it may be useful to work with your Genius Leader’ – your most essential, and purposed sense of leadership. Genius Leadership is not about academic intelligence, but rather about our ‘way’ of leading and is  available to anyone who wishes to actively work their own leadership skills in an intentional manner

The Genius Leader model outlines four specific modes that are required of every leader. These four modes – Connect, Inspire, Drive and Guide – are conscious choices of how to show up energetically and to make an active choice about which leadership mode to engage in each specific leadership situation.  To make this practical for right now, we’ve looked at online, remote working and outlined a way for you to practice these conscious choices, using all four modes in a way that will bring out the best in your team.

First up is the Connect mode. We like to say ‘connection before content’ and this applies even more for remote engagements. Your team will be missing (even if they won’t admit it) the casual social interaction that comes with being in the office – this informal human relatedness is crucial to optimal functioning. Spend a few minutes checking in with everyone as to how they are doing. This doesn’t have to be serious and should be varied from meeting to meeting with a bit of creativity in ‘check-in questions’. 

It is useful for team members to hear about each other and their new reality away from the office.

A couple of ideas: 

  • ‘What can you see from where you are now’ is a great way to get a perspective on where everyone is.
  • ‘Share a photo from somewhere in your home’ can build team bonds in a fun way.

Connecting during this time of chaos and uncertainty is more likely to foster loyalty, care and a sense of belonging than in other times – the importance of a real conversation here cannot be understated. Potentially schedule a weekly team lunch date where everyone enjoys their meal, or a coffee rather than only formal meetings.

Then you may need to focus a little on Inspiration. In times of crisis and difficulty, it is natural that motivation is low and being away from the office may make it harder to feel the purpose that provides most of the motivation for work. A short reminder of your organisation’s purpose, a quick connection to vision, to the values that guide the business can help your team members feel inspired about why they do what they do and the key role they play in something bigger. 

Of course, all engagements should have a desired outcome and this may require some Drive to get behind what it is that the team needs to deliver on. This operational element needs to be focused and clear, with accountability given and accepted. With remote teams you are not as close to the process of achieving results as you would be in person, so set the outcome with clarity, and trust that your remote working process will allow that to be achieved. Creating a set rhythm and cadence for internal meetings and offering internal feedback is vital, as is being prepared, having strong intent and high energy. 

In all your interactions with remote team members, you need to be the Guide. As a leader, you are the go-to person, the wise, calm head on reliable shoulders. Even more, than in normal times, this situation requires you to share the bigger picture and calm nerves with a well-outlined plan and clear communication strategy. While none of us can predict the next few months, or how the Covid-19 Pandemic will change the world, your role as a leader is to be transparent, assure people that you are looking to the future and, if you don’t already have a plan, that you are working on one. 

Leadership is tough, and tougher when the world is in crisis. How you show up now will influence not only your business but all your internal and external relationships. By drawing on your Genius Leader in a conscious and constructive way, the impact you make will be felt long after the crisis is over. While you’re meeting virtually, you have the chance to engage with your teams in a new way – make the most of this opportunity. 

Our team is experienced in working digitally and helping others lead teams in an effective and constructive manner – both virtually and in person.

If you would like to set up a conversation about virtual leadership, or how to engage your Genius Leader, please email us at leadership@lockstep.co.za and we will arrange a time to connect. 

Rob Broster

Rob Broster

Rob Broster is a Senior Associate at Lockstep and works closely with his clients to help build better workplaces. Focusing on people performance, Rob believes that the workplace needs to be more engaging, ethical and effective. Rob champions the Leading Manager Programme. This 3-5-month programme focuses on developing a leadership mindset in management teams, while providing them with the necessary skills and the practical know-how for managers to succeed.

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