Good leaders know that leadership is not about them; their strategy or their vision, but about their people, and more specifically, how they create a culture of trust that empowers their people.
Good leaders have a presence that inspires and empowers people, and the impact of their leadership is so effective, that it continues even in their absence.
This empowered leadership is important more so than ever today when we find ourselves responding to the Covid-19 global pandemic with lock down and isolation strategies that has meant most workplaces have shifted overnight to become a remote workforce.
So during these times of isolation, what can leaders do to ensure a culture of trust and empowerment?
At the heart of effective leadership is trust. You can’t empower people without trusting them and providing autonomy for them to challenge the status quo, apply curious intelligence and deliver exceptional results.
According to Frances X. Frei and Anne Morriss, “Begin with Trust” (as published in the Harvard Business Review) trust has 3 core drivers:
“People tend to trust you when they believe they are interacting with the real you (authenticity), when they have faith in your judgement and competence (logic), and when they feel that you care about them (empathy).”
Demonstrating authenticity, logic and empathy without having a real physical presence becomes more challenging for leaders, although not impossible. The following 5 tips help leaders build trust and create inspired and empowered teams.
1. Use the right technology to share positive virtual body language
Video conferencing creates the ability for face to face discussion which is critical for authentic leadership. Leaders can use their body language; their smile, energy and posture as signals to create emotional connections with their teams. People need to see their leaders, not just read their words over email or hear their voice over the phone.
2. Be honest
Particularly during the current Covid-19 isolation period, many leaders are facing more stress than ever before. From reduced revenue and cashflow pressure, to working from home with house mates, partners and or children home-schooling, there are many distractions that may increase stress levels for leaders, and their teams alike.
By not being open about their stress, and addressing the elephant in the room, a leaders’ body language may be misinterpreted, and it may send the wrong message to their teams. Of course, leaders don’t need to overshare, but by opening up and being honest, they are being authentic and more likely to respond with empathy to their teams individual circumstance.
Personally, leading during Covid-19 has been really challenging. As a business impacted significantly as a result of Covid-19 with over a 90% reduction in revenue, I have serious cashflow stress. Throw in home-schooling 4 children whilst working full time and you get a pretty wired-up leader. I have had to share elements of my stress with my teams as otherwise, in our virtual meetings, my teams would have noticed that I wasn’t myself. And for many people, they would take that change in my leadership style personally and struggle to understand it and may even think it had something to do with them.
So I absolutely share with my teams the challenges of home-schooling (I’m just not over the fact that I couldn’t get my 7 year old to find 5 groups of 10 in 52 and that I couldn’t help my 14 year old solve a simultaneous equation). By leading by example, and by being open and transparent, I created an opportunity for others to share their concerns and stressors too.
3. Know the individuals in your teams
People react differently to change, uncertainty and stress. Effective leaders think about each individual and ensure they are supported in the way that aligns best to them, as opposed to a generic ‘one-style suits all’ approach.
For those people in the office who know everything about everyone, they may appreciate a video chat from their leader to just to check in (or have a little innocent gossip!) And some of the other quieter people may feel that a virtual face to face meeting is too intimidating, so a phone call might suit them. Some people need connections more frequently than others and it is up to the leader to apply emotional intelligence and emotional support in the way that suits the individuals within their teams and not what is easiest for the leader.
4. Have some fun
Working remotely, particularly during periods of lock down and isolation, can create a real sense of loneliness for many. Creating the opportunity for connecting teams socially (and with a non-work agenda) enables the team to come together in a relaxed and fun way.
We are having virtual trivia nights, virtual Friday night drinks and virtual cook-offs! It is all a bit of fun and a good way to keep connected.
5. Keep an open-door policy
All effective leaders make themselves available to their people with an open-door policy. This must be maintained during periods of remote working. By being available for spontaneous phone calls and video chats, and by responding promptly to emails, a leader provides support when it is needed. And by having these connections the leaders can share their thinking which becomes an effective way of demonstrating their authenticity, logic and empathy.
A leaders’ style should not change just because the workplace environment has. And if the leader has been leading effectively, they will notice that their leadership style continues during these isolated times. And as a leader, that is a great thing to observe, but not an indicator to stop inspiring and empowering their teams.