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Leverage your “Virtual Leadership” Skills

Most everyone I am speaking with these days, from senior corporate executive clients, to colleagues, friends, family, and the cashier in the grocery store, is talking about uncertainty. And we all are longing to get some certainty back sooner rather than later.

In that context, I’d like to offer the summary below. I have the honor of working with lots of executives at many different companies in daily conversations. My hope is that sharing with you what is on their mind and what they are doing about it, will provide a few reminders, some ideas and maybe even a bit of certainty. Leaders are having to make daily decisions about what they want to do to be most effective during this time.

These are some of the questions I am hearing from executive leaders and their suggested actions:

  • How do I change the CONVERSATION from anxiety to inspiration?
  • How do I really CONNECT with people and LEAD virtually?
  • How do I and my team CREATE VALUE during uncertainty?

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Q: How do I help the people I lead change the conversation from a conversation of anxiety/fear (which is totally natural/understandable, but repetitive and painful) …. to a new conversation of resilience? inspiration? A new conversation around what we can do together?

Focus on the 3 keys to Resilience
There is now lots of research on resilience. Research shows that the people who do best during stressful times and bounce back have 3 things in common:

  1. They do purposeful actions.
  2. They believe in their ability to control whatever they can control in their lives (even if it is less or different than before).
  3. They rely on relationships to cope.
    • Leaders can help people do all 3 of these. We are delegating work anyway. During this time, be sure people understand how the work is a purposeful action. Share your “why”, and ask them to share their why.
    • Give more recognition than usual publicly on video to individuals and your team whenever they accomplish things. This underscores that there are still some things we can control.
    • Bring people together into virtual team meetings frequently to support greater relationship. For example, one executive is talking to the team specifically about how organizations need to change during a crisis, and how part of operating differently includes everyone making decisions that consider the total organization, not just their role.

Recreate your Culture virtually
Culture underscores so much in an organization. Especially if you had a great culture during normal times: How do we keep our culture going when everyone is working from home in separate locations?

    • This is a wonderful conversation to have with your direct reports and team. Make it a virtual team meeting.
    • Identify the top 3 descriptors of your culture and ask your people to brainstorm with you on how to demonstrate those aspects of our culture to each other virtually.
    • Do the same leadership actions that you found successful before in a new way. For example, one leader who values relationship: Up until now he used to enjoy dropping by the desks of front-line employees. He decided he will now be doing 5-minute video drop in chats randomly; a few each day.

Q: How do I strengthen relationships and really connect with my team, my customers and my colleagues in a powerful way when I am now only virtual? I really did used to walk around the office or travel around to connect with people in person.

Over this past week, many of us have been on Step 1, which is: if you didn’t already have the technology at home, you got yourself a quiet spot to work, a good video platform like Zoom or Webex or Skype and got training on how to use it without having your IT guys. OK, but now what? Real virtual connection with people takes a lot more than having the right equipment, and knowing how to show up on camera with good lighting.

Upgrade your skills to “Connection 2.0”.
In normal times we are good leaders if we focus on connection, which is your basic: “I work to connect to you, and you may or may not connect to me.” However, in these virtual days, I recommend moving up from the goal of Connection to the higher goal of “Inter-Connection” (which is Connection 2.0). Adding the “inter” means that we are creating “mutual” connection. Interconnection is defined as being “mutually reliant on each other”. Interconnection also means going beyond the linear “one to one” connection, or even “one to many” connection; and fostering “many to many” connections in all directions.

    • To foster Inter-Connection, go out of your way as a leader to not only connect to people, but to also do what it takes to evaluate if they are also connected to you. Then decide what more you need to do for that relationship to make it mutual.
    • Foster deep connections with your own team, and also help your team connect deeply with your peer’s teams and the customer’s teams.
    • Meet with your teams to ask each of them what they can do to Inter-Connect?…to define their own version of Connection 2.0.
    • Connection 2.0 also means much greater communication. What can you proactively communicate to peers and customers? For example, one executive is identifying what practical questions they can predict that clients are wondering about. As a team, they are deciding who needs to know what and sending those updates before their clients need to ask. The executive’s goal is to train people to see their team as the source for both information and reassurance.

Amplify your Executive Presence
Leaders have always needed a powerful executive presence. In the virtual world, you need even more. Being virtual is when most leaders experience that real presence has to go way beyond good oral presentation skills. Your presence has to be felt by people, if you intend to influence them.

    • This is the time to practice the skills of extending your energy outward, of “bringing people in” with your questions, of directing people’s attention, of facilitating powerful conversation, and all without in person presence.
    • This is also a time to fully step into your power. Since this is all new to all of us, there are no specific norms yet. So, if you see a void, and you have the power to be helpful, step up and leverage whatever personal power you have. This is no time to be tentative and rely only on your traditional role or level. Just be sure to communicate with others more than usual as you step up, to build alignment and understanding for what you decide to do.
    • For example, one executive who usually did not regularly communicate with the C suite is now sending a daily very quick to read scorecard to the most senior executives on new more subtle measurements about the business. This executive selected the data that will be most helpful when decisions that used to be made monthly, now need to be made moment to moment.

Q: How do I and my team create Value in this time of uncertainty when priorities are changing daily?

Remember 3 key responsibilities of Leadership.
A lot has changed during this time. But as one of my own mentors said: “This pandemic has changed everything, and paradoxically, in some ways it has changed nothing.” There are still some basics for leadership that are the same. As leaders of a business, what do we do? In essence? We do 3 things:

  1. We CO-CREATE PROMISES with others to serve customers and the people we lead.
  2. We FULFILL those promises by leading our teams to execute. (This is the part that has been hugely disrupted right now.)
  3. We RECOVER when our execution fails or goes off track.

Those 3 jobs of being a leader were true before the pandemic and are still true today. It’s just way more difficult; but there is not a mystery about “what” we have to do.

    • Look at your work and identify: What are the top 5 promises that you already have (or now need to) co-create with customers, stakeholders? Brainstorm how you will fulfill those promises in new ways.
    • List the areas where you need to recover the promises that are off track. This has been, and still is how we create value. So, there is some certainty in going back to basics.
    • And leaders do not have to figure this out on their own. One executive leader realized he had been feeling enormous pressure all week that everyone was looking to him for what to do to save the day for the company. He was relieved when he decided to pull together his teams and have everyone (regardless of level) creating ideas together about how to do this best.

Every breakdown illuminates the opportunity for a new offer.
Here’s one of the best definitions I have heard of value: “Value is an assessment (made by the customer, not us) that you are providing something that is missing.”

    • So, if you want to create value, find out what’s missing for your clients, your colleagues, team, and your friends and family. This is actually an opportunity to make new offers of help to people. What do people need now? Offer that.

There is great value in planning now for the future…before it gets here.
As one executive said: “I have to believe this will be over at some point. I want to direct my team today to work on the strategies and processes that we will need on the other end, when this pandemic is over.”

    • Now is the time to work on all those future things that you never had time to address before. During this crisis, we are learning things about how to do business differently. Plan now for how those learnings improve your business for the future when we resume.
    • Another way to add value: We have had to be so reactive. How can you be proactive? Can you use your experience as a leader to look ahead and make some assessments? Can you proactively identify: What are the next breakdowns that are coming ? And how do we get ahead of them? That is valuable.

There is value in being a great listener right now.
Don’t underestimate the value of your personal presence as you listen to people. Even though we may not be able to change the overall situation; what we can change is how we experience this situation. And we can help others experience it in a more supported way. So, for some members of your team, just your listening and being available for people to vent their concerns, or share their new ideas is a very valuable act of leadership.

  • Be 100% present in conversations with people.
  • Stay curious.
  • Play to your strengths.

Some day in the future, when you look back at this crisis….How do you want to be remembered as a leader? Who were you during the crisis?

Be that leader now…

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