The number of articles, round tables and webinars on how to lead people working from home (WFH) has exploded since the outbreak. Playbooks with Do’s and Don’ts. Great tips and hints on tools to use and platforms to adopt. Training sessions on wellness, family management, the frequency and duration of a meeting, or the style and spirit of a conversation. Somewhat overwhelming!

Observing this trend to generalise on what works and what doesn’t, I would like to emphasise that one size doesn’t fit all! 

Make it personal, each person is different

People are not a commodity. Employees are not a mass market. We can’t inspire and engage everyone in the same way. Individuals are unique and the challenges they face are diverse. Communicating effectively requires a good understanding of many important dimensions, such as:

• Personality (resilient, adaptable, introvert/extrovert, optimistic/pessimistic, pragmatic, pro-active)
• Experience (in handling crisis, in working remotely)
• Personal preferences (love or hate WFH)
• Personal health & wealth situation & perspectives (current issues or risks, risk of redundancy, wealth/debt level)
• Family health & wealth situation (spousal, kids, parents)
• Practical issues (home suitability for WFH)
• Job/Role profile & situation (workload, responsibility, escalations, burning topics)
• Interdependency with the company’s ecosystem (relation & issues with a leader, peers, team members, key partners)
• Company’s culture & profile (experience & capabilities in handling crisis & remote working)
• Company’s situation & perspectives (demand or supply issues, viability or liquidity risks)
• Country situation & perspectives (health system risks, unemployment)

Bonding & crafting a team for success

Crisis is the perfect opportunity for team bonding because we all feel vulnerable. Leaders should get to know better the people in their teams. Know each of them PERSONALLY, although it may remain remotely for now.

Mass communication and transactional leadership is not a good recipe. ‘Virtual Townhalls’ and cool team meetings cannot replace an intimate 1-to-1 discussion between two people. Every person faces different challenges and leaders should address each of them differently. By understanding how to serve and engage each person in the team, we can find the rhythm and approach that best suits our team or department.

Quality matters. Time for real leaders

This is not just about ticking a box or counting how many 1-to-1 video-calls we arrange per week. Understanding and supporting our teams needs time, character and skills:

• Listening is important. Understanding what they mean is even more crucial: Interpreting statements, understanding hints.
• Empathy is important to grasp feelings, emotions and thoughts untold.
• Building trust, opening up people for real conversation needs capability and effort. Their previous relationship (leader, employee) can be a blessing or a curse.
• Authentic leaders, who genuinely care for people, can do it. Egocentric leaders cannot. Empty, polite words can simply hurt and disengage more.

Only hearts can touch hearts. Only real leaders can engage real people.

Investing time to lead

This is a time spending (or time investing) exercise, especially during the crisis. And yes, this is a challenge! It’s a huge time absorbing exercise exactly when we do not have enough time. However, although exhausting, doing it can be a very rewarding experience, strengthening the bond between people, fueling motivation and team spirit.

I know, transactional leadership is easier and faster (set the goals & measure results) but real leadership cannot be automated. I am sorry!

The illusion of the one-man show

I know that most organisations will keep using mass communication and general recipes to inspire, engage and lead their employees. It’s certainly easier to tick the “message sent” box. So too, will media keep praising the super-hero, charismatic CEOs who are able to inspire and engage the masses at scale with a speech! Sometimes it works but usually, this is just an illusion.

Leaders are as good as the Leaders they lead

Engaging people with mass communication and leading them in auto-pilot mode, is archaic. This is the age of “distributed leadership”. We need many great leaders in the organisation and leaders are as good as the leaders they lead.

Irrespective of Covid-19, every leader in the organisation should serve and engage with their team on a 1-to-1 basis. Leaders, make it personal!


This blog was originally posted by Dimitris on The Digital Transformation People 

Andrew Salmon