You, your mind and leading remotely during lockdown.

07 Apr 2021

You, your mind and leading remotely during lockdown.

Leadership is under extra scrutiny and pressure when operating remotely, but we have four suggestions that can help you succeed.

The stresses and strains of working from home during extended lockdowns have been well-documented, for leaders and their colleagues alike.

With the barriers between homelife and the workplace collapsed, face-to-face human contact replaced by the screen, and with the face of management distanced too, there has been an all-too-human reaction in a time of such crisis.  Anxiety, sleeplessness, burn-out, and other negative emotional effects have affected us all in different ways.

From social to solo

We are social creatures and the sudden thrust into a solitary life was a shock to the system for many. Not everyone is skilled at managing their workload on their own, nor capable of managing well at a distance. And, of course, we all miss the informal aspects of office life, so frequently the opportunity for those quick catch-ups that can accelerate a project more than a long, detailed email, or getting real feedback from a management initiative.

As Wired magazine points out “there are no ‘how’s it going’ encounters…. those chance run-ins help cement a sense of togetherness, and they can engender new ideas too…”.

Yes, one can set up quizzes, town halls, entertainments and learning sessions online, but these are always very planned and formal. There’s none of the essential human messiness of real life that makes it so rewarding.

Take control of place and time

Once the online call is over, we return to just ourselves and our own human resources.

But we can control some things. We can create boundaries between work and our personal lives, preventing the one bleeding into the other and draining our personal resources.

We all need time to recharge, to switch-off, to be ourselves.

Harvard Business Review are not the only ones to suggest you might “put on your work clothes every morning, and consider replacing your morning commute with a walk to a nearby park, or even just around your apartment, before sitting down to work”.

Keeping control of your time is also vital for wellbeing. A disciplined approach to your diary is a start, blocking out time to focus, and making time for you to take a complete break is vital. Those with childcare and educational duties will have even greater demands on their time. The onus is on leaders to help employees structure, coordinate, and manage the pace of work that suits their various situations. Always remembering that this is not a normal situation, so any attempt to recreate the office directly will be doomed to failure. Think creatively, whilst listening deeply to what individuals need.

Focus on priorities, and little else.

Now, more than ever, what you focus on is important. Left alone, some might feel that they should be busy, busy, busy. But working all the time isn’t the answer. In fact, in the current situation, it’s likely to quickly become counter-productive.

If, as has been estimated, we are only ever truly productive for three hours a day, we need to make sure our priorities are truly our only focus. And we should have the discipline to not let the urgent always get in the way of the important.

Be in the right mind to lead

There is another helpful tool that can help you work better and lead better when you are actually online, a more internal tool, and that is mindfulness.

By being truly present for our colleagues and those we lead, a Harvard Business Review study has shown, there are statistically significant improvements in resilience, the capacity for collaboration, and the ability to lead in complex conditions. Precisely the situation we are in right now.

But the challenge is: how can we be mindful in an online working world?

Being truly present for others is hard enough in the real world, but what about when we are so far away from each other? Is the computer screen not the ultimate barrier?

Well, not entirely.

Harvard Business Review suggests there are three principles to consider as a leader.

  • Pausing and noticing where your thinking mind is
  • Purposefully bringing your awareness to the people and context that are with you virtually
  • Suspending your own narratives, agendas, judgements, and ego to offer your full online presence, evidenced through eye contact, warm and responsive facial expressions, and minimized multitasking

Being in the moment

Your presence (or the lack of it) online is pretty obvious. It’s dramatically clear, if the person has no camera on, less so if they are clearly reading something onscreen whilst in a dialogue.

There is really no place to hide for leaders, their faces can be read, their emotions decoded, their involvement and presence very swiftly gauged by all the watching eyes.

Veronika Ulbort, Partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany, says: "Coming to a meeting with a clear mind emptied of the stresses of a previous encounter projects a feeling of calm and reassurance that is the basis for a good leadership presence."

It can be quite natural for your mind to wander during an online meeting. ‘Where do I have to meet next, what’s happening on that project, what about next month’s results?’ Once again, a mind that isn’t centered on this moment, this meeting, this task isn’t helping you lead.

Think only about one moment, this moment.

Harvard Business Review suggest that “the next time you’re in a virtual meeting and notice your mind has wandered off, catch yourself. Bring your mind to where your body actually is — this present moment, right here, right now.”

Simply saying thank you for people showing up is one way to help others to pause and pay attention.

Hold your agenda back

It will also sometimes be necessary to suspend your natural tendency to jump in push your agenda and ego, and, rather, do some deep listening. What does your team need? What are they telling you? Is this the right time to ask for another big push?

Their feedback might not be what you want to hear, but as virtual meetings make it easier in many cases for people to have a voice, that feedback might be more honest, and ultimately more valuable.

A mindful leader will be aware of who is present, and what is being said, and will pay particular attention to inclusion.

This is a golden opportunity to create the right atmosphere of psychological safety and reassurance to hear from those who might not usually feel comfortable in saying a great deal.

Safety drives performance

An atmosphere of psychological safety has multiple performance dimensions too, as McKinsey point out. “When employees feel comfortable asking for help, sharing suggestions informally, or challenging the status quo without fear of negative social consequences, organizations are more likely to innovate quickly, unlock the benefits of diversity, and adapt well to change.”

"Creating the level of widespread psychological safety that will really make an impact begins right at the top. The most senior leaders must develop and embody the leadership behaviors they want to see across their organization. Just like team leaders, their behaviors must promote inclusiveness.", says Christine Kuhl, Partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany.

In addition, their situational and cultural awareness must be particularly acute, and they must understand how their inclusiveness (or lack of it) sends signals to the rest of the organization about the culture that’s desired.

Principles, not prescriptions

Like in any situation that changes so often, there is no ‘right or wrong’ leadership prescription, but the four suggestions we have made can offer a framework for creating your own brand of leadership success.

Manage your working environment and your time, focus on priorities, and practice a mindful approach to leading. Taken together, it is a combination that can ensure you serve yourself as well as you do the others that are your responsibility.

To discuss your career, or talent requirements, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’ll be keen to hear from you.