What makes a good leader? Is the loneliness of leadership a true reflection of what it means to be the leader, or is there more to communicating as a leader than simply sending out instructions to your team, praising when they’ve done well, and encouraging or worst case, disciplining when behaviours are not so good? That’s pretty old school.
And now business leaders must include the added dimension of working from home to the way they manage their people.
Old school (if it ever really worked) won’t work anymore. So the question is, now what?
Communicating as a Leader in a Work from Home Scenario
These strategies are especially important for your work from home team, but they apply equally everywhere.
1. Add Depth to your Communications
Consider what it’s like talking to someone by text or facetime. Most communication isn’t done by spoken word. It’s as much about body language, intonation, and engagement in a physical space. Communicating via video link means that you lose a big chunk of your communications. And even conversation is more difficult. So it’s important to improve the depth when you’re communicating as a leader and be clear. Invite each individual in your team to discuss amongst the group and encourage group debate to find new and innovative solutions.
To add depth to your communications include information about business strategy, any plans, actions, tasks, and who does what. You need to try and develop cohesion in your team when you have lost the ability to do this in a physical space. Help your team to understand your ‘why’.
You’ll have noticed that I have referred to ‘communications’ and ‘discussion’ and not ‘briefing’, ‘instruction’ or ‘questions’. This is important. For your team to excel as they work from home a collaborative environment where everyone feels valued and appreciated will be good for them, and good for productivity.
2. Be authentic when Communicating as a Leader
The old school approach to communicating as a leader just won’t work in a WFH scenario. The shift in working patterns means that people are now working from the comfort of their own homes. IOf course there are some reasonable expectations that you should have and have every right as a business to expect a high level of professional conduct including a sensible place to work. The kitchen table or lounge sofa aren’t really suitable going forward.
That said, your team members are working from their own homes. So bear in mind that people have different expectations in this scenario. That doesn’t mean that they call the shots, but you and your team must adapt to make it work in the long term.
So being authentic means being transparent. Share as much as you can, be clear in your expectations of new working arrangements, work and workloads and communicate clearly. Be open and honest. Sometimes the answer might just be no. But be clear and provide an explanation of the reasons and reasoning behind decisions. And be humble. We’re all in this together right? There’s really no place for arrogance, point scoring, office politics, or pointing out seniority. That sort of behaviour might have been put up with at the office (or not), but it will take on a new level of sensitivity when your team is isolated in their own homes. And encourage your team members to adopt this mindset too.
3. Focus on Results
Different people have responded differently to WFH. That’s something to manage carefully in terms of mental health, performan and productivity. When everyone’s in the office it’s easy to know that your whole team is ‘at work’ right? (This is a whole different blog!)
But when your team is at home and out of sight you don’t know what they’re doing.
Here are two questions for you to consider:
1. Does it matter if a member of your team starts early and then stops for an hour or so to work out and walk the dog as long as they are getting results?
2. Is knowing that your team members are at their desk all the time an issue with their WFH ethos, or your desire to be in control?
There is evidence emerging that those people with supportive employers and who have the right mindset are more productive working from home. So consider what control is. Should you, as a leader, seek to drive results and encourage your team to do what they need to do to achieve them, or does control mean knowing that everyone is at their desk during working hours, irrespective of results. And if a member of your team has changed their working hours to meet their own needs whilst delivering the results that the business expects from them, is there a problem?
Take a look at this video which looks in depth at the “why” of communicating as a leader
Show Purpose and Passion
Who are you most likely to listen to? The person who is passionate about a subject that you aren’t that interested in? Or the person who drones on about an interesting subject but has no passion or interest in it themselves? So share your ‘why.’ Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why do you want your team involved? What are you trying to achieve? Make it matter. If it matters to you, it’ll matter to the members of your team.
Your People are More Important than You
How does this statement make you feel? It’s fundamental to effective leadership and governs how you manage, delegate, utilise skills, and manage your team from day to day. Of course, every business or team needs a good leader, but a leader is nothing without a team. Communicating as a leader means being aware of the people you work with, what makes them tick, their strengths and weaknesses, and how you can provide them with the best experience which, in turn, will get the best results for your business.
But it does mean tearing up those ‘old school’ ideas of being in command and directing the troops. And there’s no ‘I’ in team. That’s not to say that you’re one of the lads, but as a business leader, you are part of something bigger than just you.
Everyone is Equal
The most effective businesses are those where all of the people understand the mission. They understand the “why” that drives the business. But it’s not quite that simple. People who feel that they are appreciated and valued, and have their work valued and appreciated are more productive, and produce higher quality work. On the flip side, people who feel undervalued are more likely to do the work they have to do to a reasonable standard, leave, and come back tomorrow. So listen, learn, understand.
Active listening is a powerful communication tool and even though you’re using your eyes and ears, you’re communicating that you value and appreciate the opinions, thoughts, and ideas of your team members.
There’s training for virtually everything these days, paid for and free. And so many businesses have a training plan for their staff. But does everyone need to do the sales training or a day of change management training? If you’ve listened and understand your individual team members and understand the interactions between them you’ll have a good idea of their skills, and gaps that need improvement. So rather than the generic “oh no not another day in the boardroom to be talked at all day”, think about the training that individuals need to improve their own productivity which will feed into your team performance overall. And that will feed into the earlier thoughts about being valued and appreciated. And of course developing your team as an entity is just as important.
Continually Develop your own Skills and Knowledge
I hate to say it, but you’re not perfect! Continuing personal development of yourself is just as important as developing members of your team. With changes in the business environment like WFH means changes to business management and leadership techniques, so keep up to date. And your team will appreciate you for it as well.
So communicating as a leader effectively is no easy task. But if you can remember and Implement a few key thoughts and actions your leadership skills will improve, and your business and your team will be a happier, more productive, and in the end profitable place. To discuss how we can work with you to help communicating as a leader more effectively, and embed good practice across your leadership team, get in touch.