Reinventing Leadership: Nine Things Virtual Leaders Must Focus On

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  • Many employees have already checked out emotionally, because their managers weren’t ready to dive deep into creating connections in the virtual world.
  • Our younger workers, especially those with families are struggling right now, we must find ways to help them create clarity.
  • Very few leaders actually ask their teams, “Why do you do what you do?”
  • Challenge your team to declare who they are and step into that.
  • Celebrate and remember to bring comedy into the workplace as this is a heavy time right now.

Our entire planet has entered uncharted territory. This territory is so new that in the area of virtual leadership, all the new research that has been coming out says there’s something missing. In a new survey by Cushman & Wakefield, productivity is up with remote work, but there is a decline in the connection to the culture.  According to the research, most workers are becoming more productive while working remotely yet, people are losing connection to the people in their company.  Leaders are being called on like never before to foster and build commitment to their company’s unique culture.   

As a result, after reviewing my own week, I’ve discovered nine areas of opportunity for Leaders to focus on to help strengthen that culture. These nine areas will uncover opportunities for us to find ways to reinvent our leadership in this new territory. 

Warning: As a virtual leader, you're going to have to really stretch yourself to retain engagement. You have to stretch your authenticity, transparency and connectivity.

You’re going to have to really dig deep and share what’s going on with you emotionally and ask what is going on with others emotionally.

However, no one is forcing you to stretch yourself.

No one is forcing you to get outside your comfort zone to share what is going on in your home, with your life, with your family situation.

As a result of you not changing, you won’t lose your employees.

Fortunately, your employees won’t quit the company because frankly there are no places to go.

But the truth is if you are not connecting deeply, your employees have already checked out emotionally.

If you’re not ready to dive deep into creating connections in the virtual world your employees will check out emotionally. Yes, your employees will be at your desk, yes your employees will answer their phone, yes your employees will answer your emails but they’ll be like zombies working to make money but waiting desperately to find a better place to go.

Here, we discover a new world where vulnerability, authenticity and courage will win.

1. Clarity

The first thing virtual leaders need to focus on is gaining clarity.

Our younger workers, especially with families, are struggling right now.

They are working at home with their kids, without the convenience of a home office. Between fulfilling the role of mom and dad and balancing work, they have a lot on their plate right now.

Hence, the help that they need from you as their leader, is to help bring them more clarity. For the average leader, Clarity means “What must I do today?”  As we reinvent leadership, your role is to support your employees to be clear with what their heart tells them. 

Help your teammates get clear on what is the most important thing to do.  

Where do you need to focus?  And why do you need to focus on that?

That is how I start every Monday with my Coach.  Leaders need to help teams gain more clarity on what really matters. For example, I am gaining clarity on the urgency of sharing my own message, and my love of my work and clients.  If all we did was to focus our employees on what they love, why they love it, and what they will do to demonstrate that love, you would have engagement scores in this virtual world going through the roof.

The more clarity we get in our life, the more productive we can be in this new virtual workplace. The same goes for the people on your team. Connect them to getting clearer on what’s the most important. 

2. Cause:

The second thing leaders need to focus on is strengthening the cause.

Do you want to know the question most leaders don’t ask, but should?

Why do you do what you do?

Right now, you should connect your teammate to the work he or she is doing. High performers are deeply connected to the necessity, the WHY, of what they do. Knowing your “WHY,” inspires a higher sense of motivation because it’s deeply connected to your personal identity. This connection creates a sense of urgency to act. 

Leaders have the opportunity to connect each person on their team to their heart, to their passions and aspirations. 

  • Who does he/she serve? 
  • As a result of people interacting with that teammate, what occurs? 
  • What does your teammate find rewarding right now? 
  • What are some successes your teammate is having?

My WHY is to develop young leaders, that is why I am doing this. I do what I do because teams at work are the space where you will develop yourself to greatness. You spend most of your time at work and most companies don’t develop the true potential of their people.

Get your team deeply connected to the work they are doing. 

3. Challenge

The third area leaders must focus on in the new remote environment is challenging potential. CHALLENGE your team to discover and proudly declare WHO they are. What are they creating at work, at home, in the world?  What do they stand for, whether it is excellence, client devotion, vulnerability, creating meaningful results.

“I bring excellence to my work.”

“My team is united, excited, and ambitious.”

“I am closing 17 deals this month.”

And of course the next place to challenge your team is what must they believe about themselves to deliver on their declaration?

What beliefs must they have to make it through this?

Must they believe they are unstoppable, that clients love them, that they are accountable, that they embrace being uncomfortable, or that they are devoted to the cause.

As a result, challenging your team to declare and step into that identity creates a deep bond with your team.

For example, a declaration I’m working on stepping into is that I’m supporting teams globally. I’m going to need a belief system that says that the world even wants to listen to me.

Challenge your team to declare who they are and to step into it. 

4. Culture

The fourth area virtual leaders need to focus on is creating the culture in a remote environment. How does a company have culture when everyone is working from home? How do I as the leader promote my culture when I can’t be in the same room with them? 

You want people to understand how the culture lives, breathes and thinks.  However, how do you demonstrate culture, when you are presenting zoom calls from your house? You get members on your senior team to go live and demonstrate how they are living the culture.

How do you do this?

This week we created a live event for a client company where two executives engaged in a very difficult conversation. This video demonstrated the part of their culture that showed how having tough conversations is expected and encouraged. In this case, we made it fun using a spin-off from the dating game*.

These two individuals showed transparency and vulnerability by exposing their conversations within their company. By demonstrating the difficult conversations and then encouraging their teams to live that way they displayed unwritten norms of the culture.

Demonstrate acts between senior members of your team living the culture.

5. Commitment

The fifth area virtual leaders should focus on is describing commitment. In general, good management is about knowing the goals each person has and holding them accountable to commit to those goals. But we need to go beyond that and ask:

 “What specific behaviors are you looking to take on such that you will be accountable?” “What behaviors must your team take on to stay accountable?”

This is not an easy task, since most people need to really think about the actual behaviors that are required to complete a task.  Then, they must think about what might be holding people back from taking that behavior.   

What does a committed member of your team do?

6. Courage

The sixth area virtual leaders should focus on is being courageous and encouraging courageous acts. A lot of people are scared right now and they also don’t know what the future is going to hold. That’s including me. We do not know when we’re going back to work or when we can travel next. Therefore in order to reinvent our leadership for this virtual world, one of our roles is to help our people become more courageous.

Courage begins with YOU.  Being courageous means YOU need to have the courage to take on sharing the challenges that you’re going through. Courage means literally sharing what is going on in your heart.  Displaying your courage gives others permission to take on more risks.  The additional benefit is that people become more connected with what you are up to.

Show and share your courage.

7. Celebrate

The seventh area virtual leaders should focus on is celebration. Celebrate for no reason but that person is alive and on your team. Celebrate something that has NOTHING to do with work.  We need to let people know we see them and they are important to us in addition to our day-to-day work. In one of our programs, we’ve been celebrating people by hosting an internal podcast highlighting the staff. We learn about their family, their hobbies, where they like to travel and so much more. These podcasts are helping this large and global corporate department connect with people on a new level as a team.

 It might not seem like it’s your job as a leader to connect the people on your team to each other, but in this new territory, there are a lot of regular connections that you had in the office that are missing right now. Think particularly about how you can celebrate the people on your team. 

Highlight the uniqueness of each of the people on your team.

8. Community   

The eighth area virtual leaders must focus on is building a learning community. What’s missing in a virtual environment is community learning. Before the pandemic, your staff used to sit around your office and listen and learn from each other through tiny interactions that are no longer there.  Virtual leaders need to help people learn together in a new online community.  

Create Zoom sessions where people are working together.  Have them share what they are learning.  Join in leadership sessions, where you stretch your capabilities.

For most of my clients, I am taking them through a leadership program when each person is not only developing themselves, they are building bonds through their vulnerability and through helping each other succeed.

How can you add this element in this virtual workspace? 

9. Comedy

Finally, the last thing virtual leaders should focus on, is comedy. Yeah, that thing!?!

You need to keep your team members’ attention in your video-conferencing meetings, therefore, you need comedy. You need to get funnier.  This is a heavy time right now, thus leaders should remember to keep it light. Be improvisational and let funny things happen. It’s a time for you to be light and willing to make mistakes and to show people it’s okay to laugh at yourself. 

In conclusion, it’s time to reinvent leadership in a way that you show up as a more authentic version of yourself as a virtual leader. To summarize, we need to bring more clarity, raise the necessity of why people do what they do, make bigger declarations, make commitments, find the behaviors they need to take on to reach their goals, celebrate people, build a community and be the missing piece of culture that your company and your team needs right now. It’s a big request, but you can do it. 

Inspirational Quotes

* The Dating Game

the Dating Game was a game in the 1960’s where people asked questions to get to to determine if they wanted to go on a date. In our “Version” of the Dating Game, our goal was to build trust now, through conversations that would deepen their relationship.  we asked the executives to share with each other and with their company questions such as: On a scale of 1-10 how good is our relationship right now, and why? What have I done for you lately? In our relationship, where do I listen and where do I not listen? Employees watched the “Dating Game” and saw how key employees displayed and reinforced many behaviors of the culture such as honesty, transparency, and vulnerability.

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