Marketers keep saying that crises can be enormous opportunities for branding because they define organizations, but it’s also the case for people. In uncertain environments, when guidelines are missing, we show our truth. Thus, we should play more with personal attributes and strengths to build resiliency and experiment with new behaviors while dreaming of a better future.
And as managers and leaders, we can grow by reinventing ourselves to fit the new virtual management expectations. And why not try new things to inspire our team and foster virtual trust? As for inspiration, these two steps and short stories should give you some virtual leadership tips. Let’s dig in.
Step 1 – Management is about being a translator, also in the virtual world
Nothing is more toxic in an organization than the power game of not sharing important information within your team. It only creates anxiety or a disconnect between decisions and actions. It’s especially detrimental in virtual teams, considering you need to over-communicate to compensate for the default no-talk communication mode. Think about it.
I had a hilarious exec as a Manager in the past who called it the principle of the pampers diapers. Each time he noticed that one of his teams missed some critical info to get the big picture complexity due to one of his managers’ communication failures, he would ring a bell. Of course, it’s always hard to share bad news for a Manager and still more comfortable to hide behind a silent umbrella.
It’s the same kind of issue when you are in a highly-ambiguous environment or in uncertain times. Your team members are afraid for their future or current job, and any black-hole of information just increases anxiety.
It’s then essential to keep communicating all the information you have regarding potential internal or external company challenges, market trends, or news about customers. When people don’t understand the reasons and stories behind decisions, they resist change triggering more work or new processes.
Suppose you share some crunchy details you’d learned in exec meetings while respecting your confidentiality obligation. In that case, your team members will appreciate the transparency as they will interpret it as trust and feel important.
A storytelling skill can help tremendously in the virtual world. I can’t recommend enough to read Master storytelling by Mark J Carpenter and Darrell D. Harmon to give you some directions about building great stories to motivate change.
The condition is telling the truth as it’s not about manipulating but inspiring: “If you help people understand why you want them to change with a story to illustrate the impact, you’ll get less resistance.”
Step 2 – Being a virtual leader is about individual growth and playing to your strengths
Exploring new approaches during a crisis seems counterintuitive because we don’t like to start from scratch and get out of our comfort zone. As a manager or a leader, the job is hard enough and can drain emotionally, so why would we make it even more difficult with new job approaches?
Besides, not all personalities are thriving in ambiguous environments – the virtual world being one of them – as it requires a specific dose of creativity, independence, and self-confidence to move forward.
Also, because a virtual leader is facing herself or himself most of the time, individual growth is critical for keeping motivation over time. The best lever for any manager is to know how to play with his strengths and leverage team members’ to channel work energy for collective performance.
We are never as efficient as when doing what we love and playing with strengths. It’s a question of flow versus inner friction. We create that fascinating alchemy most of the time by mixing our values and natural abilities.
For example, before becoming an entrepreneur, I could express my creativity throughout my career, either taking over new projects or building new services. At some point, I was skeptical when I was offered a more generalist role in Human Resources, and I couldn’t put my finger on the reasons for my internal resistance to celebrate that new challenge. I later understood the strict application of already existing processes was one of my worst nightmares. In the beginning, the learning part was always fun, and If I had to imagine new methods, it was even more exciting, but I couldn’t thrive in the role after the discovery period. It would cost me frequent mistakes and substantial energy expenses, leading to exhaustion when focusing on critical processes.
At the beginning of your career, you usually don’t know your strengths. You learn them through the challenging first years of job experience when you have to win trust and credibility. Only later on, you know how to craft your role based on the best of your abilities.
That may explain why it’s so difficult to replace a top performer as most of the time, the person just created the job based on personal strengths, and it’s quite hard to find the perfect mirror in somebody else. The good news is there are lots of tools out there to help identify strengths.
If you want to learn more:
Strength identification is the core of any individual growth work and one of the main tools used in coaching. There is an official definition of strengths coming from Martin Seligman, the father of Positive psychology, as “our built-on capacities for particular ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving” crossed with six virtues of positive psychology: Wisdom, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, Transcendence.
You have multiple ways of taking free tests on the internet to identify your strengths, the Strengthsfinder test by Gallup, the VIA Character strengths profile by The VIA Institute on Character, or you can take the “Brief Strengths Test” as well from Martin Seligman on his website. It helps you identify where you can focus your energy with more success and positive impact as a leader and where you should hire people to compensate for your weaknesses.
Illustration by Camille Doue