Heartfelt leaders inspire everyone to be the best they can be. Heartfelt leaders strive to align the personal goals and career visions of each team member with the goals and vision of the organization.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deb Boelkes.
Deb is the founder of the leadership development firm Business World Rising, LLC. She is also the award-winning author of The WOW Factor Workplace: How to Create a Best Place to Work Culture and Heartfelt Leadership: How to Capture the Top Spot and Keep on Soaring .
Deb is not just a role model heartfelt leader; she’s the ultimate authority on creating best places to work, with 25+ years in Fortune 150 technology firms, leading superstar business development organizations and global services operations. As an entrepreneur, Deb has accelerated advancement for women to senior leadership. As a keynote speaker, Deb has delighted and inspired over 1,000 audiences across North America.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?
I was the only child of parents who were born during the Great Depression. They were strong believers that you could do anything if you put your mind to it. While growing up, they continuously reminded me “anything worth doing is worth doing well.”
I started working at age 12, during summer breaks and school holidays–for 1 dollar a day–as an office clerk in my dad’s agricultural irrigation company in California’s San Joaquin Valley. I was interfacing with customers and I found the goings-on in the C-suite especially fascinating.
After obtaining my MBA, I went to work as a Systems Engineer for the Pacific Bell Telephone Company, in a business segment which became AT&T. I was immediately assigned to resolve a disastrous call center system implementation for the largest cable television company in Los Angeles. I pulled all-nighters for about a week, working remotely by phone with Bell Laboratories to get fixes developed ASAP. Saving the account, I was immediately promoted. Forever after, I was attracted to seemingly impossible, bleeding edge, high visibility projects.
Most of my Fortune 150 leadership career was with IBM and Arrow Electronics where I founded and spearheaded services development organizations dedicated to global 500 technology clients. Most of my direct reports were remotely deployed, initially throughout the country and eventually worldwide. Along the way, I acquired a reputation as an engaging and passionate, heartfelt leader who inspired and built talented teams that could be counted on to achieve the impossible.
Over the past decade, as an entrepreneur, my business focus has evolved to helping organizations become best places to work, where leaders at all levels inspire everyone to be at their best day-in and day-out.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Some years ago, while I was working for Arrow Electronics, a Fortune 150 technology distribution company, I was in charge of information service offerings for global technology manufacturers. As such, I become an expert on international law and regulations impacting technology manufacturing firms.
Seemingly out of the blue, the Chinese government announced it would be instituting new regulations to restrict the use of hazardous substances in electronic products to be manufactured in China. Within just six months, China would require new labeling on all electronic technology packaging. Any electronic components shipped into China would be prevented from delivery to manufacturing sites within China if not properly labeled with all the chemical substances used in the manufacture of the components.
Our company’s inability to meet the new labeling requirement could mean hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of our electronic components could be turned away at the border. Worse yet, our customers who manufactured their products in China could be out billions of dollars in finished goods which would not be allowed to ship out of China to their end customers throughout the rest of world. Not meeting the pending Chinese regulations could have almost unimaginable consequences for technology manufacturers and their customers worldwide.
I personally contacted every relevant internal senior leader in every country where we had operations. I asked them to dedicate staff to work with my organization to define and implement a solution to revise our business operations, our database management systems, our product labeling processes, and our shipping procedures. This was especially onerous given our numerous distribution hubs around the world all utilized different systems and procedures.
Talk about a huge remote team management opportunity! This was one of the most complex, time critical projects our company had ever undertaken. Employees worldwide who had never before worked together in unison had to flawlessly design business processes for systems that had never been coordinated before. To our C-Suite executives, the project seemed impossible given the unreasonably short time frame.
It helped that I was known throughout the company as the expert on the subject. Within days, I had commitments from virtually every person in the company who needed to be involved. Mind you, this was in the days before Zoom or other desktop based virtual meeting technology.
I immediately instituted daily telephone conference calls in which nearly 100 individuals from around the world participated…not an easy task, given all the time zones to consider. Fortunately, the participants were unusually flexible and eager to be part of such a vast undertaking. Some of our best and brightest people, in country after country, stepped up to the plate. We educated each other as needed. Certainly, none of us alone had the expertise or wherewithal to map out a solution as complex as would be required to address this challenge.
We had no choice but to jump into immediate action to work seamlessly and flawlessly together to meet the looming deadline. No other projects mattered. If anything got in our way, I would immediately go to the Chief Compliance Officer. If necessary, he would go to the CEO and we would quickly get whatever we needed.
To make a long story short, we designed and implemented new global databases along with new shipping and labeling processes with just days to spare. We did the seemingly impossible.
Wherever they were in the world, every single member of this ad hoc team gave it their personal best–the few who didn’t were quickly removed from the group. Virtually everyone maintained a positive can-do attitude for the duration of this WOW project. Of course, our customers were incredibly grateful and we were rewarded for it with even more of their business in the ensuing months.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
About five years into my career I was recruited away from AT&T to work for IBM, back in the days when voice and data technology integration was touted as the wave of the future. IBM hired me into a telecommunications consulting group, thanks to my technical expertise. Little did they know I was expecting my second child at the time.
Fast forward a few months. I had just returned from a 6-week maternity leave. I was to lead a full-day, educational presentation for all the other IBM technical consultants, all men and all senior to me, about AT&T’s technology. Never-the-less, I was confident there was virtually nothing they could ask me that I couldn’t address better than anyone else in the business.
Mind you, this was back in the days when John T. Malloy’s book, Dress for Success, was the ultimate guide for business attire. Everyone who worked in sales or consulting at AT&T and IBM at the time wore conservatively tailored business suits, per Dress for Success guidelines.
On the day of my big presentation, I wore my most expensive camelhair business suit, quite elegant. I definitely looked the part of the seasoned expert. Speaking confidently in front of my audience all day, I handled every question with aplomb and commended myself for an exemplary job educating my new IBM colleagues.
At the end, I received a rousing round of applause. Several men in the audience congratulated me on a job well done. When the final admirer approached to shake my hand, he offered these kudos, “You did a great job today. I was especially impressed that you could stand up in front of all these men, all day long, with baby spit-up all down the back of your sleeve”.
I looked at him quizzically, assuming he was deliberately making an inappropriate, sexist joke, just to throw me off my game. I simply grinned in response.
“I’m serious,” he said, as he pointed to the back of my right arm.
Somewhat annoyed, I pulled my right arm forward and looked at the back of my sleeve. Sure enough, there was stale, caked on and dried baby-spit up all the way down the back of my sleeve, from my shoulder to my elbow. I was mortified.
The moral to the story is: whenever going anywhere important, whether visiting a customer or speaking in front of an audience, take a quick 360 degree look at yourself in the mirror before going in. You just never know what you might have sat in or had spilled on you.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
It’s important to know each of your direct reports’ personal objectives so you can ensure their personal goals are aligned with achieving the goals of your organization. You won’t inspire your employees to thrive and be at their best, day-in and day-out, if you aren’t tapping into their passions, enabling them to do something meaningful to them, something they enjoy doing.
Have regular conversations with every team member to develop trusting relationships and make the workplace as engaging as possible. If your employees love what they are doing, work won’t be work for them. It will be a joy. The job will actually give them energy rather than cause burnout.
If an employee isn’t happy in their role, you owe it to them, yourself, and everyone else to find out why they aren’t happy. Have a heart-to-heart, non-judgmental conversation to find out what’s not working for them. Then either do what’s necessary to get the roadblocks out of their way, realign roles, or make other changes that better suite everyone’s ambitions and needs.
If you have an employee who just doesn’t fit with the culture, or who is incapable of meeting the needs of the organization, then help that individual move on to something more in line with their passions and personal vision of success, even if it means helping them leave the business.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?
I’ve been managing remote teams for over 25 years.
Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?
Getting to know your remote reports well. Whether your direct reports are working right outside your office door or in their own apartment half way around the world, the same kinds of things keep people inspired and engaged: A mission, products, and services that team members take deep pride in; feeling they have a career instead of a job; skills they learn that help them to succeed within your organization and in their career; skills they learn that help them to feel happy, fulfilled and successful in the rest of their lives; friendship, camaraderie, and a strong sense of belonging.
Maintaining that strong sense of belonging can be a challenge, yet it’s especially important for remote reports. Whatever it takes, find ways to routinely keep each team member informed about what is going on, what’s expected of them, and what they can expect of you. More than anything, take time to listen to them. This builds trust.
Pick up the phone, make a webcam call, leave a video message, send short emails or an occasional text to keep team members updated in real time. Be transparent. Share what you know and ask them what they know on a regular basis. The more they know about what’s going on in the business, and the more you know what’s going on with them, both in their jobs and in their lives, the more connected, comfortable and assured each of you will feel. Don’t underestimatetheimportance of having pre-scheduled virtual performance reviews and professional development one-on-ones at least once a month, if not more often.
Eagerly encourage your remote team members to contact you, at their convenience rather than yours, to ask questions, express their feedback about what’s working and not working, and share their concerns. Let them know your virtual door is always open.
Even when my own direct reports and I were working in the same office, I proactively made time to chat with them regularly, both informally and formally, at the times and in the ways that worked for them. It should be no different with remote reports.
Start today by asking each remote individual how they would prefer to keep the lines of communication open and flowing with you. Some people prefer to have set times and durations for conversation, some prefer to talk by phone, some prefer Zoom, Skype or Facetime. Some prefer to call when they have something urgent or an unexpected minute to spare. It’s up to you, as the leader, to flex to the time and method that works best for them.
If you haven’t done so recently, ask each one of them, “What keeps you at our company?” You might be amazed at what you will learn. Ask about their career goals. Make sure they know they have your full support in working toward achieving their dreams and desires, whatever they are. Determine how, in the current situation, they can best align their unique strengths, evolving professional objectives and personal needs to best support the organization’s objectives, including any new business objectives that may have recently evolved. Let them know you care about what’s important to them.
During your one-on-ones, ask, “What might lure you away from here?” What they tell you today might be totally different than what they might have told you when they were working in the office or when life was more predictable. There may never be a better time to create a new position or a new set of responsibilities that will allow them to do what they love AND help take the organization in a new or different direction.
I made a point of making sure my remote reports knew my schedule, when I would be in meetings, what times I was most likely to be free. They also knew that, aside from my own family, they were my most important priority. They were to never feel they were bothering me or intruding. I was always happy to take their calls, even when I was on the road, driving somewhere. I tried to arrange at least one or two face-to-face meetings each year, if not more often. Difficult conversations were never difficult because we knew each other so well and we really trusted each other.
As a remote report myself, I made a habit of calling my own manager each and every morning, as I was driving to work or as soon as I sat down at my desk, before any other distractions got in the way. This way, we were able to shoot the breeze before diving into work issues. On Monday mornings we’d update each other about our weekends. We developed close friendships as a result.
Knowing in advance who will work well in a remote / isolated environment and who probably won’t. It’s important to keep in mind that some people simply don’t do well working remotely, on their own. It is normal for some people to feel isolated and unproductive when working alone. Some become distracted or even depressed without routine face-to-face interaction with co-workers.
If you’ve had the luxury of working directly with a team member for a while before moving them into a remote reporting assignment, you may be able to readily assess from their work habits–such as their ability to work without direction–or by observing their interactions with others, that they could be at risk of disengagement if not working with or around others. Knowing in advance about such tendencies can pay dividends, as you can plan up-front to mitigate the potential downside triggers.
But how can you really know in advance that a team member might not work well alone? Often, the best way is to ask them. If you have developed a close, trusting relationship, they should feel comfortable telling you the kind of support they might need to stay engaged and work at peak levels.
Even then, sometimes we get surprised. I recall hiring one new employee, in particular, into a remote reporting business development position. He had a great resume and references. He had graduated from a highly regarded university and he had held a similar position before, albeit in a different industry segment. I flew out to meet him before deciding to extend an offer. He was enthusiastic about the role and I believed he would make a great addition to my team of remote reports.
Over the ensuing months, we regularly chatted about the client opportunities he was developing. Things seemed to be going well until none of the deals he had forecasted closed. I started calling him every few days to discuss what he was doing and offer my assistance. He always turned down my offers of help. He insisted he was quite capable of succeeding on his own. He said he just needed a little more time.
Eventually, I called some of his target clients, either to introduce myself or to personally follow-up after he had introduced me to them on conference calls. I was surprised to discover he wasn’t actually making the in-person client calls he was reporting. I then called the university listed on his resume to confirm his degree, something I thought our Human Resources department had done before we extended an offer, only to discover he had not graduated. He had only attended for a few semesters. He had lied on his resume.
Upon learning that, I immediately flew out to meet him face-to-face and share what I had learned. Surprisingly, he still insisted he had graduated from that university and conjectured they had made a mistake. He also insisted he was indeed calling on the customers as reported, but he had not been meeting with the decision makers I had apparently called on the phone.
To get him back on the right track with business development, I immediately put him on a performance improvement plan with clearly defined Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Reasonable and Time-bound (SMART) goals, to which he agreed. I made clear to him what would happen if he did not achieve the performance objectives and, once again, offered my dedicated assistance if and when we needed it. He knew that failure to achieve the objectives within the defined time frame would result in termination.
To make a long story short, he never asked for my assistance and he failed to attain the agreed-upon results. He was one of the few people I ever fired in my 25 years in corporate leadership. When I fired him, I flew out to meet with him in person. His termination was no surprise and we parted amicably.
Sometimes you just can’t know in advance who will work well as a remote report, but the situation I just described has certainly not been my typical experience.
Correctly reading the early warning signs that a remote report is not happy or engaged. Even those who normally do work well on their own can have situations in their personal lives that unexpectedly take their toll.
With all the unexpected pandemic-related issues, many otherwise highly capable remote employees may struggle to weave their business responsibilities around new, additional responsibilities of homeschooling and childcare. Single parents may be particularly overwhelmed by managing both work and family duties simultaneously, especially if they have infants or toddlers and no one else to rely on for child care assistance. You as the leader might be struggling with these things yourself.
For reasons like these and more, it’s especially important to keep your virtual door open and the communication lines flowing, so you as the leader can catch the early warning signals and take corrective action as quickly as possible.
I once hired a young woman to remotely report to me, working out of her home office as a technology consultant in the national practice I managed. When I hired her, she assured me she was quite accustomed to working from home. She had done it for years in a similar role before joining our team. For well over a year she was a stellar performer.
What I was not aware of was, at some point after that first year, her husband was laid off from his job and their marriage began to unravel. Working from home became extremely difficult for her. I took notice when, suddenly, she was not her usual cheerful, highly motivated self and her performance began to decline.
Had I not already formed a close bond with her, I may have never discovered what had transpired, nor would I have been able to quickly help get her work life back on track. Fortunately, before too long, she broke down and confided in me, apologizing for her sub-par performance. I was able to refer her to counseling through our company’s Employee Assistance Program. I temporarily reassigned some of her accounts to other members of the team while she worked things out in her personal life.
If you suddenly find your own remote reports struggling to stay engaged, proactively take the opportunity to have a heart-to-heart conversation. Find out what’s causing the downslide and then dialogue together on how to help them regain their footing.
Solutions might be as simple as allowing the team member to revise their work schedule to better coordinate with a life partner’s schedule. Alternatively, you might encourage the individual to volunteer to be part of a small group that rotates into an office or a company warehouse every few days where other people are working yet maintaining social distance. Such an option might give them a chance to get away from the confines of home; give them something to look forward to; bolster their sense of self-worth, well-being, and belonging; and enable them to stay engaged and productive.
Setting appropriate objectives, measuring results, and holding remote team members accountable. Both in good times and in bad, the leader’s role–at any level–is to define and communicate the organizational strategy and the objectives to be achieved. The leader is responsible for explaining the why of the mission and the intended outcome.
Not understanding the intent of the mission or why things are being done the way they are can be a big de-motivator. Failure to communicate on the leader’s part will surely cause a failure to perform by those reporting to them, regardless of whether they are working in the office or remotely.
Of course, most individuals working in sales or in a call center environment are used to having sales targets or call metrics assigned, by which their performance is measured. For anyone who isn’t already accountable for such objective performance metrics, consider initiating a performance-based Management by Objectives (MBO) program. This can be especially important for managing remote reports.
Keep in mind that it’s happy, engaged employees who make your workplace a WOW factor workplace. Only happy and engaged employees turn customers into raving fans. Demotivated employees rarely do. Therefore any Management by Objectives program must be carefully designed to ensure fairness and buy-in and foster engagement.
Any individual’s performance objectives should be clearly tied to achieving the objectives of the business and reflect whatever it is that motivates and engages the employee to be at their best. One size may not fit all remote reports, even those in the same role.
A poorly defined MBO program can be a huge de-motivator. For this reason, be sure to discuss with each individual what it will take to maintain a “Best Place to Work” environment–in their view–whether it be in a temporary or permanent remote work location. Let them decide what time frame will work best in terms of reviewing their performance (i.e. daily, weekly, bi-weekly, ad hoc). Let them decide if holding them accountable to measurable internal or external customer satisfaction ratings might make sense.
Then, with MBOs defined and agreed to, be available whenever the remote employee needs you. Be willing to listen to their concerns and mentor them. Help each team member feel empowered and confident in taking initiative for solving problems for themselves. Your efforts to help them learn, become more self-sufficient, and be more productive will be appreciated.
When it becomes clear that roadblocks can only be dealt with effectively by you, as the leader, do whatever you can to get the roadblocks out of the way as quickly as possible. Provide whatever tools are necessary for them to perform at their personal best. You should never be the reason an employee fails to achieve their MBOs.
The late Teresa Laraba, who until her death served as Senior Vice President of Customers for Southwest Airlines, told me this:
The leaders I’ve worked with, who have reported to me, who really connect with their teams and know how to get back to them when they have questions and help provide them with the tools they need with the sense of urgency to do their job are the ones I consider to be indispensable.
It takes discipline to be excellent at follow-through. It takes discipline to have a sense of urgency to get your employees the tools they need. You can’t do any of that if you haven’t tapped into them.
The most important feedback we get, as leaders, is when our employees don’t feel like we follow back up with them.
Communicating by email. Email is still one of the most widely used communication tools in the workplace. It’s quick. It’s simple. It’s accessible from most anywhere. It allows for efficient mass distribution of information, and it can be referenced time and time again. Email is especially effective when it comes to clearly communicating specific details.
Yet, some things are best communicated by other means. It’s not unusual for the simplest, seemingly straight forward email message to be misinterpreted by the recipient. Such misunderstandings can be especially problematic when the subject matter is sensitive or corrective in nature, or could be construed as degrading or laying blame.
When communicating with team members, especially with those working remotely, minimize the use of email whenever there is a more effective medium such as Skype or Zoom, telephone, or even a quick text message. Declare a moratorium on sending out your own work-related emails after business hours.
One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from employees, whenever I’ve conducted 360 degree reviews of CEOs, is about receiving emails from the boss on weekends or late at night. As the leader, if you feel compelled to write an email after an employee’s normal business hours, save it as a draft until the next business day. This is a small but very important way to give the employee their personal time back, a small courtesy that can make a huge difference in employee engagement.
Of course, people will do almost anything for a leader who is appreciative and praises their efforts, especially in times of struggle. Be especially forthcoming with good news and praises for jobs well done. Good news and praise can be quite effectively communicated by email because of its permanence and ease in sharing on a broad basis.
However, before sending out even the best of news about specific individuals in an email, try to have a person-to-person conversation with the individual(s) to be highlighted. Let them know the news before notifying others, if possible. Make your initial conversation with the target individual as personal and as meaningful as possible, and gauge their response. Afford them the opportunity to put their stamp of approval on any message to be distributed to a broader audience.
In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?
Corrective suggestions or criticisms of any kind are usually best communicated face-to-face, even if that means using some kind of video technology. If an in-person meeting or a video call is not a viable option, arrange to have a private phone conversation when there will be no distractions, no one else listening in, and plenty of time for a candid, heart-to-heart dialogue.
Over the years, I have found the best outcomes are typically achieved by first taking time to address any other important outstanding issues the employee may have, which may or may not have anything to do with the topic you ultimately intend to address. By first dealing with the employee’s most important issue, they will then be better able to give you their undivided attention, when it’s your turn.
At that point, start by asking the employee how they perceive things to going relative to the issue you need to address. By giving them the floor to speak on the subject first will put them more at ease and in control. It will also afford them the opportunity to bring up whatever might be bothering them about the subject at hand. It may well be that the issue is something they have wanted help with but were afraid to ask. Now you will have given them the perfect opportunity to ask for your input and guidance. You will now be in a much better position to serve as a mentor and friend.
Before offering advice, take the opportunity to ask open-ended clarifying questions. Let the employee fully share whatever they know. Encourage them to express how they feel about the situation. By seeing the issue through their eyes as well as through your own, you will be better able to judge what is really going on.
The more insights you have, the better the solution the two of you will be able to define together, as a unified, cohesive team. Any suggestions you may offer will likely to be better received. In the end, this kind of process can help build stronger bonds between the two of you, regardless of whether you are face-to-face or on the phone.
Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
In the words of the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, “Be slow to correct and quick to commend.”
It is always risky to convey “constructive” feedback via email because there is always the potential that your comments will be taken in a way that you did not intend. It’s best to have such conversations face-to-face or over the phone.
I personally consider the use of email in such cases as a coward’s way out. It’s like hurling a grenade over a wall and then running away before the explosion occurs. It’s best not to engage that way if it’s at all possible to handle the issue via other means. If it’s absolutely necessary to communicate only by email, it’s best to do so when the employee asks you for your feedback or advice.
I also find it works best when you can put caveats around your comments, like, “I know your situation is unique and that the people are different, but when I had a similar situation (describing your former challenge), I took x, y, and z actions. That worked for me in that case because of factors a, b, and c (or it didn’t work the way I expected because of d, e and f factors). Given that, maybe we can talk through your situation together and explore alternatives to address it differently. We could even role-play, if you’d like.”
This way, you put yourself in the position of being a mentor and friend versus playing the know-it-all critic and you keep the conversation door open for helpful and effective dialogue.
Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?
Organizations the world over have had little choice but to work from home during the pandemic. Some people are working even longer hours than normal to support customers across the country and around the world. Worse yet, some are facing furloughs and potential layoffs. No matter where you are, people at all levels are scared.
As a team leader, now is definitely not the time to mentally check out. To the contrary, now is the time for you to lean in. Likewise, now is not the time to allow team members to mentally check out, become frustrated, or depressed, which can certainly happen to those not used to working alone.
The best way to help team members lean in is for you, the leader, to be even more visible and readily accessible than you might have been in the office, even if it’s only possible to do using online technology.
Garry Ridge, Chairman and CEO of the WD-40 Company shared in my book, Heartfelt Leadership, “In hard times, as a leader, you need to be more visible than ever before. We’ve got to be there, in the moment, when people need us.”
Ridge continued, “I’ll tell you a funny story. When we were going through the global financial crisis in 2008, I observed people in the company as I’d wander around this office or any of our other offices around the world. People were asking me more often, ‘How are you?’ I realized they were looking to me, in their time of uncertainty and fear, to give them that little bit of security to carry them through. Leaders need to make sure in times of trouble they are visible.”
Some team members and even leaders can become especially frustrated when challenged by technology issues at home. Rather than allowing anyone to struggle, ask your team’s more techno-savvy staff members to make themselves available to help teammates by phone, when needed. Enable these techno-savvy team members to make it their first priority, during this transition / adjustment period, to do whatever it takes to help get the technology roadblocks out of way of their teammates as quickly as possible.
Understand that both managers and team members may find it necessary to learn some new tricks when it comes to communicating by video chat with those they are normally used to seeing in the next cubicle. Make it clear to everyone on the team that if anyone is challenged by Skype or Zoom or other business technology at home, they should not hesitate to call the “resource buddies” on your team, those more comfortable and proficient with using that technology. And be forgiving if people are late to virtual meetings due to technical challenges.
The designated “resource buddies” may feel more needed than ever and honored to assist their teammates with the kinds of things they simply take for granted. This new role might even increase their confidence when communicating with higher-ups who are behaving in an unusually humble manner. It can also help build new bridges between team members.
What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?
The best leaders will accept these challenging times as an outstanding opportunity to learn. They will be grateful for the chance to take their leadership skills to an entirely new level. They will use this time as a catalyst to test their mettle. They will leave their egos at the door and embrace this new conundrum with humility. No matter where you are on the organizational ladder, be this kind of leader.
Working remotely, or alone for a change, might enable team members to see things from a completely new perspective. Encourage all team members to seek to understand the cause of any new issues that will undoubtedly arise. Prepare them to anticipate quickly changing demand, delivery challenges, supply chain limitations, as well as opportunities to serve new markets. Ask them to share any ideas they may have to improve internal processes, operations, products, services, vendor relations, client services, and/or the customer experiences in light of the current situation. Take advantage of the new paradigm to learn and adjust.
Encourage everyone on the team to maintain meaningful relationships while working apart. Foster networking between team members. Create online task forces, as needed, to solve new problems that may now come up. Ask for volunteers from different departments–or from key customer accounts and/or from suppliers–to keep ideas flowing and everyone engaged, working together toward achieving common goals.
Whatever it takes, find new ways to keep team members informed about what is going on, what’s expected of them, and what they can expect of you. Be readily available and willing to listen to team member concerns and mentor them. Help each team member feel empowered and confident to take the initiative for solving problems for themselves, to the fullest extent they can.
Your efforts to help team members learn, become more self-sufficient and more productive will be greatly appreciated. It might even set your team up to work in new ways that will be even more effective and efficient than when they were in the office.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to inspire a movement that will turn all organizations, the world over, into Best Places to Work — WOW factor workplaces — through Heartfelt Leadership.
Heartfelt leaders inspire everyone to be the best they can be. Heartfelt leaders strive to align the personal goals and career visions of each team member with the goals and vision of the organization.
Team members choose to follow Heartfelt Leaders because they want to, not because they have to. Shared vision and passion becomes achievable. Enduring success becomes a team sport.
With a Heartfelt Leadership movement, everyone in every workplace would find purpose, meaning, joy, and fulfillment at work, each and every day.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
For many years I kept a brightly colored sign hanging on the wall behind my office desk which said:
Attitude is everything. Pick a good one.
I still keep a small version of this sign in my kitchen for all my family and friends to see and take to heart.
I learned long ago, and it’s paid dividends ever since, that conveying an “I’m confident we can do this” attitude is sometimes all that is needed to generate the talent, the ideas, and the traction necessary to make WOW factor results a reality.
When I was writing my first two books, The WOW Factor Workplace and Heartfelt Leadership, I found that virtually all the heartfelt leaders we interviewed–those who were identified by their team members as “the best boss I ever had”, the kind of leaders people want to follow and would do anything for–were firm believers in hiring for attitude. Skills can be taught, but a positive, upbeat attitude is innate and fundamental to engagement and success.
You have the ability to determine your attitude. Don’t let others determine it for you. Set your own attitude sails. Strive to be a positive attitude role model.
This all goes hand-in-hand with another quote I love by the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, “A leader’s most powerful ally is his or her own example.”
Attitude is everything, so pick a good one.
Thank you for these great insights!