How to mindfully lead your remote team
We are in uncharted territory. Most of us have never lived or worked through a pandemic, so how we navigate these times might feel fast-paced, clunky, scary, awkward, adventurous or even reactive. According to a new national poll released by the American Psychiatric Association (APA):
“More than one-third of Americans (36%) say coronavirus is having a serious impact on their mental health and most (59%) feel coronavirus is having a serious impact on their day-to-day lives. Nearly half of Americans (48%) are anxious about the possibility of getting coronavirus, but far more Americans (62%) are anxious about the possibility of family and loved ones getting coronavirus.”
As a leader in your organization, these aren’t “normal times,” and the desire to lead while pretending that business is normal is quite naive. Even if your company is doing well and employees’ jobs are not threatened, the life around them is certainly affected. Humanity is managing anxiety, overwhelm, grief and gratitude all in the same day. The probability of knowing someone who has passed away from COVID-19, lost a job, feels burnt out from homeschooling children or is working longer hours with no work/life boundaries is extremely high. Each member of your team is going to have their own unique experience and response to the current state of affairs.
As a leader in your company, people are turning to you for stability, information and comfort. It is important to show your team right now, more than ever, that they are valued and are cared for. A large body of research shows that the most effective way to increase resilience at work is by working with individuals in a 1:1 coaching relationship. This might feel vulnerable and uncomfortable to hold space for your team during a turbulent time, but it helps create a psychological sense of belonging and safety, which will support the team staying connected and focused on their contributions and the bigger vision. For the time being, there are no office hallway runs-ins or water cooler talks, so it is critical that employees are feeling seen, heard and valued. You get to remember that you aren’t their therapist, but you can still hold a curious and compassionate space by practicing mindful communication. It’s important to communicate intentionally so people aren’t experiencing “vulnerability hangovers,” as Brene Brown discusses in her famous TEDX talk on “The Power of Vulnerability.”
During 1:1 conversations, practice mindful communication by being present, listening deeply, staying curious and being compassionate. Research on Mindfulness and Leadership demonstrates a positive link between leaders who embody mindfulness practices and fostering interpersonal skills in the workplace. This may sound simple, but this practice takes a lot of effort and diligence. The information you can gather from your employees, as well as the best ways to support them via mindful communication, is more three-dimensional than anything you can discover in any flat, employee survey.
So, how do you mindfully communicate with your team? I teach my clients the “Four Cs:” Check-in. Be Centered, Be Curious, Be Compassionate.
- Check in with yourself first and ask: How am I currently living in alignment to my own values? How am I currently modeling the company’s values? Our work with others always gets to begin with the “I.” Research conducted by David Creswell demonstrates that connecting to your core values, as a leader, can boost stressed individuals’ problem solving skills. This will support you being an effective leader in turbulent times. You can perform your own values assessment ‘check-in’ by writing down your top values and asking: How am I currently living these values? And What would it look like to be more in alignment with my values at this moment? Understanding how you are being and acting is key to understanding how you are showing up to your employees and leading your team. If you want more support, seek a coach to help you explore these values in a meaningful way.
- Being Centered looks like granting yourself permission to slow down, stop multitasking, and connect to the present moment. When you connect to an employee over the phone or video call, try to resist the urge to check your emails, share your screen or flip through your phone. Connect yourself to the present moment by feeling your body sitting in the chair, your feet on the ground and noticing your breath. When we train ourselves to be more present, we are not only able to bring more focused attention to the activity at hand, but research demonstrates that it improves our well-being and how we manage our own stress. Starting conversations from a centered state fosters authenticity and focus instead of starting your session scattered or reactive.
- While you are centered and listening to your team member, practice being Curious. Maintain a judgement-free space and ditch the need for any agenda besides the scheduled time you have to connect. Harvard Business Review research demonstrates that we are more creative and less reactive or defensive when we are curious. Try asking curious open-ended questions: What is life like for you right now? What’s working well and why? What’s not working well and why? How are you prioritizing your mental well-being these days? How is your family doing? How can I support you? These are examples of simple questions that can make someone feel extremely cared for. During your conversation, notice if your mind wanders to your to-do list or judgments about what they are saying. Acknowledge where your thoughts went, and gently bring your attention back to your center. Sense your body’s posture and attune your attention back to the person you are talking to.
- Finally, embody Compassion with your words to support creating stronger relationships with your employees. In the book “Awakening Compassion at Work,” authors Monica Worline and Jane Dutton discuss the idea of “leading with compassion” as an interpersonal endeavor between a leader and an individual. Compassion can look and sound very different depending on the individuals involved. Using phrases that are kind acknowledgements can go a long way. For instance: “I am sorry to hear you are having a hard time sleeping at night. That must make it really challenging to focus during the work day.” Or “I wanted to let you know you are doing an amazing job at communicating and meeting your project deadlines.” Holding a compassionate space can sometimes require you avoid going into solution mode or needing to share your own similar story. Instead, it is about being kind, encouraging and acknowledging the other person. Many employees have experienced fear and self doubt recently, and feeling acknowledged supports them feeling valued and safe at the workplace.
Finally, it bears mentioning that you can practice these “Four Cs” even if you’re the entry level employee at work. Conscious communication can start anywhere in the org chart. Imagine what our world would look like if we all practiced these “Four Cs!”