What is this article about?
Adaptive leadership allows you to move from the balcony onto the dancefloor and back. Home-office makes it harder: invest in building high-quality relationships, keep an eye on the big picture and step out of your comfort zone when needed
-reading time: 4 minutes- / -audience: Leaders, HR-
Inspired by Leadership in a (permanent) crisis by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky (2009) and a Master course by Irwin Turbitt at the University of Oxford (2019)
Let’s get a coffee and catch up
Leadership today faces the challenge of increasing market turbulence, while dealing with a multifold of stakeholder interests, and learning new skills and competencies to support the organisation and its people. Concerning the latter, much is related to home-office leadership now that people mostly work from home.
Stress levels are on the rise for many of us due to uncertainty, a skewed work/life balance, underutilisation and unproductivity on the one hand, and too high workloads, on the other hand, adverse home office conditions, and many more factors.
As a result, your team members may not be as engaged and committed as before, which reduces their levels of ownership and responsibility, and eventually performance and satisfaction.
Before this massive shift to working from home, the hurdles to check in with your team members’ motivation levels, when performance was slipping and complaints went up, were lower than they are now; you could catch up at the coffee machine, step into someone’s office, have lunch together and discuss the state of mind, in order to tweak team performance and intervene immediately.
As your adaptive leadership style allowed for, it used to be easier to step on the balcony and observe the big picture of your team members’ moods and behaviours in for example team meetings; and at the same time walk down onto the dancefloor, meet up for lunch or have a coffee, and get a feeling of your individual team member’s spirit and motivation, but also doubts and concerns.
AVOID MONITORING, FOCUS ON FACILITATION
So how do you engage your team, raise commitment, and foster ownership and responsibility when you can only approach your team members via voice and video calls? How do you move down onto the dancefloor and check in with your team members to check their state of mind when performance is lagging?
Is Employee Monitoring Software the answer? Apart from its terrible connotation, I wonder how your team members feel when you base your leadership interventions on screen time data, screenshots of your team members’ laptops, video call recordings, keystroke analysis, and so on.
However, when you refrain from a suspicious micromanaging approach, you may use certain data as a trigger to spend more time on the dancefloor addressing your team member’s concerns, obstructions and distractions, and then facilitate and support.
SUSTAIN TRUST, MAINTAIN OPENNESS & DEMONSTRATE CARE
I checked in with people around me to ask them how team member performance and job/life satisfaction is achieved when you only connect via video/audio calls. The input and response that I received from coaching sessions and asking around within my network is mainly centred around getting on the dancefloor more frequently by:
- Sustaining – and when needed, building – trust
- Maintaining an open and informal dialogue
- And demonstrating personal care about and attention for the team members’ and their families’ interests and wellbeing
“Oh do you cycle? What kind of bike is that?”
All coaching clients and business partners in my video calls, who see my race bike standing behind me. It breaks the ice, we talk about hobbies first and have a more personal interaction.
For example, a Danish Vice President has started to make space in his weekly calendar for informal 1-on-1 calls with his team members as he realised the personal attention from his new boss motivated him and made him feel ‘seen’. Informal interaction is not part of his usual repertoire, which meant for him to get out of his comfort zone and actively engage with his new interaction activity. To break the ice with his team and emphasis on the authentic attention, he sent a plant to his team members’ homes accompanied by a personal note. This was the lead-in to chat on a more personal level. Also, he decided to sent birthday cards to his team members himself, instead of letting HR send the cards when a birthday pops up in the HR systems.
Another example: a Swiss General Director has weekly video calls with his team, which have a strong informal and open character. Work issues are of secondary importance and reserved to other moments. He intends to be constantly in the know of the personal circumstances and concerns of his team members, by creating a psychologically safe team climate that stimulates voice behaviour. The informal and safe character of the video calls have resulted in team members bringing up solutions themselves and taking ownership of addressing changes in their personal circumstances.
A third example: a Dutch CEO and CFO made a surprise visit to their team member’s homes on the Saturday before Easter and personally handed over luxurious lunch boxes for the families. According to the CFO, the team members were deeply touched by the visit and shared pictures of the family Easter lunch within the team. The CEO and CFO saw the home office situation of the team members and received a better understanding of the personal conditions and restrictions. This humble leadership approach improved the overall team spirit.
TAKE-AWAYS & LEADERSHIP RECOMMENDATIONS
My take-aways and recommendations are that leaders move continuously between the balcony and dancefloor by:
- Focusing on the authentic self and remain humble as the position in the hierarchy does not make someone less or more human
- Creating a psychologically safe team climate, in which there is space to speak up, share concerns and discuss tough topics, reducing any perception of fear, but still allows for challenging and stretching
- Actively engaging with your team members’ work context, such as the home office conditions and restrictions of your team members, to facilitate better circumstances in a joint effort with the team members; however, avoid the temptation to solve team members’ problems for them and instead engage them in taking responsibility for improving their situation
- Stimulating frequent personal and informal interaction within the team, either collectively or one-to-one to get to know each other’s context better, guided by the individual comfort levels in terms of privacy
- Only using employee monitoring software analytics when you can support your team member in simultaneously raising performance and job/life satisfaction, through facilitating increased engagement, commitment and ownership; however, recognise the potential seductions of work avoidance and other displacement activity (e.g. dependency, projection, fight/flight), and relentlessly bring the focus back on to the primary task
If the dancefloor is your leadership comfort zone, do not hesitate to retreat to the balcony and observe the rhythm of the dancefloor; get the big picture of who is feeling comfortable, who is silent and withdrawn, who is distracted, who is focused and performing.
If the balcony is your leadership comfort zone, invest time and energy in high-quality individual relationships to find out what your team member needs from you and the organisation, to be engaged and committed.