Virtual leadership skills you need to manage disrupted teams

This blog was written on April 24 of this year by Joe Hart, the president and CEO of Dale Carnegie & Associates. I thought it was especially relevant in the crazy world we are living in today. — Terry Siebert

The situation we’re dealing with as leaders and as individuals is unprecedented. We’re leading teams that are disrupted by distance and the uncertainty of living through a public health crisis. Fortunately, the skills needed to manage disrupted teams have not changed, even if the environment is different. There are many ways to lead with a clear purpose and to create psychological safety within a culture so that your team feels safe to take risks. Those skills become especially useful when managing a disrupted team during a crisis.

Start by focusing on what’s working

I start my remote meetings with teams or team members by asking, “What is going well? What are some things you are seeing in the business that are going well?” Especially in a group setting, hearing one person volunteer a positive example encourages others to sharing additional ideas that keeps the momentum going. Starting on positive progress shapes the mood, energy, and focus of your team for the day. That’s not to say you don’t discuss the areas that need improvement — you do. It just means you start by focusing on where are things going right. People need hope, and where there’s hope, it’s easier to tackle and improve the areas that might be going wrong.

Ask the right questions

In addition to focusing on what’s working, you need to address what might not be functioning at its highest capacity. Find ways to ask questions that lead to constructive answers. Something as simple as asking, “In what ways can we do this?” rather than, “Can we do this?” The answer to, “Can we?” might be no. The answer to, “In what ways can we do this?” can help to spark a constructive conversation. By focusing on creativity and positive thinking, it shapes the way your entire team addresses challenges and problems, even when everyone is working remotely.

Focus on priorities

When teams are disrupted, whether by distance or in more serious cases by sickness or being otherwise unable to work due to our current situation, it’s definitely a challenge. When team members are unable to work, it puts more pressure on the other team members. That’s just a hard reality. All we can do as leaders is make sure we’re focusing on the most important things that need to get done. What can we take off of our people’s plates; what can we tell them not to do? If you aim for ruthless prioritization, you’re focused on what your team has to do right now, and that will help you determine what you are going to stop doing and what individuals will focus on instead.

Understand where people are

Make sure to have conversations with people to understand where they are, and that doesn’t mean where they are in their homes to make sure they can get their work done. It means knowing where they are mentally and emotionally. How are they doing? As part of that, you can encourage your team members to do something for themselves outside of work. Ask one thing they did for themselves yesterday, or what’s one thing they can do today that will make them feel energized. One of the challenges of working remotely is that it can become all consuming, causing people to burn out. As leaders, our job is to focus on results, but it’s also about caring for our people. You can’t do one without the other, otherwise your team may achieve the results but be exhausted OR not achieve the necessary results but be content.

Leadership involves bringing out the best in people to achieve powerful results. While these times are challenging, our opportunity as leaders now is to show agility, focus, and caring. If we do that, we will weather this storm and be better for it.

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