Articles

What We Have Learnt From Leading Remotely With Legitimacy Workshops

June 25, 2021 - By Stefaan van den Heever, Associate, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration; Professional Certified Coach (International Coach Federation)

Our lives have changed significantly over the last year, both personally and professionally. Organisations have had to navigate crises and uncertainty on a scale rarely seen before – without a template to follow. Some organisations have adapted and emerged stronger; others are struggling and are disappearing.

As I’ve engaged with clients and organisations, it has become clear that people’s health – particularly mental health – has been impacted negatively. The need for leadership is stronger now than ever. In a time when people work from home with greater flexibility, there is more need for values-driven leadership, in which leaders engage with integrity, generosity and courage.

The principles of leadership stay the same whether you are co-located or remote, but this remote world has certainly raised the bar for leaders to step up and to demonstrate their intent. I believe there is a huge opportunity for managers to engage as leaders, and for them to touch the lives of the people in their charge. Having facilitated a number of Legitimate Leadership’s Leading Remotely with Legitimacy workshops over the past year, which aim to enable leaders to lead effectively in this new reality, I have some insights to share:

  • It is clear that most people in organisations want to continue working remotely or working with flexibility in the future. Most people are saying that they enjoy the freedom and the flexibility that comes with this new way of working.
  • The pandemic has amplified people’s perception of managers. For example, if the manager was perceived as “good” before the pandemic, then their people are now holding him/her even more in esteem. And vice versa – if the manager was perceived as “poor”, this is also now amplified.
  • A positive which has come from this is that many managers are saying they are now forced to trust their people! There is also, of course, the opposite: some managers are now even more focused on controlling their people and putting in unnecessary controls.
  • Busyness has increased, with more meetings and more demands on people’s time. There has been a blurring of boundaries – unless teams explicitly define their standards for remote working.
  • The issue of empowerment has become a critical element in this new environment. If managers don’t do this incrementally and with the correct steps, empowerment often fails and even backfires, resulting in managers just instituting even more controls.
  • Mental health issues have increased and people are having to navigate extra pressure and stress and, for some, more isolation and loneliness.
  • People are asking and saying they want more contact and connection with their managers. The “out of site, out of mind” saying is very relevant in most organisations when it comes to time spent between managers and direct reports.
  • Managers are often not clear on what the value-added contribution of their people should be. The result is that their people are also not clear. This has become more evident.
  • This also leads to a lack of accountability. Managers often respond by either doing it themselves, giving the work to the high-performers and sidelining the under-performers, or putting in more controls, which is disabling for people.

So what is Legitimate Leadership’s view on all this? As mentioned, we believe that effective and legitimate leadership is needed more than ever in organisations. You as a leader can gain legitimacy by doing the following:

  • Building trust with your people. You can earn trust by demonstrating your intent; that your intent is for your people, that you are there to give to them and that you are making them the focus. You can demonstrate your intent by focusing less on results and more on enabling excellence in your people so they can achieve excellent results.

There are also other ways to earn and demonstrate legitimacy remotely:

  • Stay connected with your people, by getting to know them as human beings, not just as human resources. Prioritise time to spend with your people individually and with the team as a whole.
  • Communicate honestly and give regular feedback about their own performance and the organisation’s performance. This is critical in this remote working world where people can feel left out.
  • Be supportive when it comes to people’s personal circumstances and concerns, but also practice ‘tough love’, by challenging people to take ownership for their circumstances.
  • Clarify and create enabling standards for remote working. Look at your values and create standards based on your values for how you will engage as a team, with stakeholders and customers. For example, if Respect is a value, then surely that must dictate how you will communicate with each other and at what times of the day you will not communicate.
  • Enable your team’s productivity by clarifying for them what it means to make a value-added contribution. Use the results as the context for excellence, but hold people accountable for what sits in their hands; their contribution to the results.
  • Lastly, hold people accountable for making a value-added contribution. The more you let go of control and the more freedom increases, the more accountability needs to increase as well.
Stefaan van den Heever
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