Effective lockdown leadership requires new thinking and new approaches, says author and leadership coach.
The year when the world of work was flipped upside down, 2020. There had been trends that we’d all seen coming in our VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) scenario planning—for example Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, digital disruption—but almost no one foresaw the possibility of offices across the world being shut down and people being forced to work from home.
At first it seemed a bit of a novelty. People either viewed it like a holiday and the chance to spend time with their families, or they were working non-stop trying to keep their businesses going. Then it became clear that both scenarios were not sustainable and some form of remote home working was with us for the long term. Many leaders then realised that they couldn’t just transfer their office-based leadership style into home-based video leading. The tools and processes that they’d developed simply weren’t effective. They needed a new playbook.
In my work with leaders and businesses, I saw that many were poor at making the transition. The biggest problem was that they made too many assumptions. They assumed that it was possible to lift and shift all aspects of office-based work to the home. They assumed that all people were equally equipped, both physically and mentally, to work from home. And they assumed that it would be temporary. All three assumptions were incorrect.
I’ve spent a great deal of time in the offices of many different companies across the world. And it is striking just how similar they all are. I wonder whether the office has evolved to be the perfect place to do business or whether work has evolved to make effective use of the space. Just think about many aspects of the office: water-cooler moments, hanging around printers, drop-by meetings, managing by walking around, eating lunch together.
These social moments were hugely important aspects of office life regardless of the nature of the work. And then there were the downsides: presenteeism, long commutes, a meetings culture, hierarchies, and status. And in the new hybrid model, new challenges have emerged. The blur between work and family has never been less clear, mental health, maintaining creativity and collaboration, and breaking down silos—these are all hugely demanding issues that need to be rethought in the new hybrid model.
The starting point for my book, Leading from Home, was with the leaders themselves. I believe that you can’t lead others unless you can first lead yourself. As they say during airline safety briefings, fit your own oxygen mask first before helping anyone else. Working from home is a huge imposition. Many obviously share their homes with family members. There may be elderly parents, young children, or school-age children. Leaders may even have a partner who is also in a senior leadership position. And then there may be family pets. All these other household members combine to create a demanding rhythm of their own and all need attention at some point. Who is to say, at any one point, which is the most important? Does home schooling take precedence over a team meeting or does a dog-walk have to wait until after a certain call? The point is that every household is different and there is no one right answer.
The personal behavior of the leader sets the tone for the rest of the organisation. If they take time out at regular intervals to leave their home desk and take a walk, then they effectively give permission for others. If they schedule time to have lunch with their family, then their teams will follow suit. If they aim to make proper distinctions between being at home and working from home, then others will find it easier. Conversely, if they do none of those things then their teams will also feel obliged to stick to their home screens all day.
To be effective at leading from home means dialing up empathy: thinking and listening hard to properly understand the pressures that many are under. Now is not the time for directive, command-and-control leadership. A coaching mindset and consistent communication are what’s needed. But it all starts with self-management and in not making assumptions.
Tim Johns is a leadership coach, communications consultant and author. His book, Leading from Home, published earlier this year, explores the refreshed behaviors and attitudes that leaders need to be effective in the new hybrid model.
The first 25 years of Tim’s business career was spent in senior communications roles at major UK-based companies, including Sainsbury’s, British Telecom, and the global FMCG giant Unilever. Tim then started his own coaching and communications outfit, Orato Consulting, and built up a practice working with leaders and organisations in the UK, US and Middle East.
Leading from Home is available from Amazon: https://amzn.to/35GnX7c
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