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Remote leadership – Leadership styles and supporting your team

By April 20, 2020 No Comments

If you had to write one word to sum up how you are feeling as a leader right now, what would it be? 

Last week we put this question to a team of managers at the start of a workshop on Remote LeadershipOverwhelmed. Disorientated. Energised. Frustrated. Concerned. Out of control. Ineffective. Proud. As you might expect, the responses were hugely varied. 

Through the conversation that followed, it became clear that most people’s feelings are changing from moment to moment. ‘Up and down’ is a phrase we’re hearing a lot, as every one of us tries to settle into this new reality where the lines of home and work are blurred like never beforeIt seems we are in a heightened sense of emotion and taking time to acknowledge and accept how we are feeling is a critical part of our mental health. 

For those who are people managers, the situation is more complex. Juggling your own needs with those of your team during a crisis of this magnitude is undoubtedly tricky. Our previous posts focused on looking after your own personal effectiveness and well-being before turning attention to your team. The next part of the journey towards being an exceptional leader of a remote team, also starts with a question about ‘self’. 

We recommend a 3-step approach to developing remote leadership capability: 

  1. Reflect on different leadership styles in the context of the changes that have happened.
  2. Think about the benefits and drawbacks of your own leadership style so that you can lead mindfully and authentically. 
  3. Explore how best to lead your team through the current changes and uncertainty.

Leadership styles 

There are many leadership models that we could use to explore their personal leadership style. Today we are going to talk about Daniel Goleman’s leadership styles. The six strengths you see here are based on emotional intelligence competencies as defined by Goleman.  

Those with a coercive style have a primary focus of quick compliance. Their strengths are achievement, initiative and self-control. What team members see: Lots of direction and directives, tight control and tight monitoring, plenty of corrective feedback. When does it work best? In a crisis, soothing fear by giving clear direction. 

Those who show a visionary style have a primary focus of mobilising people towards a long-term direction and vision. Their strengths are self-confidence, empathy and being a catalyst for change. Team members will see a leader who develops and describes a clear long-term direction. They get input on this, but don’t give up control. They sell the vision and explain why it’s important, set standards against the vision and monitor performance. They offer balanced feedback. When does it work best? When clear direction is needed or change requires a new vision; to move people towards shared dreams. 

Those who show a democratic style have a primary focus of building commitment and consensus through participation. Their strengths are collaboration, team leadership and communication. They trust individuals to develop direction for themselves and their teams. They invite people to make their own decisions about their work and reach decisions by agreement and consensus. They are likely to hold lots of meetings and listen a lot to concerns. They reward OK performance; and don’t often give corrective feedback. This style works best when it’s beneficial to get input from valued team members. 

Those exhibiting pacesetting style have a primary focus of setting high standards for performance. Their strengths are conscientiousness, achievement and initiative. Team members will see a leader who leads by example – “I am the expert”. They hold high standards and expect individuals to know the reasoning behind the direction and/or what is being modelled. They find it a challenge to delegate. They take responsibility away in the absence of high performance and may revert to detailed instructions if people experience difficulties with a task. When does this style work best? To get quick results from a highly motivated and competent team. 

Those who favour a coaching style are all about developing people for the future. Their strengths are developing others, empathy and self-awareness. Colleagues will see someone who helps individuals discover their own strengths and development areas based on their personal aspirations. They encourage setting goals for long-term development and provide ongoing input and feedback to facilitate the individual’s development. They are willing to trade immediate standards for long-term development. This approach is effective in connecting what the individual wants with organisational goals and to develop long-term strategies and improve performance. 

Those who adopt an affiliative style create harmony and build bonds with their employees. Their strengths are empathy, relationship building and communication. They build friendly interactions amongst the team and place emphasis on meeting individual emotional needs. They have less focus on tasks, goals and standards and provide lots of positive feedback; often avoiding confrontation. They give rewards for personal characteristics as much as for performance. This can work well to manage a fractured team and when things are stressful and motivation is required. 

Flexing your leadership style 

Take a few moments to consider which of the above is your preferred styleIn ‘normal times’ which traits do you exhibit most frequently? Which style comes most naturally to you? 

Now consider what your team members need from you right now. Most likely you will have direct reports or project team members with very different – and changing – current circumstances and needs. The ability to adapt your leadership style to get the most from your team in the here and now is critical for your collective success.  

What could you stop, start and continue doing as a result of thinking more about your leadership style? 

Supporting your teams in times of change 

What is your own experience of change programmes and initiatives? Thinking of a past experience, what about the way it was managed meant that it was effective or ineffective?  

Under normal circumstances, to drive an effective change, we would have a very well constructed plan with a long-term vision of the future and reasons for the change, as well as a full supporting communications plan and any required training. This is especially true if we are attempting radical change. 

We are currently in a period of radical change, and yet this change feels very different. If managing this change to remote working feels difficult, messy, un-coordinated and stressful at times, it’s because it is. What we need to do as leaders right now is to support people through this period of uncertainty and cope with, or perhaps even making the most of, the way things have become. It’s important to acknowledge this. 

So what can leaders and people managers do to support teams and individuals? Let us take the Kubler-Ross change curve as a framework to think. The framework was originally developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1960s as a model for the grief response and has been widely adapted and used as a model to show the emotional responses that employees may have to organisational change. It’s very relevant to the current situation because there is a degree to which people will be mourning what they have lost, not just about the ways in which they are working, but also their social and family lives.  

Of course, an individual’s journey isn’t the necessarily linear; employees may go back and forth along the curve depending on what’s happening for them personally. This can have a significant impact on performance. 

The following questions may help you apply this model to your team performance. 

  • What might your team members need from you as a leader at the various stages of the change curve? What style would work best? 
  • What have you done so far to support them? 
  • How could you share/use individual team member’s experiences to support others to navigate the change? 

Research by the CIPD resulted in the following best practice tips for transformational change.  

  1. Use narrative, storytelling and conversation to support team members to take tangible positive steps.
  2. Build and maintain trust, for example through honesty, dependability and connection.
  3. Transformational change is made through relationships and social interactions rather than command and control.
  4. Re-think resistance – be understanding and consider alternative opinions as legitimate.
  5. Maintain levels of energy and momentum.

None of this is easy. It’s important to keep the conversation going and ask for help along the wayContinuing to reflect alone, or with the support of a colleague, on your leadership styles and how to help your team through this unprecedented change will deepen your understanding and ability to respond to challenges. By sharing wins and fails with each other, you can challenge and support each other, and share best practice and ideas.