5 bad habits to avoid when leading remotely

In a crisis, it can be hard to recognise when you've taken your eye off the ball.

by Talita Ferreira
Last Updated: 01 Jun 2020

When under great pressure or adapting to a new working environment, it’s not surprising that you're going to make some mistakes.

Ultimately these mistakes will present an opportunity to learn, but only if you know how to spot them - and in the midst of a crisis, that’s easier said than done.

So to help you out, here are five bad leadership habits to watch out for.

1. Forgetting to manage ourselves

The aeroplane safety brief tells you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, and for good reason.

Identify and acknowledge where you are and what you are feeling. Is it frustration, fear or anxiety from crisis planning or analysing the prognosis for the business? Accept this without judgement. Set an intention to move to a more positive place and exercise choice in doing so.

Think about what you would rather be thinking and feeling, open up your mind to the possibility that this could be an opportunity and explore what positive alternatives could emerge.

We will need to bounce back as individuals, organisations and teams. By focusing on ourselves first, we will be in a better position to assist our teams.

2. Thinking you don't have any time for bonding the team and small talk

It’s so easy to get stuck in the doing mode, focus solely on all those critical things that need attention.

But it is just as critical to focus on leading and motivating the team virtually. Individual team members need to feel that they have a voice  and that they are being heard and considered.

Try to consider what each person in the team might be feeling and spend a moment in their shoes. Which fears might they have about the future? What difficulties are they facing at home?

By sharing your vulnerabilities as a leader, you can create psychological safety for the team and unlock a new level of connection and sharing.

Set aside time for virtual team engagement activities. These go beyond the lunch or coffee interactions where non-work related topics are discussed virtually.

The conversations must focus on how the team dynamics are developing. For instance, are more siloed behaviours starting to emerge or are old blaming practices the norm? Spend time on the behaviours you would like to see – empathy for others, support and prioritisation, even go as far as defining new rules of virtual engagement for the team.

Ask powerful questions and engage everyone in the answers, drawing out the more quiet voices.

3. Expecting that we should have all the answers

Often we want to have all the answers before we engage and communicate. It stems from the stereotypical - and incorrect - view that managers have to be infallible. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know" when communicating, especially when leading amid such uncertainty. 

Consider sharing possible outcomes. Focus on facts and certainty and also openly share what you don't know. Be as transparent as possible. The grapevine always has information before official communication channels are engaged. Nothing is more disturbing than knowing something is going on but that leaders are not sharing. At least provide a date for the next update when you are unable to communicate.

A car park can be a handy analogy for handling uncertain topics. Make a list of the items with too many variable outcomes, and 'park' them to a date in the future. Too much speculation leads to fear and a lack of trust.

Sometimes it is best to caveat issues with "this is my personal opinion" and perhaps "not for further discussion". Trusting our teams in these circumstances is crucial. Always communicate with empathy, consider how other individuals might be feeling and stay true to yourself.

4. Suffering from too much negativity

Sometimes it takes more effort to focus on positive outcomes, and we easily slip into negativity. As leaders, our attitudes can be contagious for others, and how we show up really impacts our teams.

When we repeatedly talk about negative situations, we can feed a dark mood. We can solve this by being more intentional with our energy, noticing as soon as this happens and actively choosing something different. Instead, think about a beautiful life moment and activate all the related emotions.

We all know people who sap our energy. Instead try to surround yourself with energy angels. Seek them out for a virtual coffee or a catch-up and spend time on affirming positive vibes. Focus on how you’re feeling and the mood you’re projecting to your team. 

5. Forgetting to say thank you

Neuroscience points to appreciation as a critical motivator across generational boundaries. When considering the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) statistic that the number one reason for a person leaving a job is their manager, this all starts to make sense. Appreciation and the strength of individual relationships lead to more engaged teams and ultimately organisational success.

Spend time evaluating how you appreciate your people. How do you thank them? Do you use generic phrases (e.g. 'well done'), or do you thank them for their positive attributes and character? Do you do it in front of the team or one to one?

Finding out what motivates each individual team member is a great place to start. Comments like 'thank you for showing up and supporting me today' might be preferred to generic praise. Get to know your team better and understand what will bring out the best in them.

Talita Ferreira is founder and CEO of Authentic Change Solutions. This piece was first publish by our sister title C&IT.


Image credit: Stuart Mackenzie (disco~stu) via Getty Images

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