Becoming A Great Virtual Leader Part 1

It was St. Patrick’s Day earlier this week and I had to forgo my annual celebration. I was thinking that all those centuries ago, St. Patrick was clearly a leader of his time. But he definitely didn’t have to deal with communicating via Zoom, Skype, Webex and conference calls. The last week or so has been something else! Most of us have never experienced anything like it and whether or not you deal with stress calmly and effortlessly, you may be feeling a bit more rattled than normal with the events going on all around you. There’s the personal stress – for me it was trying to decide if I should go ahead with my scheduled trip to Ireland to see my elderly mother – or the collective stress as you listen to the ongoing news feed or witness the block long queues around Trader Joe’s as you find yourself genuinely (no really) out of toilet paper.

If you are used to leading a virtual team, you will have developed a style and a rhythm to your delivery and how you lead. Many others aren’t used to communicating regularly via a digital device and are flummoxed by it. One of my clients, faced with speaking to his division of 500 on Zoom for the first time the other day, had a strong desire to have all the answers and be able to answer their numerous questions. The experience left him feeling inadequate and as if he had failed. What he did was focus on the facts, the business impact – the commercial position his company finds itself in. While we both knew that was very important, there was something missing. Working through it during our coaching session later in the day, he realized that everyone needs time to process what’s going on emotionally before they can deal with some of the other impacts – the length of time differs from person to person.

It’s the leader’s responsibility to open the space for this. Asking how the team members feel emotionally but also physically is so important. Like many of the people on that Zoom call, I have been feeling the strain emotionally and physically – tightness in my chest and a feeling of physical unease. I discovered on another call with some small business owners like myself a few days ago that expressing our feelings is a great way to help decompress. And let’s not forget laughter and humour. Was I accomplishing anything by sharing all those hilarious videos about toilet paper from Australia and the impact of the pubs closing in my native Ireland? Not from a productivity point of view but every time I shared one, I laughed again and each time felt a little better. Even if you don’t find these techniques helpful, many of the people on your team will or they’ll have another method that others might find beneficial – give them the space and time to share. You’ll come across as more human, relatable and yes, empathetic.

Forget about the technical challenges; don’t worry about your ability to manage break out rooms on Zoom or how impressive you are coming across; focus, just for now, on sharing your own feelings, being as vulnerable as possible, and giving your team the ability to talk about how this is impacting them and how they are coping. It looks like there will be lots of time for us to talk about the business implications of this but for now – be patient, available and above all else human. If you need a good Irish joke or one of those hilarious videos, give me a shout.

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