Recently, we launched a podcast episode on Vigilant Leadership, which is our term for the art of leading from afar. In short, we have found that leaders who give their teams some space and autonomy to do things their own way end up with higher performers and better results than those that micromanage. The Vigilant Leader is keeping careful watch over progress and results, but not involved and hands-on at every turn. We are passionate about this topic quite simply because we have seen it in action and done it in practice ourselves with successful results. In the podcast episode, we educate on the leadership best practices through the lens of a hands-off, back seat approach that - when done right - leads to an entirely new level of success in a leader’s role. (Ep. 16: Vigilant Leadership: The Art of Leading from Afar.)
In this article, we will focus on what it takes to be a Vigilant Leader during COVID, where, without a “back to work” plan, you must adjust your style and still be effective when you aren’t in the same place each day, or even connecting each day with your team. It is a tough world out there right now. And we would be lying if we said we don’t see lots of companies doing the wrong thing - trying to chain their employees to at-home desks, guilt associated with needing them to work more hours and feeling “lucky” to have a job, putting pressure on people to just “do more” so the company can survive, and meanwhile people are trying to do what they can each day just to get by for a whole host of reasons. Don’t be one of those companies, or one of those bosses. Now, more than ever, the best bosses are exercising their Vigilant Leadership and becoming more empathetic and human to what their people are going through.
Follow the four steps below to cultivate Vigilant Leadership, and become a more empathetic leader, even if it doesn’t come natural to you.
Create Foundational Operating Principles for Success. A strong, Vigilant Leader does this automatically with a team. But when COVID hit, we were all off-kilter and just making it through each day. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones that has found a way to succeed in the midst of the chaos. But we have seen too many people just muddling through, and therefore are calling for a RESET BUTTON. Specifically, this means:
Step 1: Take Inventory. Take a BIG step back and an honest look at how things have gone during COVID. We are a year in at this point to working remotely. What has worked? What hasn’t? What do you want to change right now? What would you change if you were to operate like this permanently?
Step 2: Get Feedback from your Team. You might think it is going great while they do not, or vice versa. Leadership of any kind is about the dialogue. Good leaders value the back and forth, and the input from their team. So ask. You may or may not be surprised by what you hear, but it will signal that something new is in the works and get people engaged, or re-engaged as it may be.
Step 3: Talk to your Peer Managers. What are others seeing or experiencing on their teams? And this might be within the same organization or not. Everyone is in a similar boat no matter their industry, and good ideas can come from anywhere. Explore.
Step 4: Do Some Research on the Best of the Best. There are organizations out there thriving in this environment. Really embracing the idea of everyone working remotely for good, some from progressive companies you would expect, (Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Basecamp and others), some more conservative that you wouldn’t think of right away, (Nationwide, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Siemens and others). With the depth and breadth of companies across the board taking a stab at this new world, it is easy to find like-minded folks to identify and learn from.
Step 5: Develop a Plan and Implement. Taking all inputs into account, create a plan, put it into action, test and learn and revise. Repeat!
Allow Space for the Entire Team to Grow. As you hear in our podcast episode, there is no one size fits all approach to Vigilant Leadership. In fact, this is the opposite way of thinking, with more of a “set it and forget it” feel. When asking your employees for input, use the consistent messages of feedback to build a better practice. But listen to the nuances by person to establish what works for each of your employees. And do this all the way - from how they best like to hear feedback, to what type of technology they prefer (even if it is a phone), to how they like to work and how they are now structuring their days. Is Bobby a morning person that likes to get going after he drops the kids to the nanny at 7:45? Great, call him on the ride back to optimize his time. Decide the cadence of the check-ins and get them on the calendar. Does Monica like to run over lunch and then feels recharged around 1 PM in the afternoon? Okay, her check-ins go in this slot, again as often or not as you choose. And she prefers video? Looks like you are Zooming. You get the idea. People are not robots. And human connection is suffering right now. LISTEN. And connect the way that works best and is most meaningful to each of them.
Develop the Ability to Let Things Go. Hopefully before all of this happened you had a strong team of people you trust where the trust flows both ways. If not, it might be time to take a deeper look at the team in total and perhaps replace some weak links. But assuming you were a trusting team and your key players felt like you had their back, now more than ever is the time that that trust is tested. Because you can’t SEE what they are doing each day, it can be really hard to trust that everyone is doing what they should be doing. But there is no faster way to erode trust than to start trying to keep people under your thumb. Daily check-ins, emails of what you accomplished each day, call log tracking - anything “micromanage-y” that you didn’t do before and now implement will kill momentum and rapport within the team. So - trust until you see something going wrong. Address it immediately, give the person a shot to fix it, and if it becomes ongoing then you are at the point of the bigger conversation about performance. Are there some people that will take advantage in times like this? Sure. We would argue they were bad eggs to begin with. But regardless, what we see overwhelmingly on the other side are people working hard and even working longer days without a commute, having to get ready for work, etc. Let your people do their thing and you will be happy with the results they bring you. And this is a big one in the empathy points column. Be there in the right way for your team, leave them be otherwise.
Self-Awareness is the Key. Mental health is suffering, people feel alone, and the screen cannot compensate for real, in-person human interaction. Some parents have kids home all day. Some are dealing with a spouse that lost their job. The ability to do the things we love is limited, as is seeing the people we love. There is no doubt about it, it is a hard time for everyone. Take care of your people. Take care of yourself and lead by example. Embrace a nice day and take a long lunch to eat in the park with your family. Give your team the same leverage. We all feel so confined right now - any place you can add freedom is a win in the goodwill column with your employees. Start conversations asking how they are doing. What they are doing to stay sane/be happy/manage the world. Listen. Be there for them. Ask them for feedback on you, be self-aware, make improvements and changes as needed, but always through the lens of caring for your team.
Take the time to be the very best Vigilant Leader you can be right now, and it will be all the more easy when we settle into whatever the “new normal” looks like. Because the good news is that Vigilant Leadership transcends COVID and sets the right path toward success for leaders across the board.
Still having time leaning into Vigilant Leadership during this trying time? Give us a call. You won’t be the first, but we promise you will leave us with a lasting ability to be the very best leader you can be.
Anne Candido and April Martini are the Co-Founders of Forthright People, an On-Demand Marketing Agency focused on helping businesses quickly capture the hearts of their customers without breaking the bank. They believe in “real-time brand-building”, which delivers strategically-informed execution, creating immediate business impact while also developing equity for systemic growth. And since their team consists of an extended network of talented freelancers and boutique agencies, they do not require hefty retainers and contracts to do it. Contact them via email: Anne@Forthright-People.com and April@Forthright-People.com.
Check out our podcast! Marketing Smarts. From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so that you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. They deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from their combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. They tell it how it is so that whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.