Just over 20 years ago, I wrote one of my many papers for my MBA on telecommuting. In it, I outlined my thoughts on how telecommuting would impact organizational leadership based on the world as we knew it then and with an eye towards the future. Given the societal lockdown due to the pandemic, I recently re-read what I wrote in late 1999 and was surprised at how the ideas still hold up as relevant in an era where we now refer to it as working from home, mobile workforce or anything but telecommuting!
The pandemic added social distancing as a new term in our day-to-day vocabulary. While society practiced physical distancing, the greater challenge is maintaining the social proximity we wrote about several months ago. In our ongoing work with corporate leaders, non-profit leaders and business owners, several key points from a 20-year-old paper still resonate.
How to Lead – We define leadership as setting goals and achieving desired results. Situational leadership theory tells us effective leaders adapt their leadership to the commitment and competence of their followers. Moving to a virtual or quasi-virtual environment changed the follower dynamic as they adjusted to the new reality of working away from the traditional office. Both their commitment and competence continue to flex, meaning leaders must also flex to be effective. Situational Leadership theory suggests four leadership styles to align to their followers: Directing, Coaching, Supporting and Delegating. How are you flexing your style to maintain leadership effectiveness?
How to Communicate – Effective Communication occurs when all parties understand the message in the same context. As effective communication is the biggest challenge in business on a good day, we have seen this challenge exponentially increase in the virtual world. Whatever leadership communications were comfortable in the traditional office are now challenged across the board. For example, emotions now play a greater role in understanding the message. Nonverbal communications and awareness play an increased role in understanding the message. Finally, communications are more deliberate and planned to be effective and fully understood. How are you adapting your communications to be understood?
How to Measure Results – An organization does well what the leader measures. This brings us to the end goal and the inspiration for the title quote by John Wooden, legendary UCLA Basketball Coach. Throughout my career as a leader and coach, I witnessed far too many leaders who perceived progress without the facts to support their perceptions. These leaders now struggle in a virtual world because their focus on activity versus results makes it more difficult to paint a realistic picture of progress. They rely on a weak measurement system that may have relied too heavily on MBWA (Management By Walking Around) and not enough on factual measures of progress. Those with strong measurement systems in place are merely flexing their existing data collection rather than creating new, at a time when real time information is needed the most. How is your measurement system validating the organizations desired results?
The pandemic challenged all facets of society to flex and adapt their organizations to operate in new ways. New ways to lead, new ways to communicate and new ways to measure progress. A key question we’ve asked all our clients centers on what new best practices they’ve identified and implemented based on the lessons learned from operating virtually. The new reality is here to stay. So too, should the adaptations needed to continue achieving desired results!
What are your new leadership best practices?