What is the leadership challenge when the team you lead are all at home?

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Simon Bird

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What is the leadership challenge when the team you lead are all at home?

The Covid-19 climate is one in which leaders in different contexts face diverse demands. Many clinical leaders are working in front-line roles – and drawing on every ounce of their experience, skills and education to deliver the best they can to each patient they treat.

Yet other leaders find themselves overnight required to lead a team that is entirely home-based. On the surface, this might seem like it can’t be that difficult or different. But that would be a mistake.

As an article in the Harvard Business Review (March 2020) points out, “There are more than 10,000 books in the English language on Amazon on virtuality and how to lead remotely or at a distance. Why is that?” The reason of course is that it’s very difficult – so what are the most important things to pay attention to from a leadership perspective? I’ve built on a couple of the key ideas offered, with some practical actions for leaders to do now…

Clarity – when people are at home, or away from a conventional work environment, they need clarity from you as the leader more than ever. Specifically, they want clarity around their roles and goals. Has anything changed? What do you need from them, by when? They also need clarity around boundaries and controls – so how far can they go? Who signs off on things?

Think through each person in your team – have you had a conversation to confirm or reconfirm these things with them?

Communication – people can quickly feel cut off from the resources, information or relationships they need to do their jobs well. You’ll probably need to communicate (even) more than you think – especially if the team in question is new – or been put together for a very specific and short/medium term purpose e.g. supporting a Covid-19 activity stream.

Your team also needs to hear from you to maintain their trust in leadership. Keep the lines of communication open, honest and broad. Send emails or post videos about your reasoning, intentions and expectations. Make it easy for your team to know your thoughts and contribute their own.

Individualisation – it’s a given that good leaders know their individual team members separately. They know how to get the best out of them as individuals, how much clarity they need, how confident they feel and their strengths. When the team is remote, and operating via Zoom and email, leaders will need to consciously think even more about the individual needs of their people. Leaders have to work even harder here – as they have generally lost all the body language cues they normally have – and are restricted to a head shot if they’re lucky.

Make sure you ask each team member to describe the conditions under which they perform best, any concerns about their workflow and their emotional/practical response to the new way of working – and the bigger Covid-19 picture

[Originally written in April 2020 for The South East COVID-19 Health and Wellbeing Team, South East Workforce – NHS Improvement / NHS England]

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