Leaders, What Do Your People Need Right Now?

John R. Stoker is the author of  “Overcoming Fake Talk” and the president of Dialogue WORKS, Inc.  His organization helps clients and their teams improve leadership engagement in order to achieve superior results. He is an expert in the fields of leadership, change, dialogue, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence, and has worked and spoken to such companies as Cox Communications, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, and AbbVie. Connect with him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. 

10 Suggestions for Meeting Your People’s Needs

About a month ago, I was on a flight from Texas to Utah returning from a client training session. I was in a window seat and in a few minutes, a man sat next to me. He wore two protective face masks and a pair of latex gloves. As soon as he sat down, he insisted on providing me with a mask to wear. He next pulled out a canister of disinfecting wipes and wiped down his armrests, tray table, and seat belt buckle; then he asked me to do the same. As our flight continued, it became apparent from our conversation that the whole COVID-19 situation really had him afraid of what the future might hold.

Thinking about my interaction with him made me reflect on what those of us working during this time, especially remotely, might really need. Here is a list of suggestions that will enhance your leadership presence while meeting the needs of those who work for you.

Be empathetic. Ask questions and really listen to what people are feeling and thinking. Be sure to acknowledge their concerns, fears, and feelings. People need to know that you care about them and their welfare. Taking the time to really listen to what they are saying as well as not saying will help you understand them and where they are coming from. If you are sincere, they will feel your genuineness and will be more likely to share with you what you would like to know.

Provide focus and priority. When people are working remotely, they may have more specific questions about what they should do and when. You need to be absolutely clear about what your people need to do and the priority for their tasks. This will eliminate surprises while ensuring that they can be successful in meeting your expected outcomes.

Rally the troops. Clearly share your vision of what you are trying to accomplish and help each individual to see how what they do contributes to that vision. This defined purpose establishes the value of each person’s contribution as well as increasing people’s motivation to continue to work toward achieving the final outcome.

Deliver tough messages. In times of uncertainty, people want information. If you do not deliver the information that people need or want to know, then you provide the opportunity for rumors to begin. When this happens, people spend their time and emotional energy trying to figure out what will happen next and speculate how it will negatively impact them. In other words, in the absence of data, people make it up in the worst possible way. Do not allow this to happen. Spend some time thinking about what folks don’t know or need to know and provide them with ample information. If you can be counted on to deliver your message even if the information might be tough to hear, people will come to recognize you as someone who demonstrates integrity and honesty in how you interact with them.

When people are working remotely, they may have questions about what they should do and when.

JOHN STOKER

Demonstrate resilience and patience

Being the one who is seen striving for forward progress in spite of a challenging or negative situation provides a wonderful example of the importance of persevering with enthusiasm. Your positive attitude will be a source of hope and inspiration to others.

Patience is also important. I recently had a video meeting with a top executive who was interrupted by his three-year-old daughter. He was very frustrated, and yet, all of us working from home expect and understand those types of situations. Everyone has challenges and distractions. Being patient with the challenges of others goes a long way toward increasing understanding and building trust between individuals.

Provide certainty and predictability

Where possible reassure your people that they will have a job going forward. When that is not possible, find ways to continue to communicate the value they bring to the work they do and express appreciation for their contributions. Remember, when things become unpredictable, people’s imaginations can get the best of them. Create certainty and predictability wherever possible.

Be available

Working remotely can be difficult when schedules are not consistent each day. Decide on a means or method for how people might receive the information that they need from you. You might also establish a set time when you will be available daily, when people know that they can reach out and gain approval or answers to their questions. Remember that some people may need approval or to share vital information before they feel like they can move forward and they will not do so without talking with you. If you are not available then the current project may stop or be put on hold until you can be reached. Establish clear guidelines for communicating to avoid unnecessary delays.

Figure out how to connect

When you cannot meet face to face, devise a strategy for connecting with others. This may include a time when you meet one on one with each individual on your team; it may include an established time for holding a team meeting where everyone can catch up with one another and provide updates on their work and project status. The important thing is to find a way to connect regularly so people don’t feel adrift.

Be flexible and adapt

This pandemic has really turned the typical way of doing things on its head. People may come up with different ways of working that are outside of the norm. Some of these discoveries may actually be more effective and efficient than how work has been undertaken in the past. Don’t be afraid to adapt and make changes to previous processes. Additionally, differing family demands, physical resources, and varying schedules may make regular work hours difficult or next to impossible. Even at this moment, I have two sons doing online customer service work via telephone that I can hear speaking through the walls. Finding a different time for me to write and think is now a necessity!

Celebrate

Create opportunities to celebrate your team’s successes. Everyone needs to be acknowledged and appreciated for the efforts they are making. Finding time to visit and express appreciation to one another will build team unity, lift morale, and add to your remote workplace culture.

As I took a moment to think through what people might need, particularly those working remotely, I realized that the aforementioned ideas are also applicable for leaders working face to face with their team members. Taking a moment to identify individual and group needs and then deliberately making the effort to address those needs will greatly enhance your leadership and the effectiveness of your team.

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