When you aren’t accustomed to working remotely, it can be hard to adjust psychologically. To make the transition, take a disciplined approach to managing your day and develop a few rituals. Schedule a start and an end time for work. Take a shower, get dressed — even if it’s not your usual office attire — then get started on the day’s activities. If you typically move around a lot at work, build that into your day by taking brief walks outside or even around the house. If you’re an extrovert and accustomed to a lot of social contact, make sure that still happens. Ask yourself: “How will I protect myself from feeling lonely or isolated?” and make a plan. And focus on the positives. Think about what you enjoy about working from home, for example, playing music or being more flexible with your time. Remind yourself that even if it’s not your choice right now, working from home can be fun.
Do you often feel guilty or frustrated at the end of your work day for not getting as much done as you had hoped? You’re not alone! But these emotions are neither useful, nor healthy. What can you do about them? Practice self-compassion. Recognize negative ruminations for what they are: a story you’re telling yourself. Instead of beating yourself up, you might think: “I did my best today and I hope to get more done tomorrow. My colleagues probably understand because they’re busy, too.” It’s also helpful to think about the factors that keep you from accomplishing items on your list, and to recognize that oftentimes, circumstances can’t be helped. Getting pragmatic about your to-do list is also important. Be realistic about what you can reasonably accomplish over the course of your day. Try making peace with the notion that you’ll never be caught up, and you’ll always have things that you really wish you’d gotten to. If you can accept the constant state of non-completion, the guilt will hopefully fade.
In a fast-moving crisis, it’s important for leaders to communicate with empathy and honesty — not just internally, but externally as well. Of course, customers require a different approach than employees. Make sure you focus on what is important to them. For example, with the current coronavirus crisis, Target’s CEO recently sent out a note to customers describing enhanced in-store cleaning procedures and additional staffing for order pickup and drive-up services. If possible, provide customers relief during a crisis by waiving fees or limits. This not only reassures current customers but can bring new ones on board. Most importantly, focus on empathy rather than trying to create sales opportunities. Companies should rethink advertising and promotion strategies to be more in line with what’s happening in the world. Otherwise you risk sounding tone-deaf and alienating your customers. Look at your messaging from the perspective of your audience, and let your compassion drive your communications, rather than fear of doing the wrong thing.
Whether you’re in an office or working remotely, instant messaging tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom can be invaluable. There’s just one problem: We’re still figuring out how to properly, and professionally, communicate via IM. These platforms can be distracting, and they can inadvertently reinforce communication silos when teams accustomed to one platform don’t connect with others who use a different one. So pick a platform, clearly define expectations and reiterate them over time. Respect work-life balance by creating norms around appropriate response times. Encourage people to sign off IM tools and to respect others’ out-of-office status messages. Explain that requests should come with information about when answers are needed, and that most conversations should happen during the workday and be kept short and to the point. And don’t let text entirely replace other forms of interaction. Even if you can’t be in the office together, you can encourage people to pick up the phone or turn on video conferencing to connect with one another.
Cyber criminals love a crisis. With many more people working remotely, they are undoubtedly poised to capitalize on security flaws, but there are several things you can do to protect yourself and your company. Be on the lookout for phishing emails designed to entice you to click on the latest and greatest offer related to coronavirus protections, or with urgent instructions from your boss. Their intent is to get you to unwittingly download malware onto your device and the company’s systems. Make sure your devices are up to date on their anti-virus protection. Use multi-factor authentication on any accounts for which it is available. Avoid the temptation of using Bluetooth in a public place — it is an easy way for hackers to connect to your device. Only work on secure, password-protected internet connections. If you have to use public WiFi, be sure to verify with the owner that the network to which you’re connecting is legitimate and secured through a password. Avoid accessing any confidential or sensitive information from a public WiFi network. And be sure to report any lost or stolen device immediately to minimize the risk of fraud.
In the age of Covid-19 and “social distancing,” many of us are renegotiating our daily interactions with other people. In a professional context, that might mean foregoing a hand shake. How do you navigate this potentially awkward situation? First, accept that it’s going to be uncomfortable. You may worry that you’re making a bad impression or sending an unfriendly message. Decide ahead of time what you’re comfortable doing, so you don’t end up following the other person’s lead. You might try giving a quick wave before returning your hand to your pocket or simply putting your hand on your chest, and then saying something like, “I guess we’re not supposed to shake hands now.” Using humor — as long as it isn’t at anyone’s expense — can help defuse any tension. And avoid judging anyone for their choices about what they feel comfortable with. Do what you feel comfortable doing, and assume others will understand.
Every team experiences setbacks — the customer you didn’t land, the client meeting that didn’t go well. And because of our natural negativity bias, these disappointments can often overshadow what is going well. Well, the good news is that bad news doesn’t have to drag you all down. You can adopt what the leadership scholar John Gardner called “tough-minded optimism” and exhibit excitement, enthusiasm, and grit. Go out of your way to remind colleagues of the progress they’re making. Celebrate small wins frequently and memorably. (There’s a reason so many startups ring a bell or bang a gong every time they land a new customer.) Organize a Friday celebration to revel in the week’s good news. Make it a point to emphasize — even overemphasize — good news in order to lessen the impact of the bad. While keeping your team excited and focused on the future, you might also have to deal with any “bad apples” — people who gossip, carry grudges, and otherwise bring the team down. Their negativity can be contagious, so it’s important you coach them to change their attitude or ask them to move on.
There’s not one leadership style that works for all contexts. For example, in some situations, it’ll make sense to tell people what to do, whereas asking open-ended questions will work better in others. You might need to adjust goals as new information emerges, or, under certain circumstances, stick exactly to the plan. You should adjust your style based on the people you’re managing, the context in which you’re leading, and the outside pressures you’re under. To navigate tensions like these, you need a good deal of self-awareness. So understand your natural tendencies. What’s your default position? Do you tend to be more of a traditional leader, or do you align with a more adaptive, fluid style? If you’re not sure, get feedback from others. Then learn, adapt, practice. The goal is to develop a portfolio of micro-behaviors you can employ when the situation demands you use a different style. And look to your employees for signals on when it’s appropriate to favor one approach over another.
When the news is scary and the future is uncertain, many employees will look to managers for reassurance — even though you might not have the answers yourself. You can help by first finding your own sense of focus. Before you start communicating, take a minute to pause and breathe. Then put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What are their concerns, questions, or interests? What do they need an immediate answer to? You might use language such as, “I know many of you may be thinking…” The quicker you can address what’s on their minds, the more likely you’ll be able to calm them down. Seek out credible sources of information, and read fully before distilling it into clear, concise language. You can confidently express doubt or uncertainty, while still maintaining authority. You might say, “Reports are still coming in, but what we understand so far is…” Communicate frequently, even if you don’t have news to report, so that people know you are actively following the issue. And provide tangible action items. Use language such as, “Here are the steps we are taking,” or “Here’s what you can do,” to demonstrate action.
It’s hard to get people to pay attention in meetings when everyone’s in the same room — let alone if they’re all calling in from home. How can you get people to actually participate in a virtual meeting? The key is to create structured opportunities for attendees to engage. Do something in the first 60 seconds to help participants experience the problem you want them to solve. For example, you might share statistics or anecdotes that dramatize the topic. Then assign people to groups of two or three and give them a very limited time frame to take on a highly structured and brief task. Be sure to give them a medium with which to communicate, like a Slack channel. If you’re on a virtual meeting platform that allows for breakout groups, use them liberally. Then ask the teams to report back. Never go longer than five to 10 minutes without giving the group another problem to solve. The key is to set and sustain an expectation of meaningful involvement. Otherwise, your participants will retreat into an observer role, and you’ll have to work extra hard to bring them back.
Keeping your employees informed during a crisis should be one of your top priorities as a leader. It’s your responsibility to stay on top of events as they unfold — especially if they’re evolving as fast as they are right now. At the same time, beware of hype. News outlets often focus on what’s new, rather than the big picture, and they sometimes don’t distinguish between hard facts, soft facts, and speculation. Think critically about the source of the information before acting on it. Of course, employees have direct access to many sources of information too — but don’t assume they’re fully informed. It’s far better to create and widely share a regularly updated summary of facts and implications so you’re all on the same page. And constantly reframe your understanding of what’s happening. Don’t hold off on disseminating plans just because they might change. Create a living document, with a time-stamped “best current view,” and update it regularly, highlighting critical changes.
A crisis, like Covid-19, can impact how, when, and where you and your employees work. That’s why it’s important to be sure everyone on your team is prepared to work from home — perhaps on a moment’s notice. Map out which jobs and tasks can and can’t be done, even partially, without a physical presence in the office. Then do a thorough audit of the technology that your company uses for remote work. Make sure your employees are comfortable using the various hardware and software. Quickly train people and give them opportunities to practice. You’ll also need a clear communications protocol that should include: everyone’s contact information; which communication channels you’ll use — email, IM, Slack, etc.; how employees are expected to respond to customers; and how and when teams will coordinate and meet. While putting these steps in place, it’s also smart to identify ways to measure how effective remote work is for your team. Once the crisis is over, this data will allow you to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and why.
Starting any job, whether it’s an internal promotion or at a new organization, can feel a bit nerve-wracking. It’s that much more daunting if you know that you’re taking over for someone who was highly respected and successful. But don’t try to take on your predecessor’s personality or leadership style. Being unapologetically yourself will earn respect and help preempt any comparisons. Also, understand and manage important relationships. This requires knowing not only who people are (and not just the ones with the senior titles) but also what they care most about, what they each expect from you, and what concerns they might have. And seek feedback. Ask a few trusted colleagues to share early and often what’s going well and what’s going less well so you can make real-time adjustments, as needed. And, of course, go in with the right attitude. Filling big shoes may make you question your own capabilities and whether you have what it takes to meet the standard set by your predecessor. Focus on your strengths and what you know you bring to the role.
While a good presentation often includes data, data alone doesn’t guarantee a good presentation. To avoid confusing your audience, keep it simple. Ask yourself, “What’s the single most important learning I want my audience to extract from this data?” Next, make sure your charts are readable. What’s discernable on your laptop may be far less so when projected on a screen. Rehearse your presentation with colleagues sitting as far away — where the actual audience will sit. If they can’t see your charts clearly, redesign them to be easier on the eyes. Also, clarity is crucial. Use precise language to identify X and Y axes, pie pieces, bars, and other chart elements. Try to avoid abbreviations that aren’t obvious, and don’t assume people will remember the labels on previous slides. Last, avoid generic titles. For example, instead of “Millennial Preferences,” try a more specific title like “Millennials Prefer Mobile.” This is the first element the audience will notice and process, so it pays to get it right.
When we’re trying to land a job or a new deal or client, we often try to make a good first impression by catering to the interests and expectations of others. But this approach can backfire. Hiding who you are or downplaying your ideas is cognitively and emotionally draining — and that, in turn, can undermine your performance. You also can’t really know another person’s preferences or expectations with certainty, no matter how much research you’ve done. Trying to anticipate them will just heighten your anxiety and could make you come across as phony. Instead, be your genuine, authentic self. Focus on conveying what you can offer — skills their team or organization needs — rather than trying to deliver what you think they want. Research shows that simply being yourself makes a better impression. And not only does it feel better, it also improves the likelihood that you will achieve your goal.
Many leadership development programs fail to help participants develop dynamic, collaborative skills. But you can improve this training by taking some cues from wilderness adventure expeditions. These programs put participants in complex, unfamiliar environments that present opportunities for collaborative decision-making in ways that might not happen in a traditional conference room setting. Outdoor experiences require people to purposefully prepare — physically, logistically, and mentally — for the challenges ahead and to react to continuous, multisource feedback in real time. You either end up where you intend to be on the map (or don’t), the tent stays dry (or doesn’t), and everyone leaves on time in the morning (or finds themselves eating dinner in the dark). Ongoing interactions build camaraderie and create a team norm of open discussion and honest feedback. That trust can often last long after the expedition ends. Also, participants on these sorts of trips are given repeated challenges, which allows them to put lessons into practice right away. While you don’t have to fly your leaders to a remote island and hand them a tent, stove, and kayak paddle to get these results, you can bring a little bit of the outdoors inside to enhance your next training and expand your employees’ potential.
The most successful boards do far more than reviewing financials, audits, and compliance. If you’re a director and you want to up your board’s game, here are four things you can do. First, focus forward, not back. Activities like strategic or succession planning, or improving risk oversight, help a company create its future. Second, foster high-quality debate among your fellow members. Actively seek out different points of view, and ensure that everyone contributes their expertise, so that you make thoughtful decisions. Third, make sure everyone gets clear performance reviews via an annual assessment of each member’s contribution. The board chair should be responsible for giving clear, actionable feedback and coaching to each director. Finally, make sure that everyone is present and focused at each meeting. This isn’t just about putting their phones down. Directors need to actively listen, speak up, and encourage others to do the same.
Writing a speech or presentation is challenging, and memorizing it takes even more time and effort. But whether you’re speaking at a conference, setting a direction for your team, or persuading upper management to greenlight an idea, it’s important to know your presentation cold. Transitions can be especially tricky, so break your talk into sections and rehearse the shifts between the sections. Note any troublesome segues and practice them repeatedly. Then, spend time each day memorizing your speech. You might consider recording and listening to it whenever you’re driving, exercising, or running errands. Or you can rehearse a portion of your script right before bedtime or multitask as you brush your teeth. Finally, have a plan for any slip-ups. Prepare two or three go-to phrases, such as, “Let me refer to my notes,” or “I’m struggling to remember my next point. Let me take a moment and step back.” The lapse will be less awkward for everyone when you don’t panic and do what you need to move on.
Unfocused meetings. Competing priorities. Confusion over who gets to make the final call. These are often signs that your organization has poorly designed decision-making processes. Rather than treating the symptoms, you can take on the system itself. Start by breaking down the types of decisions being made across your organization, then determine who should make which ones. Distribute decision rights thoughtfully to ensure everyone is clear on the boundaries of their departments and roles. Of course, no one makes decisions in a vacuum, and we often have to rely on others to execute our choices. Make sure to connect anyone who’s impacted by the decision to ensure effective coordination. You might need to identify liaisons to other teams, create shared calendars, or develop online portals where meeting minutes are posted. Finally, be sure to build in metrics to monitor how effective decisions are. Regularly assess what’s working and what’s not, and make changes accordingly.
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, so there’s a good chance you will manage someone with the disorder during your career. It is also likely that your employee will come directly to you to request accommodations rather than going to HR. To prepare, learn what you can about the condition. If you understand the symptoms, you’ll be able to better anticipate employee needs. You can proactively help in several ways. Allow flexible hours: Research shows flexible work hours actually increase productivity, commitment to the organization, and retention. Also, reinforce the employee’s successes: Repeated victories over time create positive work experiences and increase confidence. Break down large projects into parts: Shorter-term deadlines allow employees to see large projects as smaller, more manageable tasks. Play to the employee’s strengths: If they feel like tasks are designed for them, they’ll be more likely to view the tasks as important, complete them more quickly, and feel validated. Lastly, familiarize yourself with available resources (not only for your employee, but also for yourself as you navigate these conversations). Many companies nowadays have free Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or other forms of assistance. Proactively sharing these resources with your team might make them more likely to approach you before any problems seriously compromise their work performance.