Remote working provides a golden opportunity for the best leaders to demonstrate their ability. Clearly, there are challenges, but the leadership traits associated with the most authentic high achievers will still be successful despite the current constraints.
Hit the Ground Running with a Remote Team
How do you make an impact as a newly appointed director when you have to work remotely? It’s a question we’ve heard from some of our recently placed candidates. The fact that a senior manager has this concern is a positive sign. They realise that they will have to find new ways to engage and work with their peers, direct reports and the layers below. The good news for them is that by successfully negotiating a remote selection process, they have already demonstrated to the client organisation that their track records and personal qualities are suited, not only to the company culture, the role and the tasks at hand, but also to performing in the challenging environment that SARS-CoV-2 has placed us in.
Prepare to Succeed
The best HR departments help new hires to prepare by explaining how the on-boarding process will work, which meetings can be handled in person, which will be remote and who the key stakeholders are. Having already demonstrated a good fit with the corporate culture it is important for the manager to familiarise themselves with the leadership style and stated objectives of their superiors. It is also worth asking about any recent arrivals who have made a positive impact in order to identify approaches that might work well in the organisation.
There is going to be some reliance on technology. A diligent new starter will be up to speed on the relevant collaboration, presentation and webinar platforms they are expected to use. They will already have prepared their home office, making sure broadband and webcam are optimised. As far as possible, it is also worth trying to get ahead with the new IT department about the new systems and equipment they’ll be installing.
Remote Leadership Principles
Lockdown has demanded a shift in leadership style that plays into the hands of the best leaders and presents an opportunity for others to adapt. With people feeling detached and insecure, there has been a greater need for emotional intelligence, humility, listening skills, transparency and accessibility. While established managers had to deal with a swift transition to working differently with people they already knew, which was hard enough, new hires at all levels face the extra challenge of bonding, engaging and leading people who are effectively strangers.
More than ever, a newly arriving C Suite executive should work on preparation and avoid attempting to effect dramatic changes too quickly. Expectations will vary between disciplines but a key element to the “First 100 Days” targets would be to engage, understand and align the objectives and culture of the department. The investment in time is likely to pay off in the following period. The first step is to get people on side and feeling psychologically secure. To do that, the incoming leader should be able to explain candidly and succinctly what they stand for, how they work, how they achieve results and what they expect from other people.
Consistency is the key here because people want to know where they stand and what they need to do. An incoming manager would be wise to think objectively about their strengths, weaknesses and the consistent and successful elements of their management style to make sure that this part of the process goes well. The barrier of distance can be partially overcome by an increased level of openness and team development can still take place.
When joining a new employer, the time a new director spends with their direct reports and the layers below them can roll out in stops and starts. In the current environment, they can make the time to be more systematic about talking with teams, either in smaller groups or one-to-ones. These conversations – it needs to be two way – help to build up rapport and set expectations, and also identify some quick wins and build up a clearer picture of the challenges that lie ahead. This is a time for listening. Taking a consultative approach will make it easier to prepare a mission statement that engages the wider team and creates a sense of ownership of the strategic objectives and the prioritised deliverables required to achieve them. As well as proactively engaging with the new team, the new manager should make a conscious effort to be available to their reports, potentially outside of office hours, and to provide constructive feedback and positive reinforcement in order to generate a positive departmental culture. Team members should be visibly recognised for positive contributions, successes and alignments with the new way of doing things.
Avoid the Pitfalls
While the trend is towards a more human management style, leaders are advised to stay true to themselves and be authentic. It is also vital to act as required within regulated industries. However, there are some things to avoid. With increased accessibility comes a temptation to over-manage. “Micro-managing” of this kind should always be avoided as it alienates staff and crushes initiative. There needs to be trust. Outside of the activity monitoring required by regulators like the FCA, it is better to use a lighter touch approach. The kind of employee “productivity” software that monitors keystrokes, internet activity and hours of uptime have seen greatly increased uptake since the pandemic started but are not considered a good investment for anybody trying to motivate a team.
Hard times require soft skills. A new arrival needs to be visible, accessible and responsive to make an impact and inspire. Stepping up to a higher level of people-oriented management won’t feel natural for some people but then the circumstances aren’t something that we ever prepared for. It is more a case of evolution than revolution because in Financial Services it always comes down to the bottom line. By taking the time to understand the skills, attributes and style that have made them successful to this point, and by establishing how that may work in the new organisation, the incoming leader can empower themselves to achieve continued success.