During COVID, leadership is about a return to the basic

All of us have had to cope with so much change, loss, and stress during these past nearly 2 years; for the professional workforce, especially those in technology, one of the key themes has been adapting to a long-term work from home scenario.

For the most part and thanks to technology, we have all adapted to this massive shift well. Some desperately want change, others refer to a sense of disconnectedness and many more talk of how they either love or hate remote work. During this time, leaders and managers must introspect, understand the motivations and drivers behind these feelings of change / disconnectedness and react. After all, attrition of top performers is probably one of the biggest risks facing any growth company today.

So, what more can we do as leaders and managers?

I would argue that the solution does not lie in any complex theories of “leadership during dynamic times” but a return to the basics. That lack of engagement you sense from your teams (and that is likely being felt around the world) is most likely due to all the mini interactions that are missed out when not in person.

Below I list just a few areas that have really helped me during this time and will hopefully resonate with you.

Roll Up Your Sleeves (and get into the detail)

Driving rapid progress with your team is tough when you’re not together and iterating quickly. Employees who are struggling with their work might feel shy to book a 15-minute zoom with their manager to discuss their challenges. Strong managers must be able to proactively get into the details, not to micro-manage but to help problem solve, unblock, and possibly involve others across the organization so that solutions are not built in silos.

There are many ways of getting into the details (asking probing questions, providing detailed comments, etc.) but the most important thing must be your readiness and ability to do the work yourself. Getting into the details is also important because you will quickly appreciate those that require limited guidance in a WFH setting. Those folks are your absolute keepers because they give you true leverage by taking vague, unstructured problem statements and create structured rock-solid solutions!

Basic Hygiene – Track and Publish Your Action Items

We’ve all been there – you’re in a zoom where A LOT is being discussed, action items are being thrown out left, right and center and then the meeting ends. A week later, everyone is gathered around in another heated zoom but it is unclear what progress has been made.

Managers, you must have good hygiene around daily / weekly meetings, note-taking and most importantly action item tracking. By doing so, employees are not left wondering what you want but know exactly the top priorities that need to be focused on.

Show Your Human Side (and that you care)

That hallway conversation coming out of a meeting or on the way to the parking lot would have usually focused on one of two things: (1) getting to know your fellow colleague or (2) office gossip. Let’s focus on #1 and assume that everyone figures out how to do #2 no matter what the situation! During this time, especially this time, managers and leaders must take the time to know your team personally. It’s not that hard. “How’s life?” “What did you do during the weekend?” “What are your passions, interests, hobbies?” “What do you love about work? Hate about work?” Such conversations build critical empathy when folks are staring at two-dimensional video representations of their colleagues and discussing critical action items 24×7.

Introspect (because its most likely your fault)

The best managers and leaders are inherently humble creatures. They live to serve those who report to them and those that they report to. Poor team performance or poor individual performance should always start with self-reflection as a manager. After all a team’s performance is a mirror of your own performance. “What did I do wrong to create this situation?” “What could I have done better?” When those questions are answered in an unbiased and objective way and point to something outside of you, then drive for change in a caring and professional way.

In my experience, most people in tech that walked through your front door came in as high potential, so 8 out of 10 times it was probably something you or another leader did to create a challenging situation for an employee or team.

Obsess Over High Performance

Literally… obsess over it. Because if you do not, there are a hundred other high growth companies that are ready to do just that and suck you dry of high performing talent. What does this mean? When you recruit, go to your top performers, and ask them if they have any friends. Focus on your hiring mistakes and what you wish you would have asked / tested over zoom before bringing that next person on-board. Most importantly, you better be thinking aggressively about how these individuals can progress career wise 1-2 years in advance and do your best to pro-actively communicate and deliver on these opportunities to avoid losing them too soon.

The list could go on and on, but…

I’m sure much more could be said around other management fundamentals like recognizing and trusting your people more, or helping your team strike a sustainable work / life balance. These are equally valuable tips, and the list could go on and on, but putting the above aside for a moment, I live by the simple principle of “treat your colleagues as you would like to be treated”. Having this as one of your core management tenets will hopefully help you course-correct and compensate for the challenging remote work world that we live in today.

-Mukund Venkatesh, Managing Director- GAIN Credit

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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