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How to lead with your personality and encourage your staff to do the same whilst remote working

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By Minter Dial, director at Mydial LLP and author of  You Lead

During the many years that I held a corner-office position, I realise how easy it is to play a persona and, in the process, to lose touch with what’s important. I remember the first time I cried in a professional setting. I was speaking to a room with about 60 people in attendance. A select group of media and high-profile people were on hand. It was tense and the nerves got the better of me. When I started to feel the tears come, I remember distinctly being embarrassed. The harder I tried to stop crying, the bigger the outburst. I wanted to shrivel up and disappear. Then, someone started to clap. The rest of the room followed. This gave me time to recompose myself. I finished the talk and at the end, while still being apologetic, many of the attendees, including some of the most important people in the room, came up to me. They thanked me for the talk, my earnestness and energy. I was taken aback. It dawned on me that these people didn’t necessarily think any less of me. Perhaps others, who shuffled off quickly, did? But, for those who stayed behind, I might even have created a stronger connection. Not that I recommend the experience or believe that crying is a “tool,” but it taught me a valuable lesson. By being myself and showing a genuine emotion, people will not just be forgiving, they will relate to you.

The masks we wear

During the pandemic, we’ve never talked more about masks; but simultaneously never have our personal lives been so unveiled in the professional setting. From the feline pet that blithely jumps up on your lap during a zoom call, to the dog that barks or a child who walks in without knocking, we’ve all witnessed how our personal lives have seeped into our professional existence. The wall between our personal and professional lives has been whisked aside by having so many people having to work remotely. The sanitary masks have metaphorically replaced the masks we wear at work. In the process, we’ve naturally exposed ourselves.

Pandemic revelations

There’s no doubt that there will be some long-term ramifications from this global pandemic experience. But, more instantly, this pandemic has also pulled the covers off some other more fundamental trends. The most significant one is around our most precious resource of time. It’s not just that the times are a-changin’, the very nature of time and our relationship to it has been altered. It’s as if time has morphed. For some, it’s ground to a halt. For others, it’s warped. In the process, our energy levels, creativity, and productivity have all been affected. At a meta level, I’m tempted to believe that we have become ever more aware of our mortality. People are questioning why they are doing what they are doing. What’s the purpose of my job? What’s the bigger raison d’être of the company for which I work? What can I do that is more meaningful in today’s context? This search for meaningfulness was latent before the pandemic. It’s now become a central consideration, especially since many of us have more time to reflect. Being faced with the reality of our personal lives, locked down at home, individually we’re reckoning with our genuine sense of fulfilment. Suddenly, we no longer have to shuffle to and from work every day. We have this specific opportunity to take stock of what and who is important in our lives. And, yet, doing meaningful things and feeling like you want to contribute are deeply human traits and were present even before the pandemic. The revelation through this pandemic – not forgetting the fallout from other health conditions and economic troubles – is that we want to make our valuable time on this Earth count. As such, when you’re leading a team remotely, you will need to double down on making the purpose of your organisation more keenly understood and felt, throughout your team.

The crossover of personal and professional

A second important revelation out of the pandemic is that our personal lives are inherently and intrinsically intermingled with our professional lives. Well beyond the pay cheque to pay the home rent and a feeling that my job influences or even defines my identity, it’s become increasingly evident that how we are in our personal lives has a material impact on our productivity and energy at work. But, just like the sense of purpose or search for meaningfulness existed before the pandemic, this relationship between personal and professional was also true before we all entered lockdowns.

From tie to tie-dye

With words like authenticity and transparency becoming part of the daily vernacular at work, it’s hard to argue that it’s reasonable or appropriate to be one person at work while being someone else at home. Aside from anything, the discrepancy between the person who wears a corporate tie at work while donning a tie-dye at home absorbs energy and, importantly, takes away your authenticity. You can’t and shouldn’t pretend to be two people. It’s not healthy for you; and, in terms of developing trust, it will inevitably create suspicions.

The premium on trust in remote work

The subject of trust is central to the proper functioning of remote work. When you’re used to talking casually in the corridor or water cooler at the office and/or can observe informal body language and energy, you create a certain rapport that is not possible in remote conditions. Out of sight, trust can easily slip away. People with issues of trust will involuntarily signal their sense of distrust. With the moments of interaction concentrated through a small camera in a torrent of video conferences, we must pay particular and new forms of attention. The best leaders will lean on understanding their own emotions, developing self-empathy. Secondly, they will share what they are feeling and show that it’s okay not to always be okay. One can’t just mechanically bark out orders or, more pernicious, disingenuously pretend to be caring. The bravado of the ‘rah-rah’ leader needs to be tempered. Sure, leaders need to push and inject energy, but when working remotely, that discretionary energy on which we rely for our colleagues to deliver on their outputs needs to be associated to the bigger purpose of the organisation. Everyone needs to understand how they are contributing to the bigger cause. They will be asking: Does my work matter and is my voice being heard?

Especially for organisations with a large component of service, where there are multiple points of contacts between customers, stakeholders, and employees, generating that sense of mutual trust and a shared purpose will foster the best possible outcomes. Going back to my opening story, if you can bring your full self – imperfections and all – into your work relations, you will have a higher chance of connecting and engaging with your teams, particularly in remote work conditions. The same holds true in the office, of course, so it’s worth leaning in on these principles and ideas now that we’re in lockdown – because they will surely be useful and beneficial in the post-pandemic world, too.

Author Bio:

By Minter Dial, director at Mydial LLP, is an international professional and energetic speaker and a multiple award-winning author, specialized in leadership, branding and transformation. Minter’s core career stint of 16 years was spent as a top executive at L’Oréal, where he was a member of the worldwide Executive Committee for the Professional Products Division. He’s author of the award-winning WWII story, The Last Ring Home (doc film and book) as well as two prize-winning business books, Futureproof (2017) and Heartificial Empathy (2019). His latest book on leadership, You Lead, How Being Yourself Makes You A Better Leader (Kogan Page) published in January 2021. He blogs at minterdial.com  and has been host of the Minter Dialogue weekly podcast since 2010. Find him on Twitter and IG: @mdial.

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