Leadership challenges in times of remote-working, part 2

Posted by Ellis de Haan on Nov 10, 2020 11:14:01 AM
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Read part 2 of the blog series by Ellis and Chris, in which they share thoughts about the perception of leadership, especially in times of remote-working.

Ellis is Business Unit Manager of Xebia IT Architects (XITA), one of the business units of Xebia focusing on DevOps transformations. Chris is principal consultant in this unit and expert in behavioral management and executive coaching. There is a great opportunity in leading an expert in executive coaching, and reflection on how to lead, and be led. 


Dear Chris!

How are you? I just wanted to check on you again. Another lockdown. -This time I’m prepared. The experiences from the previous time are still fresh in my mind, and I am glad that I have learned. The first thing I did was contacting the people around me. What do you need from me? How can I help? female manager writing to an employee

It reminded me of the research I’ve conducted as part of my Nyenrode Executive MBA studies. I found out that there are certain helpful behaviors that middle managers can put into action to help people deal with change. 

They are classified as steering, supporting, sounding, and change-oriented behavior, the latter focusing on embracing change by the manager and helping others to embrace change. As a manager you need to adjust your behavior depending on what the other needs. 

One of the things that I recall from my research was that employees are looking for a manager who is visible and approachable. So I made the virtual one-on-ones become my number one priority again. 

In the first lockdown, I helped consultants where I could, for example with special leave, or acted as a sounding board. The biggest change that I’ve seen is the ability to deal with change myself. I became more resilient. 

This became obvious to me, when one of the consultants called me to say that he found another job and is leaving the company. I formerly used to experience such a message as a sign of failure. It used to be a trigger for me to seed doubt in myself as a manager. Now I chose to turn it into an opportunity. I congratulated him wishing him the best for his career, and used the free head count to hire a junior consultant - despite Corona and the uncertain times at that moment. I’ve never embraced change as much as I did then! 


Hey Ellis,

The 2nd lockdown is indeed a fact, although it is not as strict as the first  one, the impact on people (and their behavior) is not something to take lightly. 

I am so happy for you and glad to hear that you could adjust your behavior to the new situation based on your learnings from a couple of months ago! Well done!email conversation about leadership

The ability to change your own behavior is a difficult one, especially when your goal is to change your behavior in order to become a better leader for others. Success is not only in your own hands anymore, and you have to let go of a little of control.

The helpful behaviors you mentioned can give some guidance and clarity on what you can do or change, but from a behavioral science perspective, these patterns are not classified as behavior. I can imagine that this surprises you, so let me care to explain a little:

What is behavior?

There is a really simple definition of behavior: Check if the action you analyse are a pattern you can see other people do or hear what other people say. In the examples you give; steering or supporting behavior or becoming more visible and approachable, these patterns are very difficult to see being done. Can you tell from sight when somebody is leading in a supportive manner?

In other words: how does managerial behavior look like? What do people say when they show steering behavior? I know, this sounds very strict, but from a behavioral science perspective, it is so important to be very specific about this. Only when you start specifying the actual behaviors, you get the opportunity to actually start changing behavior. Making behavior visible and tangible, will also make it observable and measurable. 

Don’t worry, if this is new to you, you are not alone: In every training and coaching I provide, this is the first step to take. 

Learn from consequences

I think it is really interesting (and  brave) that you mention the example of a colleague leaving your team and company. These situations are very challenging as a leader, especially when there are no hard feelings. 

The feeling of losing something valuable is actually a very powerful consequence of our behaviors. These consequences will decrease the likelihood of that behavior to take place in the future. I would assume that you learned from previous situations and decided to act in a different way this time, to see what this would bring you. In behavioral science terms; you learn from consequences and in this case a very specific consequence we call penalty (losing something of value).

Let’s elaborate on this even further in our next blog. Because after specifying behaviors and telling you about specific consequences we learn from, there is much more to tell you:)

Looking forward to it!

If you have not read it yet, please find here Leadership challenges, a blog series, part 1

Topics: DevOps & Continuous Delivery, Agile Transformations, Hiring