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Leadership challenges in times of remote-working, part 1

In their blog series, Ellis and Chris will talk about their experience of leadership. 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. 

Hi Chris! 

IMG_2540I’m so happy that we were able to meet again after all our virtual chats. It’s good that we kept catching up, but nothing beats the interaction of having a real cup of coffee together, even at a distance of 1.5 metres. I kept on thinking after our reflection on the last couple of months and wanted to share some insights with you. Perhaps you can relate, and even explain, how you experienced it? There might be some valuable leadership lessons. 

After the lockdown announcement in March, I remember sitting behind my laptop feeling quite confused. Things changed all of a sudden, business urgency altered to a focus on business continuity. While I saw my counterpart in Sales was working his a** off to get all of our consultants safe on an assignment, I was thinking: What am I doing? What’s my contribution to business continuity? To be honest, I felt useless. 

This feeling lasted for 2 days, and then I dared to honestly tell my colleague how I felt: That he’s doing all the work and that I don’t know how to contribute. He told me that I’m making a difference, and that I am contributing, by being there for our consultants. 

While I had erased few of the one-on-one appointments with Consultants from my calendar as I thought they were not a priority at this moment, I started to reschedule them to virtual meetings and have conversations with team members on how they try to wrap their lives around work-from-home, and see what I can do to help them. For some, that meant just talking, others were more in for administrative support. But most importantly I wanted them to know: we’re in this together and I’m here for you if you need me. 

How about you? How did you experience our contact during the lockdown? 

Hi Ellis!

Meeting in person is important for trustIndeed, it was good to finally meet each other in person! Real life interaction is, in my opinion, mandatory for leaders to engage in a trustworthy (work)relationship. Making others feel heard and seen (literally) can make the difference between a good conversation and a great one. And although we notice in these times that working from home (“the new normal”) can have the same business results, I expect we will see changes in the middle- and long term.

In my role, I often have the chance to be an observant in, nowadays, online meetings and what I’ve come to notice is that the value of people interaction is sent to the background. Inevitably this will have consequences on working relationships. Interesting times!

The way you describe your experience with this lockdown and the aftermath is recognizable. Personally, I’m very curious of how this situation is impacting my work as a consultant. The way I see it, is that my contribution to organizations and especially leaders is changing due to the fact it’s more difficult to build trust and confidence. And in my line of work, trust is a major aspect. Why would you even listen to me if you don’t trust me? 

From a professional point of view, I see this situation as a learning playground. The way the environment, in which we act, is changing will have an impact on the way we will behave. For years I’ve helped organizations in creating a different environment to trigger desired behaviors, with the goal to change it into sustainable behavior (using positive reinforcement). But now, the environment has changed externally, and we have to deal with it. Mistakes will be made and lessons will be learned.

Click here for part 2 of the blog series about leadership challenges in times of remote working

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