If you’ve recently landed a senior or executive role, it can be challenging to establish yourself with a new remote workforce. Without the benefit of face-to-face interaction, you’ll need to be proactive about building connections that are productive and outcome-oriented. Empathy and one-on-one interaction will be key to developing your credibility as a leader and motivating employees. The following guide explains how you can benefit from taking a transformational approach to leadership that will yield the best long-term results for your department.
Adapting a Transformational Leadership Style
American historian James MacGregor Burns described two types of leadership:
- Transactional: A leader establishes a system of risks and rewards to motivate employees to perform.
- Transformational: A leader adapts an egalitarian approach that empowers employees to pursue their highest potential in an organization.
According to research from the Center for Evidence-Based Management and Advanced Workplace Associates, the latter leadership style works better for remote workers because it aligns with the dynamics inherent to working remotely. By default, we see employers as individuals with a closer, more intimate understanding of their life outside of work. Colleagues get to see each other within the context of their home and family on video conferences. It’s common for a pet or toddler to wander into the camera view, for example, and these glimpses can help you build stronger relationships with your team—and expand your understanding of how to motivate and support them.
Working remotely also makes it nearly impossible for leaders to enforce a strictly transactional work experience. By necessity, remote workers have less oversight and greater control; they can manage their time independently, without a supervisor looking over their shoulder or a colleague interrupting them. This is especially true if their work is conducted asynchronously.
Many organizations have been forced to migrate into fully or partially remote work because of the pandemic, but these circumstances can democratize the conventional organizational structure and expand our ideas about leadership. Ultimately, this transition means business leaders need to trust employees more, focus on creating a supportive environment, improve communications, and empower individual contributors.
What to do if your communication style isn’t working
Tenets of Transformational Leadership in a Remote Setting
If you’ve been recently hired into a leadership position, here’s how to establish an effective, transformational leadership style.
Establish clear rules of engagement. For example: If someone has an urgent question, what communication channel should they use? How long do employees have before they’re expected to respond to a message, and does the length of time vary depending on if the message is sent via email, text, instant message, etc.?
In a remote setting, it’s even more critical to enforce structure and consistency. Create and track deadlines with your team, and set up a consistent work schedule with the understanding that some flexibility may be needed. Make sure you meet one-on-one with all your direct reports at least once every 1-2 weeks to check in on their progress and discuss their objectives.
Don’t try to change everything at once when you move into a new role. Instead, ask your team for feedback about what they’d like to see changed and how to improve operations. By allowing your employees a sense of autonomy and personal agency, you can encourage them to become invested in their work and be more productive. Collaborative brainstorming sessions and open floor discussions also make space for innovation.
The sociopolitical environment is tumultuous right now, and the global pandemic has taken a sizeable toll on everyone’s mental health. Your employees may struggle to concentrate or feel demotivated in the face of so much uncertainty. As much as possible, try to be understanding and provide resources to help employees work through the crisis.
Here are a few simple steps you can take to make it easier for your team to work productively at home:
- Mental health resources and seminars in collaboration with HR.
- Employee resource groups (ERGs) to make your organization more inclusive.
- Temporary workload reductions during a crisis.
- Transparency about your own experiences and coping strategies.
- Optional extended shift breaks for exercise, doctor appointments, etc.
- A stipend for home office supplies and equipment so employees can work comfortably.
- A robust IT support system with quick response times.
- Care packages for individuals who are facing hardship, such as a sick family member.
- A few minutes at the start of every meeting to socialize and reinforce a unified team dynamic.
It’s never easy to lead a team, whether employees are remote or at the office. But by practicing empathy and facilitating two-way communication, you can establish a sense of reciprocity with your reports that will help them feel focused and motivated.
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