The Emerging Polka Dot Leader
What gardening during Lockdown taught me about remote leadership
By Colleen McLintock
All good gardeners know maintaining an evergreen lawn takes dedication, consistency and lots of weeding with a good amount of structure. During the lockdown, my lawn has been left to grow and spread in creative and unexpected ways. With no fussing or redirection by the weekly mowing, surprising things started to happen. I came across this perfect Polka Dot plant, sprouting in-between the lawn. The striking leaves insisted I appreciate the hidden growth. What a celebration! It’s not exactly what I had hoped for but nevertheless the discovery delighted me. That moment reminded me how this pandemic has changed me as a leader. I hope to share some reflections and rituals that dramatically supported our team’s remote transition in the last 6 weeks.
Omnicor’s OD Team is a Project team in every sense of the word, we manage multiple products and projects simultaneously while driving new business. Our consulting services include; Executive Coaching; CBI eLearning; Resilience Coaching;360° Surveys, Talent Engagement Surveys, Automated Onboarding & Exits Software and Client Relationship Management for the business.
Our team is lean and fairly new in its current iteration and we have had our fair share of norming, forming and storming. Each phase providing valuable leadership lessons for me- (content for another post perhaps.)
OD was humming with activity pre pandemic, big 360° projects active and requests for training and coaching coming in. Then COVID-19 hit. Omnicor Leadership took decisive action about the business and safety of all our staff and clients, within a day we had shut down the offices.
Everyone out the Building: -Decisiveness
When we made the decision to move the entire business remotely, some people thought it was an overreaction, I clearly remember a coaching client telling me the response was over kill. With hindsight it was an excellent leadership call. What made the transition easier for us was that for the last 4 years our teams have worked both remotely and within flexi hours. Covid-19 was the final push to now taking our client interaction totally on-line. Our brand being well known for our beautiful premises and warm staff, now we had to ensure our technology and infrastructure allowed for collaboration and uninterrupted service.
How do we get remote work to work? -Trust:
Once everyone was set up and working from home we had to bring our focus back to the projects at hand and figure out how we would deliver during these unchartered times. In past weeks so much has happened, we have moved remotely, in addition our key resource sadly lost his Father. I was worried about my team, and the upcoming demands with all the complexity and change. I imagined that we may become more distant as the remote working imposed more and more degrees of isolation.
A new style of leadership would be required for the “new normal”, one that stops focussing on processes and activities, instead trusting the team to get things done in the way that makes the most sense to them. I see myself as a collaborative leader, but I know I like things a certain way and those levels of control would need to shift. Re-contracting as a team and with clients was the first step.
Managing Stress and Wellness-Prioritise
My primary concern was for my team to be safe both physically and psychologically. Our daily Scrum Stand ups (see more about this under tools) provided the continuity to build more emotional connections and a deeper shared compassion, which naturally deepened since we now have better insight into all our life’s circumstances. We are now more open and authentic as a result. After all we are living through a pandemic together, history in the making.
Present Moment Awareness -Mindful Leadership
Sure we could not meditate the Pandemic away but learning to gain some control over your thoughts and come back to Present moment awareness is foundational to our team’s health. This is not an unfamiliar or forced practice and as a team we have all participated in our company wide Mindfulness programme. This anchoring in the present has been one of the most helpful coping tools to deal with all the novel demands and unsure future.
Values unite and connect us – Listen
This is one of our values which happens to be essential for leadership now, benevolent leadership fosters trust and calm in amongst the panic. There was not much time to process the massive change, yet it was vital as the leader that I understand how each member was coping and provide the necessary support. Sustaining productivity by being positive and available and making contact if I suspected something was wrong. The art of listening on- line is a new skill I am becoming better at, alert to changes in tonality and energy shifts.
I find myself encouraging the team to take appropriate new risks, initially we put things on hold, Post Covid -19 became a dumping lane on our Trello board (see more info about this in the tools section), recently it has become clear that we will be in this mode for much longer than we thought. As a result, we need to drive change and maintain our high action orientation in spite of the unfamiliar working environment.
Desire for recognition goes up by 30% in times of disruption (as mentioned by Gartner)- which makes sense, with all the change and insecurity individuals will seek out reassurance. Being interested and updated on what everyone is working on helps with this and creating channels to recognise and reward individuals often.
We need to acknowledge it is going to be topsy-turvy for a while and that is OK, trusting my team during these times will ensure I have retained them for the long term.
In conclusion I want to celebrate my team who have stepped up to meet every challenge with hardiness and resilience. You are an inspiration to me daily! I have noticed that just as with the lawn, when I leave my team to come up with their own solutions and innovate and be a stake holder wonderful unexpected surprises happen.
Should you want to get started on relooking your leadership style or team processes don’t hesitate to reach out and I would be delighted to have a chat or better, yet you can chat to my Team!
Tools that we found helpful
Use Agile and the daily stand up /Scrum methodology on Teams -link blog
Experiment with running your own Retro- also part of the scrum methodology : A very easy process to take your team through every 2 weeks to help understand the overall function of the team and ways to pivot the team if necessary and making adjustments when you can amidst the chaos
The questions to ask are:
- What did we do well, that if we don’t discuss we might forget?
- What did we learn?
- What should we do differently next time?
- What still puzzles us?)
Trello as our virtual board is most likely the reason why we have been able to transition with ease.
- Upskill and learn: Start with how to communicate on- line – https://youtu.be/ACNGhPKnmok
- Learn how to navigate the online platforms and get comfortable with the set-up, its most likely here to stay for most of this year at least
Refs- Gartner “How to manage your workforce during a pandemic “