Leadership styles determine the success of employees engagement while working from home
How often do we consciously change our leadership styles at work? How would you describe your leadership style? Autocratic? Democratic? Collaborative?
Change requires us to adapt to our surroundings and often this adaptation takes the form of revisiting the strategy or changing the direction of the business. It rarely involves changing the way we lead, but this could have the greatest impact on the productivity and performance of our teams, especially as they work from home.
To understand the leadership style required to drive maximum engagement within your team, we need to better understand their perspective. Working from home will initially have been a challenge, employees finding ways of making their homes into make-shift offices, ensuring they had the right connectivity, space and environment to get work done. Then came the realisation that managers didn’t have the same visibility of their work as being in the office, so some employees compensated and began to work even harder, to ensure no-one could accuse them of not working enough. The result? Exhaustion as people struggled to adapt to the huge change to work.
Whilst we paint a rosy picture of the majority of employees, we mustn’t forget the minority, the few who will have relished working from home, as they could finally put their feet up and work at their pace without having a manager on their backs. It’s often this group that plays on our minds most, and for whom we build in process and procedures to protect against. But how big is this group really? People join organisations with hope and optimism, they join engaged. Disengagement is the result of the experiences they have at work, it’s the result of what we have done to them. Rarely do people join organisations to do a bad job, or to give less than their best. As human beings, we thrive on achievements, we love challenges and we want meaning in our work.
When we recruit people to join our organisations, we do it from the viewpoint that the skills and experiences they bring, will help the organisation achieve its strategic objectives. It’s important then that we provide employees with the tools and the right environment to do their best work. What then is the right environment? This involves providing a sense of clarity.
Without clear goals and objectives, that are measurable, how will you ever recognise great work? Clear guidance of the end goal, the standards required, why it is important, the role the activity/ task plays in delivering the company objectives, and by when, will be crucial information every employee needs to deliver great work.
To ensure everyone is on track with their work, we also need regular check-ins. These will ensure your teams have your support when they need it, and it will allow you to see that they are on track. Then, get out of their way and let them do great work. With clear goals and objectives, and timelines of when they need to be achieved, it will soon become obvious those who are working hard and those who are not.
Daniel Pink in his book ‘Drive’, described providing employees with autonomy, mastery and purpose. The environment where they have autonomy over their work, the desire to improve, and the motivation aligned to the bigger picture. Whilst autonomy is important, a hands-off approach can also leave teams worried whether what they are doing is right and can result in people feeling they are ‘carrying the can’, leading to uncertainty and insecurity. Finding the balance is important.
One of the biggest frustrations of leaders can be that they feel that they have to think of everything. Nirvana at work for them would be to be surrounded by teams that can solve problems, think ahead and have little need to be told how to do their jobs. But this isn’t reality, at least for many leaders, but not because the teams are incapable of knowing how to do their jobs, far from it. Imagine being an employee who makes suggestions and recommendations, only to be repeatedly rejected. Eventually, you will get compliance and we’ve all heard people saying ‘what would you like me to do’! As leaders, we can often have a fixed view of how things should be done, so when someone comes up with an approach that doesn’t align to this view, we might tell them to go back and do it differently. There is another way to lead and manage, and it involves taking a more facilitative role, leading to a coaching approach.
Coaching focuses on the belief that your teams have the ability to achieve anything they need to in their role. Your role is to help them get there. Coaching requires creating a space where people can think. Asking powerful questions allows the individual to work out for themselves what they could do, and it might not be what you were thinking. Often, it’s easy to get stuck with a work problem, because of the way we may be looking at the problem, or because of assumptions made in what’s happening currently. A simple questioning technique such as the GROW model, can go a long way to empowering your team to solve some of their work challenges. To be clear though, this isn’t something you would use if there was an urgent issue that needed solving. But for everything else, coaching is a powerful way to empower your team, leaving your role to become that of a facilitator.
An important aspect that underpins everything mentioned so far, is trust and whilst this is not a leadership style, it is important for leaders to be trusted by their teams. How do you build trust with your teams when they are working from home? From the great work by Paul Zak, we know that when we take time out to better relate with one another, and find things in common, this goes a long way to building trust. It causes the release of oxytocin, signalling to the brain that the other person is safe, versus the uncertainty and insecurity that comes from strangers. Whilst most video or telephone calls with teams might be focused on tasks, taking time to get to know each other a little better, can make a big impact on trust. Paul Zak went on to explore those management behaviours that drive trust and these include autonomy, sharing information and recognition of great work. As leaders, communicating openly and honestly with your teams is important. Holding information back does nothing but create mistrust. Although it may not happen intentionally, the impact is the same. Clear, regular communication and seeking feedback, combined with recognising the great work your teams are undertaking, will create an environment where your teams can enjoy what they do and feel valued. When we achieve great work and it is recognised, it causes the release of dopamine – the pleasure hormone. Of course, you can only recognise great work, when you have set clear goals and objectives and review progress, which brings us back to clarity.
You might be wondering how any of the mentioned approaches differ to working in an office versus managing teams working from home? They shouldn’t, as what works for employees, works wherever they are working from. We just might need to dial some aspects up, such as providing greater communication, but to engage employees to drive greater performance is about engaging leadership, irrespective of the location.