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By Raj Narayan
The moment an employee rises from an individual contributor to a manager, she can be said to assume a leadership role. And, the big differentiator that this role brings relates to delegation of work and creating a collaborative atmosphere where every member is aligned to the goals and is working towards their completion.
When the leader has the team ensconced within shouting distance, the task of delegation and even lending or changing direction becomes easy. However, when the same set of people are all working remotely, the art of listening becomes mission critical. Why? Because, proximity gets us to run on top gear like a relay team in athletics does towards the ultimate goal.
Productivity remains paramount at all times, but when working remotely, the leader needs to calibrate her pace with those of the others who may be facing challenges when lines between the workplace and home get blurred. This is where empathetic listening becomes crucial. And, leaders who miss out on this aspect, could miss vital cues that impact performance of a team member.
This takes us back to the old adage of the chain being as strong as its weakest link into play. The value of listening exists under every circumstance though it just gets more critical in today’s times when anxiety and uncertainties largely govern individuals, especially with relation to jobs and their future with the company. Here’s why listening just became more important:
- Listening to feedback and acting on them is the easiest way to build mutual trust where employees feel that the leader cares. It makes the leader approachable and generates a feeling that reaching out could fix things for the employee. A daily town hall to discuss the project is essential and so is a weekly one-on-one with the team members or maybe even a survey that is shared every Friday about how things have been.
- It is important to make the team believe that as a leader you are as vulnerable as them. So, in case you do not have knowledge of what the company is going through, admit it instead of making up stories. Let the team know that you’re worried too and would like to bring it up with your boss or the stakeholder right above you in the hierarchy. This makes you more relatable to the team and this is the crucial DNA of a successful team.
- Remember that empathy is not the same as sympathy. Giving a shoulder to cry on has the potential to make the employee seek you out as a leader to shift her problems on to your already burdened self. Instead, the better idea would be to give your total attention to the person and help him seek out his own answers. Remember, you do not have all the answers to their problems and accepting that helps build a stronger association.
- A regular call up to show that you care goes a long way in building a sense of value in an employee, who then starts feeling that the workplace is also a place where they can with their near and dear ones too. Reaching out to discuss work individually also makes them individuals feel valued and appreciated. Call out their contributions during town hall or send an email to the team highlighting specific work that helped the team’s cause. Do this at least once a month, if not more.
- Remember that there’s more to a process than you can see. Which is why discussing an idea in a team is important. And, if there is someone who is reticent with her views, the trick is to not abandon her and actually reach out to her. Sometimes people need a bit of coaxing to open up. It is alright for the leader to find time to do so. Not everyone in the team would be a self-starter. Even the other lots are equally valuable. To be an insightful leader, it is important to gather insights from others and then weigh them.
Some of these may be tough to handle for leaders who are used to leading from the front or even managing from the rear. The fact is that a crucial aspect of leadership is to understand the behaviour of the team before creating strategies that bring it all together. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to life.
(Disclaimer: The author is the Chief Content Officer at Trivone, the owners of CXOToday. He is a leadership coach and counselor and the views expressed here are his own)