We all have a primary need to belong, but the past 6 months have brought a degree of isolation not known before. We have all had to learn to communicate remotely and this has been very troublesome for many:
- Unable to hug and reach out for a handshake or receive a congratulatory slap on the back has been so difficult.
- Working without the immediacy of colleagues to seek advice from, or to collaborate with is super challenging.
- Micro-managed people are tied to their laptop which is causing overwhelming levels of stress.
- Leaders are anxiously managing teams and not modelling a good work-life balance.
- Leaders have had to train, support, encourage and assess their teams remotely and this has been fraught with problems.
People are using different tactics to manage an unfamiliar terrain:
- In group meetings some people turn off their camera blaming internet issues which may or may not be true.
- Some use virtual backgrounds that prevent a peek into their surroundings.
Why do they do that?
Maybe they fear judgement? And maybe they are right to be concerned about it. I wonder what we must do to support people to be congruent, true to themselves? How do we support them to know we will not judge them? Or maybe the truth is that we do. We must be aware of our judgemental selves and get them under control.
‘It is said that man looks at the outside only God looks at the heart’.
I heard reported the other day that Oxfam book sellers are experiencing a rush on second-hand books with colourful spines. Is this so that they present an intelligent, pleasing to the eye bookcase, as background for their zoom meetings?
When I have people visiting, I tidy away excess clutter. But in the end, I know that they would only feel welcome if I am relaxed and at ease.
Is this the same with leading over zoom?
How do we make the surroundings comfortable so that those we interact will relax with us?
Can we create a safe space?
My belief is that intimacy is possible over zoom, but it requires an authenticity that goes above and beyond what is usually shown to ensure a good connection.
When I am coaching, now 100% over the internet I am aware that I need to almost reach into the screen to be near to my client.
The power of attention, of generative attention makes all the difference.
Over lockdown I trained in the thinking environment. This way of working holds the promise of no interruption, just generative attention. During training, I wondered how not speaking at all could support the client.
What I discovered was that providing attention of high quality, attention that invites, is curious, is believing in the ability of the client to think for themselves releases the client to truly find the answers within themselves.
What has this got to do with leaders working over zoom?
Leaders that listen.
This hashtag reveals so much about a leader, as integrity and grace really say something about a leader.
Listening to really understand models a way of communicating that will encourage new levels of intimacy.
There is something that honours the other when we focus on them fully. When whatever the distance, whether physically or positionally (rank) disappears and we have honest connection.
If we were to meet in the office, or when we are grabbing cup of coffee, we would most likely ask how things were going.
It is the same over zoom.
Ask how the family is, ask about home working conditions. Form a connection. Do this by offering some truths about home working yourself. Everything has changed for everyone and when we are more open, we invite an openness in the other.
My clients often ask about the space I now work in and I tell them. It is my new office space in the attic, vacated by a child leaving home. They then know a little about me and then often reveal some facts about their home situation. This forms a connection.
Lead with integrity.
Integrity means we can hold information well and not use it against someone. I think that it is a privilege to be trusted with the truth of how someone is feeling. Especially in these complex times when there seems no end, and the phrase ‘the new normal’ is the last thing anyone wants to hear.
Listening with integrity could save a life.
Listening with integrity could support someone to access their best work.
Listening with integrity could free someone to come up with the best plan.
Listening with integrity could help someone to know they are valued and not alone.
What about grace? You may be asking.
For me, grace is the flip side of integrity. It is what supports you as a leader to manage discomfort and models something for your team that says it will be ok.
It is the often, undervalued soft skill that really enables someone to look beyond the present situation.
It is empathic and caring, yet strong and resilient. It is a skill that is vital for both men and women who lead.
Intimacy over zoom is not an oxymoron after all.
Smile look into someone’s eyes and invite a connection with integrity and grace.