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May 11, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Valuable Lessons in Virtual Leadership

May 11, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Valuable Lessons in Virtual Leadership


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

You’ve spent years, maybe decades, working to develop and hone your leadership skills. You educate yourself in order to continually improve, you find effective ways to keep yourself motivated in order to impactfully lead, and you seek leadership tactics to fit the breadth of your employees’ needs. You fall into a rhythm and gain confidence in your leadership style and skill.

Then, one day, everything changes. Not only do working conditions almost instantly transform, but so too do everyone’s lives. The leadership methods you’ve refined are brought into question as everyone is sent into isolation and asked to shift to remote work. You have to quickly adapt and find ways to clearly communicate, stay connected, and continue to show strong leadership – from a distance.

Reihaneh Irani-Famili, VP Business Readiness at National Grid, has worked diligently to adjust to this new call of leadership and has learned some valuable lessons with the first two months under her belt. At National Grid, Irani-Famili is responsible for developing and planning transformation strategies to improve organizational effectiveness across the U.S. business, building out new capabilities and optimizing existing systems and processes. She’s worked to build and develop teams of experts and is now tasked with continuing to lead those teams remotely.

Irani-Famili says her first two months of leading from home have taught her some valuable lessons. Here she shares her top five:

Lesson #1: Continue to Be Proactive. “Create space in your teams’ days to look ahead, think and plan. It is very easy to become reactive in uncertain times, but scenario planning is what is most needed,” she says. This echoes the insight we shared in this recent Future of Field Service article about some of the characteristics shared by companies managing the COVID-19 crisis well – one of which is maintaining a parallel view on how to survive the eye of the storm while not losing sight of the need to look ahead and plan for recovery. This will ramp back up, in some areas sooner than others, and it’s important to ensure you’re reserving time amidst the uncertainty to strategize, forecast, and plan for what’s to come.

Lesson #2: Actively Manage Interdependencies. “Step in and actively engage in managing interdependencies between programs and projects,” says Irani-Famili. “Lack of informal connections makes dependency management more challenging and more critical.” With teams becoming remote, your ability to keep them connected and collaborative is more important than ever. You may need to take more tactical steps to foster this connection than you did when teams were working alongside one another and more likely to make connections by happenstance.

Lesson #3: Prioritize Visibility into Outcomes and Values. “Visibly celebrate outcomes and re-enforce values. There is a higher risk for teams to disconnect from the goals and become more siloed in a virtual setting,” explains Irani-Famili. I’d also point out that in this time, there’s a level of uncertainty and fear among some employees that can cause greater disconnect. So it’s your role as a virtual leader to ensure that you are putting effective methods in place to share progress on goals, celebrate wins, and openly communicate about matters of importance in order to avoid disconnect and minimize siloes.

Lesson #4: Remember the Importance of Informal Communication. “Create (not just encourage) forums to replace informal hallway communication,” says Irani-Famili. “This can be, for example, open calls, group text, whatever works for your team.” As leaders, you can unintentionally become hyper-focused on productivity – especially in times of added business pressure – to the point that you might not remember the important roll more informal communications play in a team. To Irani-Famili’s point, you need to not only remember the need for informal communications, but you need to create it. Since COVID-19 came into play, our team has begun virtual team happy hours every other week – just to serve as way to stay connected on a more personal level and continue to foster the camaraderie we have. I’ve also spoken with service leaders that have been making FaceTime calls to their technicians, to stay connected and check in on a more personal level. This is a point of virtual leadership that I think needs to be more emphasized.

Lesson #5: Scrap One-Hour Meetings. “Adopt 45-minute meetings,” urges Irani-Famili. “Doing so will help create mental space, allows for spark of ideas, encourages physical movement and reduces eye strain.” Yes, PLEASE! This is an excellent idea, enough said.

As Irani-Famili says, “leadership matters now more than ever.” I wholeheartedly agree, and I salute her and all of you working to adapt quickly and successfully to leading your teams through these challenging circumstances. What lessons have you learned that you’d add to Irani-Famili’s list? Email me, I’d love to hear them!