Take Time to Understand When Leading Remotely

May 28, 2020 Vicki Stanford

When she conducts live virtual SLII® leadership development classes these days, Dr. Vicki Halsey, Blanchard’s VP of Applied Learning, always starts her sessions by asking participants to share two emotions they are feeling right now. She believes leaders could learn from this practice as they manage the day-to-day challenges of leading in a remote environment in 2020.

“Lately when I conduct a multi-day class, even though it's the same people, it's like I’m teaching a different group every day because their emotions are all over the map. People don't know what they're feeling right now, for the most part. They just know things are not quite right.”

The challenge, says Halsey, is for leaders to slow down and take the time to really understand what is going on in people’s lives. This is especially important when people are faced with so many new and competing priorities.

“Today, leaders need to listen twice as hard as we used to—and really listen to the message behind the message.”

Listening to people and taking the time to understand is applicable in so many aspects of work today, says Halsey. She offers an example from her virtual classroom.

“In our SLII® leadership development class, we teach three skills—goal setting, diagnosing, and matching. It’s critical to understand where people are coming from in each of these areas.

“For goal setting, a new term I’ve been using is radical prioritization. People are being pulled in so many new and different directions these days. One way a leader can help is by asking people what’s going on in their work lives and how they are dealing with it. Leaders need to listen more before they offer solutions. Listening more means asking questions. You can say ‘As you look at those twelve new projects you're working on, how would you rank them in terms of what is most important?’ And then you listen, and listen some more. And then you have a conversation about the most important things and how you as the leader can help.

“In this post-COVID world, we really need to help people prioritize their tasks and goals so they know where to invest their energy. The reason I like the concept of radical prioritization is because today we are all waking up and instantly feeling swamped just thinking about what we have to get done.”

This leads into the second skill Halsey teaches in her SLII® leadership development classes: diagnosis.

“Listening is also very critical here. If I don't really listen to someone, there's a good chance I'm going to misdiagnose their development level because I haven't taken time to think about where they are on the task. With so many people preparing to return to a whole new world of work, it’s important to err on the side of over-listening, if that’s even possible.

“As a leader, I need to double-check on your past experience with any new task or process, because I want to give you exactly what you need to be successful. It’s a critical psychological agreement leaders need to have with each direct report: I'm going to create this space where we have actual conversations about your performance and about how I can help you be successful where you want to be successful.”

When Halsey describes how a leader can apply matching, the third skill taught in SLII® classes, she likes to use the metaphor of wearing different leadership hats.

“Taking the time to understand helps us decide what hat we’re going to wear. These days we need to be ridiculously mindful about which hat we are wearing and when. For example, if someone is new to a task and has little experience, I’ll put on my Directing or Coaching hat where I share my expertise with the learner. Or if I find out the task is something they’ve done many times in the past, I’ll put on my Supporting or Delegating hat.

“Our job as leaders is to see ourselves in the energy management business and to keep people energized. One of the foundational ways leaders energize their people is by providing each person with the right leadership style at the right time based on their development level on a task or goal.”

But here is where the big shift has to happen, says Halsey. When a direct report is being hesitant, it is easy to misdiagnose them. In today’s world, people may regress in their development level because of their uncertainty about all the things going on in their lives. In this instance, the right style could be as simple as listening mindfully to the person and asking “What are your ideas for doing that?” “What else could you do?” or “Who would you want to talk to?”

“Take time to listen and understand,” encourages Halsey. “Open up each conversation with a few minutes that are all about them. ‘What do you need? What are you working on? How can I help? Let's celebrate your success.’

“It’s about giving each person more opportunities to talk about their concerns, to share what's going on in their life, to have their voice heard. That’s critical in times like these.”

Would you like to learn more about having effective conversations in a changing work environment? Join us for a free webinar!


3 Performance Conversation Skills All Leaders Need to Master

Wednesday, June 10, 2020, 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time

Join Dr. Vicki Halsey for an in-depth look at the three skills today’s leaders need to master in our changing world—goal setting, diagnosing, and matching. Halsey will show you how to help your leaders diagnose people’s development levels on new tasks and goals and how to provide the proper amounts of direction and support to get people up to speed quickly. You’ll explore how leaders can:

  • Structure new goals, tasks, and processes for team members
  • Diagnose a direct report’s current development level for mastering a new skill
  • Provide a matching leadership style with the right amount of direction and support

Don’t miss this opportunity to get people performing at a high level quickly in a changing world.

Register today!

About the Author

Vicki Stanford

Vicki Stanford is a marketing director for Blanchard®. She is the producer of the LeaderChat podcast and a contributing writer for the Ignite! newsletter.

More Content by Vicki Stanford
Previous Resource
COVID’s Dashed Your Dreams? Ask Madeleine
COVID’s Dashed Your Dreams? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine, I know I should be grateful to have a job, and I love the company I work for. BUT. My whole...

Next Resource
Traumatized by Feedback? Ask Madeleine (Part 2)
Traumatized by Feedback? Ask Madeleine (Part 2)

Dear Madeleine, Every time I hear the word “feedback” I have a strong, negative response. This comes from a...