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Why our crisis leadership style is fragile by design – and how to change it

Virtual working has fast become the new normal. Over the past few weeks, we’ve adapted to home working and the new tools and technologies we need to make it possible and effective. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and our preferred ways of working. Our organisations have had to quickly establish new protocols for communication, meetings and team working. For leaders, they now need to lead their teams in a virtual world.

But this is not a virtual world that has become virtual by design. Leaders are being called upon to lead in a virtual world as a result of an emergency. We have been forced into crisis management and minimising business disruption and many organisations just weren’t ready. They didn’t have agile working, systems or infrastructure in place.

This is because both at national level, and within business, our system is built for stability not for instability. This means that we are fragile by design. During COVID-19 pandemic this fragility has become self-evident and has created additional challenges for leaders who are operating in a crisis environment with an uncertain future.

Agile leadership for the virtual world

For leaders in the current climate, everything is magnified. There may be fear and anxiety in the team, possibly additional workload or the stress of balancing work with home-educating. Agile leadership is more relevant than ever – how do you act under pressure? How open is your mindset to learning? How do you cultivate personal resilience?

Even in difficult circumstances agile leadership creates shared aspiration, builds emotional alignment, and ensures sustained achievement. Sova’s leadership model is built on The Four A’s of Agility. Here are our tips for agile leadership in the virtual workplace.

The Four A’s of Agile leadership

  • Don’t let go of your Aspirations

Even if your sector isn’t ‘essential’ right now, don’t let go know of the need for a sense of direction and ambition even though it’s hard emotionally when we’re experiencing personal and work-related stress. Keep learning and helping your people learn about how to make virtual working as successful as it can be. Reframe your strategic priorities, for example, is there now a more compelling business case to go completely digital? Manging complexity has become key and leaders need to stay calm and think before they act – but they also need to think and act fast.

  • Build collaboration to improve Alignment

Engaging others in a virtual environment is still about asking questions, listening, encouraging dialogue and showing empathy. This is better on calls so make time for these and minimise email. Turn your organisation into a digital ecosystem and encourage people to make new connections through corporate social media apps and communication platforms so they don’t become isolated. Encourage people to create virtual project communities and use virtual tools for collaboration to promote as much connectivity as possible.

  • Acceleration means making necessary changes quickly, openly and fairly

This is not a good time to start any restructuring or transformation initiatives because the future is too uncertain, but you may need to make changes to enable business to continue in the current climate. If you do need to implement changes then do it quickly, openly and fairly. Team members will be feeling anxious so be careful not to leave people hanging for too long. Resilience has become key for us all and if you are a business with literally zero revenue or close to that right now then stay present, and keep breathing. Do whatever it takes so you don’t have to completely turn out the lights for as long as possible.

  • Achievement as a team requires a new work rhythm

Remember that virtual working not motivating to everyone. Many people derive energy from being ‘at work’ and around people so help people create some structure for themselves in their new virtual working environment by creating daily or weekly check ins and create a new rhythm to the working day. For others, a virtual world is actually very efficient and task oriented, probably a bit less fun and bit less political. If you do need to challenge a colleague, pick up the phone and talk to them rather than getting into extensive email or Whats App wars, a lot is lost in translation.

Agile leadership put to the test

Right now, we’re acting as a gigantic case study on agility at a systemic level and it’s testing our leaders and their approach. Our advice is to think holistically and to remember that virtual leadership uses the same principles and practices, translated into the virtual world.

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