Amanda Cade

Worth It! (Things to try, read, watch, hear, and discuss)

In a virtual conversation with friends this week, I mentioned that I almost wish I was back in graduate school right now. My MA is in Communication and Leadership, and the opportunity to study leadership during the pandemic would have been fascinating. This comment prompted a long discussion of how our employers and elected officials are handling leadership during this time. As we shared our professional experiences, we realized that they ran the gamut between people we felt had completely crushed the challenge, and others that had been nothing but a disappointment (one friend is actually looking to change jobs because of an utter loss of confidence in his organization’s leadership).

In our conversation, some common elements emerged among the leaders we considered most effective, and what we wish we were seeing from others. These are not new ideas, and they are also important during more traditional times, but the past five months have really highlighted their importance. I’ve been lucky in that while not everyone in my organization has met the moment, Maria, who runs my department, has been a shining example of leadership during the pandemic.

Here’s what good leaders are getting right:

Communication

miss your face

There’s definitely uncertainty about the balance between too much communication and not enough. One of my friends complained that his boss deliberately scaled back communication to almost zero shortly after they began working from home, saying that he didn’t want to put additional pressure on anyone. While he had good intentions, his employees felt lost and uncertain. They requested an increase in interaction, especially opportunities to talk to him in real time to ask questions and share concerns. Unfortunately, those requests didn’t prompt any changes, as he maintained faith in his philosophy that the best thing he could do for his employees was to let them do their jobs with minimal input from him. This became especially problematic when he sent emails with new policies and tasks without, in his employees’ opinion, allowing them sufficient opportunity to weigh in or get clarification. On the other end of the spectrum are leaders who are micromanaging from a distance.

Good leaders have sought to find that balance, and a key element has been asking their students how much interaction they need, what format is most effective, and if they need to adjust for specific circumstances. That speaks to a broader element of effective leadership: listening. Not only does having their voices heard make people feel respected and valued, but a variety of perspectives also contributes to leaders making the best decisions and avoiding missteps.

One thing I have really appreciated about Maria is that she has given us frequent updates, even when there’s nothing to report. Just knowing that “we still haven’t made a decision about X concern” lets me know that progress is being made, and that she hasn’t forgotten about things that matter to us.

That’s also reflective of…

Empathy

Bitmoji Image

Because she asks questions and listens to the answers, Maria knows how we’re feeling and what we need, and tries to make things happen. In a conversation we had back in April, she said, “I don’t know all the ins and outs of your job under normal circumstances, and this definitely isn’t normal. I’m counting on you to tell me how I can support you”. Just hearing her say that helped allay some of my worries, and when she followed up on the things we talked about, it was huge. In several cases, she’s pushed hard in conversations with her own superiors because of our needs and concerns.

Maria has always been interested in us as people, but she’s really increased her focus on our personal relationships since we’ve been working from home. She has made a point of asking questions about people’s families, hobbies, and activities, which has made me realize how little I knew about a lot of people’s lives outside of work.

That leads me to…

Team Building

dream team

I’ve gotten to know some of my colleagues (including Maria herself) better in the past five months than I have in five years. She has also created lots of voluntary fun stuff that has really brought us together, like inviting us to take and share pictures related to various themes (like “your thinking space” or “trying something new”) or asking questions like “What would be title of your TED Talk?” She also created a weekly optional Zoom meeting just to talk – not about work, but about life, concerns, and how we’re doing. Finally, she invited us to participate in a group text for, as she said, “whatever’s on your mind”, which we’ve used to discuss all kinds of things, share memes and news articles, update each other on daily events, and so on.

We had a well-functioning department before the pandemic, but the progress we’ve made over the past few months is astonishing. As a result of our increased closeness, we’re working together and supporting each other more effectively, and everyone is on more solid emotional footing.

Work Ethic

working from homeIn the conversation with my friends, one lamented that she has no idea what her boss is doing, except sending emails that increase expectations on her and her colleagues. “I’m not saying he isn’t working,” she said, “but I have no evidence that he is…which makes me wonder.” It’s harder to lead by example from a distance, but if someone is able to demonstrate that they’re working hard, it encourages others to do the same.

There’s no question that Maria is doing at least as much work as the rest of us, because she’s been transparent about how she’s spending her time. Additionally, she’s gotten involved in projects that she normally only supervises, offering some day to day guidance and even taking on some of the workload. That’s had a couple of results. First, our respect for her has really increased. Second, we’re all motivated to work harder for Maria, specifically, and to do things she asks. Finally, those of us who have leadership positions within the department are following her example by making sure that we’re working as hard, or harder, than anyone else on our teams.

thoughts?

 

Have you experienced effective or ineffective leadership during the pandemic? What do you think are qualities of a good leader?

22 thoughts on “Distance Leadership

  1. The Eclectic Contrarian says:

    You’re a good communicator!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amanda Cade says:

      Thank you! I’ve worked hard at it (and continue to do so).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Eclectic Contrarian says:

        You’re welcome!

        My preacher has asked a few times about me making my Sunday school lessons on Power Point. He’s a visual learner and he thinks it would benefit the class. Me, I’m not very savvy with such things and I’m not a visual learner… if the topic is clear and well discussed I can benefit from it far meaning than using visuals. I guess I’m a way I visualize in my head.

        Maybe off topic but it reminded me of this.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Amanda Cade says:

        I’ve been using Power Point for a long time for training and presentation materials, although in the past few years we’ve switched over to Google Slides. There’s a learning curve for the software, but it can be beneficial. I’m a believer in total messaging-reinforcing through as many different mediums as possible. Of course, I do get paid for stuff like that. Lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. petespringerauthor says:

    What a thought provoking piece, Amanda. I think you’ve nailed the essential elements (communication, empathy, team building, and work ethic) that any leader should focus on. I’m particularly interested in the communication aspect since this a vital quality of any interaction. Maria’s approach to check in, even if there aren’t significant issues to discuss, seems like a wise course of action.

    I’m a retired teacher. My former colleagues and I get together once a month for lunch (at least we did, pre-COVID). I traditionally set up a reservation and those who can make it that month attend. It is an opportunity to share grandchildren pictures and hear about someone’s latest travels. One of the things that always happens is someone will have news about former students, which leads to a lot of great memories and exchange of stories.

    We hadn’t met in four months, but last month I organized a socially distant gathering at a nearby park. We brought lawn chairs, our lunch, and a face mask. Unfortunately, not many people attended. This month I tried to organize a Zoom gathering, but that didn’t seem to go over that big either. Strange times indeed, but I will continue to reach out like Maria.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amanda Cade says:

      I really believe that communication is essential to just about everything, so that’s definitely a key metric when I evaluate leadership.
      Good for you for continuing to maintain your network, and I hope that your participation increases. People who help to keep others connected are so important!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad your team is working so well in part due to your good manager. Thanks for analyzing the dynamics that are working. I think they’d work for families too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amanda Cade says:

      I agree-they’re all things that transcend the business world.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Communication is key everywhere. (Funny typo, I wrote ley (law) first. Also works )

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I think that a good leader must lead by example.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amanda Cade says:

      Absolutely. I think it’s one of the most important factors in maintaining buy in and credibility.

      Like

  5. Jennie says:

    Excellent post, Amanda. You are a great communicator. Maria is doing a terrific job. Leadership at a distance is difficult.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amanda Cade says:

      Thank you so much.
      We’re incredibly blessed to have Maria. I hope you have someone in leadership you can count on during these crazy times.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jennie says:

        You’re welcome, Amanda. We do have good leadership. Better yet, we have staff who support each other.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. You are lucky to have Maria in your organization, possibly as close as anyone can get to the concept of “ “servant leaders.” Admittedly, it is not a new concept (c. 1970), but it is one that modern organizations should look into during this pandemic. Congratulations to you, Maria and your organization.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amanda Cade says:

      I remember reading about servant leadership in grad school. I’m glad you reminded me-I think I’m going to review the concept to help me as I continue working with my own team.

      Like

  7. I definitely want to improve my leadership skills. There is so much that goes into a great leader, I feel like you constantly need to develop.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amanda Cade says:

      Very true. There’s definitely always room to learn and grow.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks! You might enjoy this attempt to capture more “best practices” for collaboration & cooperation. https://petersironwood.com/2018/06/29/pattern-language-summary

    Liked by 1 person

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