Rich: You don’t know if you are a great boss, but you really want to be! You try to be informed, aware, charismatic and fair, and you lead your team with confidence, but how can you tell, how can you know that its working for your colleagues and friends?
Your team still doesn’t know who you are, they know you care, they know you have passion, but they have yet to really connect, why? Are you present enough, do they know what you value, do they know what makes you get up on a Saturday morning, can they see you stood shoulder to shoulder with them on the problems they are trying to resolve.
Your visibility and presence can no longer only come from your physical presence in the cafeteria, boardroom, team meetings, and hallways. Covid accelerated our migration into the digital world and even now as we come out of this two-year physical presence hiatus, we all need to relearn how to be there for each other and be able to lean into the way we work together on everything. In the last week in my role we seem to have exploded back into our new way of working with balcony briefings and large in person meetings, its refreshing and yet challenging as we try to relearn how to do these things we used to take for granted, and maybe wrongly.
Our digital presence has replaced our physical presence; our in-person dialogues are now online, the way we connect with every member of the team is at least 50% done virtually at least 50% of the time! And yet nobody has pressed paused to learn what that means, what is the new difference in how we connect.
Sarah: First impressions of you, ‘the boss’, on a new starter is I think one of the delicate paths to tread both during the pandemic and in a virtual world and that now as we transition into our new normal way of working there are some things we need to take with us.
Pre-Covid those in person first few weeks with a new member of your team would have been imperative to ensure an understanding of how that person works, likes to be managed, along with you ensuring that your new starter understands how you work as a boss, and fundamentally you begin to build that trust which is fundamental between a leader and their team.
The danger with our new way of working is that the meetings we have become much more of a shopping list for you to tick off and a moment of proof for the new starter rather than cementing that key relationship which will ensure productivity, engagement, understanding and success in the future.
This relationship is often built through the quick chat after a key meeting, that new starter seeing us at our highs and lows that come throughout a normal working day, and these moments are missed when we “hang up” the teams call.
As digital-first leaders we need to invest some time into turning the old well-trodden “induction” into a new “digital induction” but instead of death by Teams, we have Teams to build in every medium possible.
“I just don’t get it”
Rich: Leaders in 2022 share one common challenge: their schedules and time are limited. We fill every moment with what we need to do to deliver, to be the leader we want to be. The value of spending time online: to just lead in a modern world is not given the value it deserves. I want to change that now and make it last forever as a new way of working.
Leadership requires engagement and in a Covid impacted world engagement now requires more constants to replace the visibility of the physical. By ricocheting across the online atmosphere, you take the first step in making a lasting impact on how you communicate and lead—and it won’t take up much of your time. Instead of sending the email press the call button and see if someone is free or remember the hard time that a colleague had in a meeting the day before and drop them a note to see how they are today, allyship is a word we have started to associate more and more with the DEI agenda, but let’s appropriate it in this way too, be an ally to your colleague, be a friend more than a colleague if you can, and stop worrying about the medium you offer that allyship to other people, its your medium that you choose to use, to bend to the needs of the colleague.
Sarah: I agree with everything Rich says but I would also go one step further, as well as ensuring that we check in with colleagues we need to also ensure that we all sit back and check “do I need that meeting”, what will it add to the connection we are creating?
When meetings were face to face there was more consideration given to the purpose and need, and often the sheer length of time you would wait to meet with someone could mean that sometimes there were decisions taken and plans made without the consult of a boss and through this, we saw successes that empowered that person and increased confidence, a downside of the digital boss is the fact the boss never now needs to walk from one room to another or building to building increasing their capacity to “meet” which brings with it an over-reliance to just “check” before we proceed, which then leads to fatigue and a sense overwhelming not only in the boss but in peers and colleagues. How many people look at their diary on a Monday and know every meeting for that week be it virtually or in-person is really needed?
Checking in on people to understand what they need is the right leadership route in a Digital Leadership way of working, but asking for or even giving the impression that you now need to be a consult on every thing that moves forward is a sure fire way to pushing the wrong digital buttons of the team.
“Digital connectivity is frivolous.”
Rich: Digital connection is frivolous as it requires less investment is a common false belief in this new world. Perhaps it is caused by the appeal of the many platforms that can be seen as none office appropriate or quite simply because even after two years of working in this digital-first way we are still learning how to appropriate the tools to get the most from us as leaders and our friends and colleagues as they strive to achieve the goals we all believe in. We need to stop and try to make the system work for us as people not as resources, the digital solutions are there to offer some collaboration capability it just takes a bit of patience and resilience to make them work for us.
The company brand comes first and foremost, but that is something that is built by its leaders and team members across the entire organisation, so appropriate the brand as your own, allow your real self to shine through but be mindful of what you represent, then get out there and engage. As a leader, the corporate world teaches you to censor yourself to take care of what you say and who to as you are NOT the brand. This idea has been reinforced by years of controlled messaging captured in press release statements and carefully crafted talking points you share on stage or in interviews. But, in the new world digital is a way for you to be yourself being mindful of what and who, and how you represent.
In our newly hyper-connected world, your colleagues and your teams want to hear from you, they want to know what you think and what you are going to do, maybe it’s the acceptance of politicians as hyper communicators but we are now in a place where digital leaders have no choice other than to be ‘famous’. Digital reach is wider and therefore taking that word lightly and applying it to how you are perceived always being mindful of two letters being added to the word to make a negative connotation, you don’t want to be infamous!
The public sector has stifled authenticity of leaders in digital for so long, and yet the leaders that have resisted the stifling are the ones that the system says it would follow to the end of the earth and back, and yet sadly (for the system) so many of those people have moved on to allow their own feet to dance to their own tunes.
Sarah: my experience of Digital connection has meant that people can realise a career progression that previously would not have been possible.
Six months ago, I stepped into a role at Dell Technologies which immediately saw me cover the Region of EMEA and more recently taking on a Global role as well, as a mother of two school children I did not believe this would be possible for many more years to come. But the acceptance of digital leadership means I can now be the leader I know I am and be the mother I always want to be and do it all with the my authentic self at the heart of it all. A positive outcome of the last two years I hope.
Pre-pandemic a role spanning this geography would have had an instant expectation of a great amount of travel and time away from home, which would have meant many would have not got an interview and as part of the digital change we have gone through we have brought a whole new pool of talent to the table that previously for whatever reason could not commit to jumping on a plane whenever required. We have removed a bias by allowing digital leadership to flourish and now have a diversity of thought in so much more of what we do.
The effectiveness of ‘frivolous’ digital connectivity is meaning we are making colleagues, friends all over the world; this is bringing fresh, ground-breaking ideas, and different perspectives of what has been tried and worked, or in some cases failed. I know Rich beats himself up over this all the time, trying to be a leader and becoming a friend is something many years a go he was told was a weakness, and yet now in a new digital world I am certain that being able to be a friend is so important too.
I have recently worked with two colleagues based in New York on the concept of running workshops with Healthcare teams to ensure they are using the right device to enable the safe capturing of data to improve patient care and save them precious time, and through digital collaboration (with a small appreciation of time difference) we have developed a program of work that can be delivered effectively around the globe in three weeks, so exciting for us to do this. I fear in the past this would have taken much, much longer. I implore more organisations to be this brave, to ditch those statements in their job description, ‘requirement to travel essential for success in this role’ and to change this to be willingness to engage digitally as a colleague leader and friend are essential to your success in this role.
“I don’t know what to say.”
The common phrase when I chat to toher colleagues is they don’t know what to say in ‘digital public’ that will help move forward the dial for them and the work they are involved in. I believe that showing colleagues your personality and the leadership qualities that helped you become a leader and help you every day to be their leader are key. That authenticity of who you are will win you more ‘follow-ship’ than anything else we can do as leaders because if the team believe in the direction you are going in then it becomes easier to be right behind you, maybe even pushing you forward.
The idea of servant leadership and being vulnerable in front of the team can only add to the notion of allyship I think. When we work with leaders who have accomplished amazing things in their personal and professional lives we want to know about them. But ordinary people doing everyday things, why would this even remotely be of interest? But we all do ordinary things and from those things we learn, this learning shapes us and if we then share the ordinary and the extraordinary then maybe we can start to learn new ways of moving through every part of the day together.
There is a balance between what you want to say as an individual and what you want to say as a leader representing your organization. Being a digital leader though is about knowing how to blend those two things successfully every day.
Sarah: I was recently talking to a colleague who has been working in my organisation for many years and who explaining a very complex and highly technical issue to me so I was armed with all the information I needed for meeting with a partner in the coming weeks, and at the end of the explanation he asked if I understood and I replied with “I understand enough for what I need to do”.
For this he congratulated me which ensued a discussion. He explained that this is all we need just enough understanding for what needs to be done; I think we often feel when we become more senior in our careers and become leaders in our own rights we believe we should understand everything whether that is the latest storage offering from our organisations, the latest use of AI in Healthcare or how that finance spreadsheet works but I believe a team works best when we all have a depth of knowledge to play our part in the puzzle. We all work together to support and build the answer for our customer or colleague or partner.
I believe teams like to see that gap in our leader’s knowledge, not only does this give them a clear understanding of what they are there to do, and what part they play in the puzzle, it shows them that their leader is human and their knowledge is imperative to their success.
Being able to engage through knowledge digitally has become the way we make this work, as Rich has said already this is about the purest form of engagement, the creation of friendship. As I finish this first blog that Rich and I have done together I am traveling across the world for the first time in years for work and the first time ever solo, I know when I get there I will be at my best because in the last two years I have learnt how to engage in entirely different way, and that’s because of having to embrace digital first leadership.