Living Leadership : A catalyst for remote work coherency
With two decades of experience in management, I have personally worked under varied styles of leadership in IT, education and research industry. Early years of management career I have dealt with issues such as leadership feeling threatened with reportees knowledge or depth of experience ; leadership not sharing enough, not being transparent, hiding information and opportunities for reportees growth and empowerment ; leadership that did not allow freedom of though and expression to reportees and blocking or bullying reportees in meetings or otherwise should there be a contradicting opinion
I surely would not say that I loved these and other such experiences or would I really want to call this leadership; but they surely brought out the best in me to dive into how to deal with such, what exactly is leadership, with what lens should it be viewed, what are the experiences that I would want my reportees to engage in and not engage in; while relating to my own experiences over the years. Its over 8 years now and with nearly six years of co-architecting remote delivery operations at Axelerant as COO and co-leading Delivery, project, engineering, engagement, HR and talent recruitment managers across zones, evangelising and directing customer success execution,.... there is a breadth (and depth) of work I have been involved in with my reportees, and the following is surely not comprehensive.
Borrow from scientific principles that are not so metaphoric : They are all-pervasive, all around us
With 20 years of research and a phd thesis in self organization, systems theory and connected systems in laser and plasma systems (sun-earth system) , I was intuitively led to discover, research and practically apply some of the principles to organizational and project management which is one of many other nonlinear dynamical systems (autonomous/non-autonomous); the only reason why I got into management. The same "practical" metaphor and with Management 3.0 (that provides directions on how management must change), conscious attempts can be made to redefine leadership.
Any organization is a living conscious ecosystem, with a well defined and known strategic attractor. Borrowing principles of organic evolution and with a right balance of controls structures, one can get considerable insights into how best to work with and in a team, ensure interconnectedness for functional and unit coherence.
"The main requirement for living systems is not the existence of a set of inputs and outputs, but a coherence that results from interconnectedness of inputs and outputs"
Trust your reportees : Promote motivation and self-governance
Ours being a remote company, its well known now that "trust" is key driver to successful remote working relationships. Leadership needs to work towards ensuring and building the confidence that team embers are meeting their commitments even when they are out of sight. This can generally be achieved by setting clear expectations on work-hours, task schedules and deliverables. Eventually the work from members forming the system speaks for itself. Trusting your reportees also increases their motivation and hence their productivity.
Know your team not as a to-do but because you want to
It's absolute must to know your reportees strengths and weaknesses, their interests and sometimes even hobbies, what drives and excites them and most importantly what does growth mean to them; essentially how do they relate to the term. From my experience the term "growth" carries different connotations to different people. I personally also invest quite some time to know more on their families (if they are willing to share). It also helps bring out any distractions that could be carrying to help them focus better on the task at hand. Not pushing yourself for the same, its best not to see this as a forced ToDo to add meaning and right intent to this exchange.
"The more you invest in terms of time, openness, value, listening and engagement, the more likely it is that relationships will flourish."
Be aware of possible growth paths and career ladders
With a startup - where fingers are everywhere the challenges and visibility is slightly diluted for cross functional overlaps until system emerges to a state where clarity in tiers and hence almost non overlapping structures becomes a necessity by the system itself. In this case leadership has to have a pulse of systemic evolution and with some predictability on possible structural changes as system evolves. With this systemic agility, a little bit of paranoia on "how does my role change?" / "how does my future look like?"/ "What is my career ladder?" comes in. Working with small and mid-sized enterprises and as a part of my mentoring/consultancy program with other organizations such types of questions are most common from managers irrespective of the functional unit they belong into. A leader in such a case has to be aware of possible growth paths and hence possible career ladders. The next step then comes to guide (or help provide guidance by delegating) them to move on a ladder that excites them most and maps to their skills. There may be cases where managers would not know what path they should choose. I generally put them on a path of discovery to allow them more time.
Further, I personally make a conscious choice to not let the current system where reportees are working to be a limitation while exposing them to possible career tangents. Current system may not be able to provide them the experiences they are looking for growth (near-term or may be long-term) but should it stop them for empowering themselves!
Further leaders need to nurture and have an inner drive to help and motivate the reportees to work on their weaknesses and help build career roadmaps with their reportees.
Be prepared to listen to their personal problems : Care for their personal growth
There will be times you may not have solutions but they can surely be directed to concerned and helped. Should your organization have a dedicated life coach who can help with individual and personal issues and sometimes even family conflicts help direct the people to them. Sometimes simply being a listening ear just helps and perhaps a little bit of guidance on how you would have or actually have dealt with such "a" dilemma helps explaining its impact and outcomes. Each person goes through fluctuating biorhythms with energy spikes and troughs. It is generally unfair to expect a consistent energy and enthusiasm plateau for a high velocity and productivity on an every day basis.
"Work quality is a given if knowledge workers are happy."
Thought leadership/innovation/ideation is skewed to CEO or other execs?
Organizations, whose DNA is architected with such surely needs a paradigm shift. Not denying that experience and subject matter expertise in a functional domain is important, but it has to be understood that we are working with equally talented knowledge workers. Co-architectures and collaborative innovation generally opens up new possibilities and in the world of agility and continuous change, its best to have multiple perspectives and not link ideation to role. Reportees need to be provided opportunities to spark behaviours that are a self-catalyst to higher performance and also beneficial for the ecosystem; for eventually should the system scale, your reportees will be taking your positions. They need to he coached to look beyond the visible and speaking their voice confidently even if the whole world around them differs!.
Leaders need to be self aware
Leaders should be passionately driven to learn, empower themselves, need to be self-reflective, self-corrective, be an active listener while also being a nurturer. It further helps to be consciously aware of your own biorythms to tweek your involvements and task complexity in the day. Team members look forward to leaders and get influenced by their energy levels. This is almost a given.
Competing leadership cannot never lead to system emergence. Borrowing from cosmic operational design, each individual is unique, with unique strengths and potentials. Best is to know your strengths, be at the rightful place where skills can be exploited to the fullest and contribute to systemic health in turn contributing and creating opportunities for other members in the shared space.
Know that leaders are not perfect, each interaction be it with their reportees is also a learning experience for self. Continuous work is needed on raising your emotional intelligence besides other soft skills.
"Organizations are based on self-transcendence - the reaching out beyond one's own existence in order to create shared understanding with others".
Take career roadmaps and alliances (tours of duty) of reportees seriously : Care for their professional growth via cadence to rituals
Communication canvas for timely processes (weekly, monthly, etc.) with reportees once defined (collaboratively) should be relentlessly followed. From my personal experience the canvas need not be hard cast in stone. It should be adaptive and open to adopting team members needs; in other words any such ritual needs to be nurtured. With my reportees, I generally cover pulse of reportees, personal and family conflicts and challenges, challenges and showstoppers against roadmaps and tours of duty, OKR's and KPI's. Once a week checkin with monthly one to ones with on demand checkins to handle exigencies and crisis has generally helped me and my team.
Leadership complementarity is vital
Team work generally produces non-skewed outcomes/outputs if leadership team is consciously built to support complementary skills. Entire leadership having one sided functional interest cannot help in system emergence. A fully skilled team further supports skill scalability, dedicated focus and efficient functional specialisation and company matures.
I have personally encountered cases where a simple acknowledgement that one of my team members could contribute better than me irrespective of hierarchical placement, has helped our operational portfolio multiple times.
Manage bifurcations if it means painful refactoring and endless adaptation
An organizational system that supports transparency and openness to allow for continual improvement and adaptation, generally creates extensive wishlists and program backlogs. To keep the system confined to a phase space and to support strategically aligned goal achievement, leadership has to engage people around the things that matter most to an organization, keeping the team at the highest value priorities, hence eliminating noise and related bifurcations. Managing bifurcations surely does not mean creating a blueprint of a "right course". Rather it means equipping the team with the right compass to guide them along the journey. It's generally also beneficial to be proactively prepare for possible forks. This is where clarity of goals and purpose really helps. As a mentor and coach, leadership should help remove inefficiencies within each members zone of influence and re-allocate more time and space to the most impactful aspects of their jobs.
"@ Primal leadership : The most important lesson about management is that it’s not about managing people. It’s about building a culture and process that set a team up for success."
Enable synergistic alignment while keeping the team at strategically highest priorities
System nodes must know the system and how its attractor is shifting in time for them to be better aligned. Special and continuous efforts to update the team to on strategic changes at the executive level for effective change management/early feedback, timely cross unit collaboration and cohesive awareness towards a "meaning and shared purpose" is a must. Each knowledge worker is a stakeholder and a co-architect of the system. This can be supported with collaborative WIKI's, collaborative backlog grooming and transparent information radiators to demonstrate progress openly.
"Ensure team members are tied to the organization by commitment to its aims and purposes and do often expect to participate in its governance."
Connect with new joinees : Ensure systemic flatness in the flow
I have generally witnessed HR and engagement struggling to define programs such as buddy programs, and such to help and support new team members. Surely these and other such programs do expedite the process of onboarding of a new team member, but there is no substitute to connecting new joinees with top leadership. This does not need to enforced as a process but could be driven as a conscious choice from the leadership itself while the candidate is in induction. This helps support the candidate to tune in to organization's existing culture, beliefs and DNA. Manuals, process and policy documents are never sufficient.
Now this is not comprehensive and there is more to it, then how do leaders take out time to give energy, time and attention to so many tangents. I always believe structures are organizational enablers and are a catalyst if rightly architected with numbers and skills. I have been interviewing various profiles of customer success managers and managers in other verticals. I most often see on their profiles "managed x people", "led x people" sometimes x being unbelievable if I consider above detailing as a baseline reference. Interviewees sometimes also start their intros with numbers as a profile sales pitch; with a presumption that higher the number, higher the weight. Can relate for I was asked similar questions when I joined as a manager in early years of my career.
Ca'nt help smiling :-) for they have a journey to travel.