Extra salt, extra sugar. The importance of amplifying leadership communication during times of pressure and distance. 

Fun fact: airline food contains more salt and sugar because at altitude and in a pressurised cabin our tastebuds are less sensitive.

I recently shared this fact with a client, off the back of her acknowledgement that she needs to ‘lean in harder’. This particular client has been working from another country and had come to the realisation that she needed to amp up her leadership by being extra kind, extra sensitive and extra aware whilst communicating with teams remotely – because at distance (much like at 32,000 feet up in an aeroplane), our spider senses simply don’t work (or land) as well as they might when everyone is physically together. 

An important aspect of leadership is knowing when you need to ‘lean in harder’. Which situations might require you to do more than you might usually do? When might you need to listen harder, or offer more support? Dialling up your communication in times of high pressure, or high altitude (remote working) is a huge opportunity to show great leadership.

I’ve written before about how great leaders are accessible, and this goes much further than a simple ‘my door is always open’.  

It’s not just working from anywhere that requires a step change of effort in leadership, you also need to recognise when to ‘lean in harder’ at times when team members are taking on extra responsibility or working on something new or complex. 

A few weeks ago, a client of mine had a number of key people on holiday during the same week, and so a capable middle manager was stepping up to run the department in their absence. The team member was excited about the opportunity, but manning the fort for the week was clearly going to be a stretch. 

My client – who was working as usual that week, did what any good leader would, they offered up a very sincere ‘I’m here if you need me’ and ‘call me anytime if you want to chat things through’

Whilst this might sound like accessible and kind leadership – and my client meant every word of his support – the truth is that ‘I’m here’ simply wasn’t enough for this level of pressure. A capable middle-manger, who likely wants to demonstrate ability and competence, is extremely unlikely to pick up the phone each day to chat through anything they’re unsure of. Rather they will try to figure it out themselves – not wanting to ‘bother’ their boss or appear incapable. Small concerns may have resulted in sleepless nights, and good decisions may have taken longer to come to.

After some gentle prodding, my client’s ah ha moment came during our weekly call, whilst discussing that he hadn’t heard much but that ‘things must be OK as he hasn’t said otherwise and clients appear to be happy.’

I probably should have put a ten-minute call in at the start of each day this week, shouldn’t I? – he mused. 

This was a perfect opportunity for my client to amplify his leadership – a ten-minute daily call doesn’t say ‘I don’t trust you’, it says ‘I know this week is going to be hard work, and I’m going to make extra time so you feel supported and reassured.’ 

When you’re really, truly amplifying your leadership for remote teams or team members who are shouldering a lot of pressure – you should be doing so much that it verges on feeling slightly awkward. When you’re at that point, you’re probably just about providing the right amount of support and feedback.  

I hope this inspires you to lean in harder today. 

Andy. 

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