Kash Shaikh at Virtana gives his “servant leadership” tips for promoting emotional intelligence in organisations with remote workers
During the course of the last twelve months, business leaders were forced to quickly learn how to motivate and connect with their team members virtually. In 2021, we will face more of the same. The pressures of remote management can fray our emotions, stretch our intelligence, and test our patience. Our ability to make sound decisions under these trying circumstances requires emotional intelligence (EQ).
But what does that mean exactly?
To lead effectively in 2021, we must be self-aware and recognise, understand, and manage our own emotions to positively influence the emotions of others. With so much separation, that looks like it is going to continue throughout the first part of this year, it’s essential we keep up communications, and positively influence others, so everyone feels inspired and connected.
Managing virtually is, oddly enough, both harder and easier. Harder, because we are not face-to-face. Easier because we are not on planes, trains, and automobiles with wasted time. So, the opportunity is to use that time gained to be in more virtual team meetings, more one-on-ones, and use the gift of that time to make every connection count. In order for business leaders to be effective, we have to continually refine our emotional intelligence skills to inspire our team to deliver great results.
In addition, I believe if the leader understands that leadership is a service and they are the servant of the people, then their perspective is to serve people to be successful in their jobs. Emotionally intelligent servant leaders practice listening with empathy and ask probing questions such as ‘how you are feeling?’ and ‘what can I do to help?’ Which helps them observe if someone is feeling overwhelmed by a project. They use this awareness to encourage people to take a break or help deprioritize some aspects of the projects or delegate to other team members. Servant leaders with high EQ know there is a subtle difference between challenging a team member to perform at their best or pushing too much to break.
During the current uncertainty, and remote work away from the support of team members, people are going through a lot both in personal and professional lives, and leaders need to be kind and help their team members.
To lead distributed remote teams, leaders need to clearly define the strategic objectives, trust and help the team members, and focus on measuring the key results (OKRs) and avoid focusing on activities. Leaders need to make sure there is a clear dashboard of objectives and key results. Leaders also need to make sure they continue to communicate why these goals will lead to a better place and say it seven times, seven ways.
Emotional intelligence involves giving and receiving feedback, dealing with challenging relationships, and learning to act in resource-constrained environments. It also includes meeting deadlines, managing change, and dealing with setbacks, failure, and yes – success.
In my new role as president and CEO at Virtana, part of my job is to remove friction and complexity for our customers and partners, and to flatten obstacles that impede teams. I also need to make sure every person has what they need to excel in their role and perform to the best of their ability.
To do this, I am undertaking a lengthy “listen, learn, and observe tour”. Virtana’s team members, partners, and end customers have a treasure trove of the knowledge I need to do my job well, so I am listening while creating and delivering upon the vision of our company. As I learn about our people, I am also listening to get consensus on company goals and objectives. I am listening to our talented team members to understand how they view their role in the company’s success, as well as their own of course.
My “listening tour” begins with open-ended questions, such as:
- How can we make things simpler and easier for you?
- How can we empower our customers to accelerate digital transformation?
- Where do you plan to head next in your cloud journey?
- What motivates you?
Finally, I ask the toughest question: “What do you like and what don’t you like about the company?” And I really do want to hear their answers.
My questions for our customers are cloud-centric, but you can create your own questions that are pertinent to your business. Once a conversation is underway, remember to recognise individuals. Thank them out loud, and let people know they have your support.
Emotional intelligence: How to avoid destructive language
Equally important is understanding the crux of low emotional intelligence; destructive language that tears people down, rather than encouraging their growth and ability to thrive. To avoid this, learn to identify and steer clear of language that makes you seem more like a tyrant than a leader. Here are some examples:
Be kind. Avoid “I don’t have time for this.” Instead, try: “Let’s talk later when I have time and we will do what we can to help.”
Create a fail-fast culture. Don’t ask “Who approved that idea/decision?” Consider “How can we make this decision work?”
Eliminate the word “I.” For example, instead of saying “because I said so”, ask “how can we get you the support you need to make this a success?”
Be inclusive. Avoid statements like; “that is a bad idea.” Instead, use language such as “your idea is a good starting point, let’s build on that.”
Take responsibility. Try not to say “this is not my/my team’s problem.” Rather, consider “let’s see how we can be of help”.
If you start by treating people with trust and respect, and serve them by helping remove roadblocks, they will be inspired to wow you as they reach for their potential.
One particular advantage of virtual management is that we have now gained so much time that was formerly spent on traveling, to the office or various meeting places. Use this new found time to participate in quality (over quantity) virtual team meetings and one-on-ones – strive to make every connection count. As a population, we have never been more distant from each other than we are now, and never before have we depended so much on technology to help us communicate with our family, friends, and colleagues.
Let us continue 2021 by connecting from a place of empathy and trust, act as leaders with a servant mindset and respect for the hard work that everyone accomplishes every single day! Here’s to emotionally intelligent servant leadership in 2021.
Kash Shaikh is CEO of Virtana. He has over 25 years of experience in the data center and cloud software and hardware industry. He joined Virtana from Dell Technologies where he was the Global Vice President of the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions business. Connect with him for real-time industry insight on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com