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5 Ways Leaders Can Offer Encouragement And Emotional Support On A Remote Team

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When was the last time your town-hall update sparked a surge of motivation? How about the last time you totally lost your cool?

As a leader and manager, all eyes are on you. It’s a lot of pressure and that pressure can build up over time if not managed properly.

Research by the Harvard Business Review shows that a leader’s emotional intelligence creates a certain culture or work environment. So a good or bad mood could quite literally make or break your team.

So, do you rule the corporate kingdom with an iron fist or with care and empathy? How comfortable does your team feel about providing candid feedback to you or to the greater leadership team?

How A Leaders’ Emotions Can Trickle Down To The Entire Team

According to Google’s famous Project Aristotle, they found that the most effective teams have a high level of psychological safety.

The definition of psychological safety, as defined by Amy Edmondson, the Harvard Business School Professor who coined the term, is “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

This means that team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.

Google performed another study to determine if managers actually mattered to a team’s success. The data quickly revealed that great managers are crucial to a happy and productive team.

But what are the characteristics of a great manager according to Google’s findings in Project Oxygen? Their research results found that a “great manager” is someone who:

  1. Is a good coach
  2. Empowers teams and does not micromanage
  3. Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
  4. Is productive and results-oriented
  5. Is a good communicator—listens and shares information

Based on these two research studies, great managers and teams are not defined by their exceptional technical skills or years of experience in a particular industry. Instead, success is dependent on how supported and safe the team feels and if their manager (read: coach) is providing the right information, encouragement, and emotional support to the team.

In addition, leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence are shown to foster high-performing cultures and teams.

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify and manage your own emotions as well as another’s emotions. Emotionally intelligent leaders typically have at least these three skills:

  1. The ability to identify one’s emotions.
  2. The ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving.
  3. The ability to manage emotions, which includes both regulating one’s own emotions when necessary and helping others to do the same.

The researchers also found across a variety of studies that “high levels of emotional intelligence create climates in which information sharing, trust, healthy risk-taking, and learning flourish.”

On remote teams, these aspects that make a strong team can feel like an unattainable goal. Remote work removes the need for co-workers to be in one physical space, which means transparency, trust, and open communication need to be supported and ingrained more than usual in both your processes and work relationships.

Unito, a SaaS company based in Montreal, recently started working remotely full-time. The company previously worked together in their office. Their CEO & Co-Founder, Marc Boscher, explains how the team adapted to this immediate shift from co-located to fully distributed:

“We believe in the principle of transparency by default, which really gave us a head start in setting up remote processes. When you’re remote you lose a lot of informal communication, so your formal communication needs to be more transparent, or people start inventing answers to their own questions.

Our team already participated in an asynchronous daily scrum, sharing their wins for yesterday, plans for today, and blockers in a dedicated Slack channel. We’ve also always used Unito to sync all of our work management tools, and provide everyone with access to information and real-time visibility into project progress. This helps us break down the tool silos remote teams often face.

In terms of new processes, we’ve added new meetings to help with communication and information sharing. This includes executive virtual office hours, video lunches on Fridays, and an always-on video coffee room to encourage both professional and personal interaction.”

With intentional processes, strong communication, and digital tools, company leaders and teams can build a supportive and thriving workplace no matter where employees are located.

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"To practice and promote empathy, you should always support team members and encourage everyone to do the same. Create a culture of collaboration versus competition by making sure everyone feels supported and that they can succeed."

— Stella Garber, Head of Marketing for Trello at Atlassian  

But remember—a leader’s “emotional style” has a significant impact on the company culture and even the success of the team.

According to the same study at Harvard Business Review, an emotionally intelligent leader can monitor his or her moods through self-awareness, understand their impact through empathy, and even act in ways that boost others’ moods.

So you don’t always have to be a beaming ray of sunshine (and you shouldn’t be), but self-awareness and these five tips to offer encouragement and emotional support to your team can really set your company on the right course no matter what storm, crisis, or hiccup is thrown its way.

5 Ways To Offer Encouragement And Support As A Leader Or Manager

By applying these ideas and insights from global leaders, you’ll start to equip yourself with the right armor in order to lead with compassion, empathy, and care.

1. Ask Questions Then Actively Listen

As a leader, you may think that one of your main responsibilities is to constantly motivate and inspire your team with verbal or written messages. While this is an important aspect of successful leadership, one aspect is often overlooked—listening.

Are you taking time to stop, be quiet, and listen to your team’s ideas, opinions, and feedback even if it counters your own ideas or those of the group? Do you ask intentional questions and help facilitate conversations instead of overpowering them?

This is a hard thing to do. As a leader, that pesky ego of yours may cause you to think that your ideas are the best ideas. Of course, you have some good ones but your team does as well!

In your next weekly stand-up or town-hall meeting, prepare some questions and leave some time at the end of the call to get ideas and feedback from your team.

If your team doesn’t have a high level of psychological safety yet then consider creating a space where people can ask questions or provide feedback anonymously. Your team could set up a Google Form or JotForm to gather anonymous feedback or also use a tool like Retrium or OfficeVibe to really get an accurate pulse on the team’s emotions and performance.

In addition to public meetings, it’s very important that as a manager you schedule regular 1:1 meetings with your direct reports.

Brian Schmidt, Chief of Staff for Trello at Atlassian, shares these insights regarding 1:1 and team meetings:

“The personal matters a lot. Reach out to people 1:1—they’ll tell you things even in a DM that wouldn’t come up in a shared setting. If you’re not doing it already, schedule a regular meeting with your wider team just to connect and to have a forum for any important information to be shared. Be personal in the 1:1s but also in the group setting.”

1:1 meetings are the perfect place to get clear feedback and genuinely ask members of your team how they are feeling, doing, and performing. If you’re higher up the chain, encourage the managers you lead to do the same with their direct reports and share that information with you so you can get a pulse on the mood of the entire company.

Your communication and support as a leader should be both informal and formal, as well as based on a supportive culture. Stella Garber, Head of Marketing for Trello at Atlassian and author of Managing Remotely, shares her advice:

“Establishing a culture of positive reinforcement and emotional availability is really important for team health. You can't really turn on encouragement and emotional support when it's needed, it needs to be part of daily team interactions.

How do you do that? Incorporate moments both formally and informally. A formal way may be to recognize team accomplishments during a weekly meeting. An informal way may be to have open Slack channels on non-work related topics and participate to show it's ok to bring your full self to work.”


trello embace remote guide

2. Practice And Promote Empathy

According to the 2019 State of Workplace Empathy, an increasing number of employees don't think their employer is empathetic—leaving the door open for lost talent at organizations that can't close the "empathy gap." In fact, 92 percent of CEOs say their organization is empathetic, but only 72 percent of employees agree (a 6-point decrease from previous years).

Many CEOs and leaders understand the value of empathy but are not practicing what they seem to believe or preach.

So, what is empathy? And how can leaders be more empathetic?

Empathy is an important foundation of emotional intelligence. It’s the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another. The goal is to understand a person’s feelings and perspectives and use that knowledge to guide your actions. Empathy isn’t something that you’re born with necessarily. Instead it’s a skill you can cultivate and practice on a regular basis.

According to one Harvard study, high-trust organizations have 11% more empathy for their teammates when compared to low-trust organizations.

One method to being more empathetic is the aforementioned exercise of listening and asking questions. However, truly empathetic leaders take this one step further. They understand the situations, concerns, or hopes that their team has and use their power to drive positive changes based on these needs.

Brennan McEachran, CEO and Co-Founder of Soapbox, applies this empathetic approach to his leadership. He explains:

“When someone puts in the effort to open up, whether it’s about constructive feedback for me, they’re upset about a situation or something completely unrelated to work, I listen and take in the full story. I don’t jump at the first opportunity to interrupt and inject my thoughts into the conversation. That, to me, is one of the best ways for managers to practice empathy.”

Another company who is a global remote work leader is putting this into practice as well. The team at Buffer sent out a survey during their All Hands meeting and the feedback revealed that their team was struggling with not always feeling comfortable, or able, to take time off, especially those with families. Instead of just sympathizing with these sentiments of anxiety and distraction, the Buffer Leadership team empathized with their team and put the top request into effect—a 4-day workweek.

They’re not making permanent changes to their workweek yet, but this is a perfect example of how leaders can take an effective yet empathetic approach and can turn employee feedback and ideas into actionable change.

marc-unito

“My advice to other leaders is to acknowledge that your employees know what they need better than you do. Your job is to listen to their needs, support them where you can, and provide them resources.”

— Marc Boscher, CEO of Unito

3. Make Decisions Based On Your Company Values

There will be times when your emotions run high or a crisis hits that causes the entire company to react in a frenzy. When it’s difficult to identify then harness your emotions in order to make the right decisions, this is when you can allow your company’s values to lead you in the right direction.

Company values, also known as corporate or core values, are the fundamental beliefs in which your business and its behavior are based. A strong set of values gives your company clear direction and sets a standard for how employees behave, collaborate, and communicate with each other and customers.

Atlassian has five core values that remain constant even as the company has grown and evolved over the years. Their company values are public and explain that “they guide what we do, why we create, and who we hire.”

When you have to navigate a sticky situation or provide critical feedback to someone on your team, you can lean into your company values in order to make decisions or have difficult conversations.

Stella Garber, Head of Marketing for Trello at Atlassian emphasizes this point:

“It starts at the top. Practice what you preach. You can't just say you have a culture of encouragement without building in processes to recognize people's achievements and also support them in good times and bad.”

The next time you’re having a hard time or need some guidance, reference your core values and the answer will be right in front of you on how to proceed and lead.

4. Be Vulnerable

In business, vulnerability is typically seen as a weakness. However, successful leaders recognize the importance of vulnerability. Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, once said:

“The hardest thing about being a leader is demonstrating or showing vulnerability… When the leader demonstrates vulnerability and sensibility and brings people together, the team wins.”

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to share too much information on Slack, like how you got a stomach ache after trying a new Mexican recipe for dinner. It means that when you make a mistake or you’re feeling some negative emotions, you openly share those experiences and lessons with your team. You can also share your own processes and challenges.

Opening up the hood of your own vulnerability reminds those who look up to you that you’re also human.

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage,” explains Brene Brown, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

 

On a remote team, showing and sharing your vulnerability is exceptionally important. Those physical barriers are even more apparent when working with your team remotely so you have to work harder to break them down. Since you’re not in the same physical space, your team may not know when you’re feeling under the weather or just overcame a difficult challenge.

Just because you’re the leader and charged with supporting your team doesn’t mean you have to be a superhero (even Superman had a kryptonite-esque weakness). However, showing your vulnerability doesn’t mean you’re weak. It actually showcases the opposite.

Are you also a parent? Share some stressful albeit funny anecdotes about life as a parent on your next team call.

Was your energy low last week? Share an update on Slack about that experience and explain how you’re protecting your energy this week by signing off at a specific time each day.

brennan-soapbox

 

"Another thing to remember is that although you’re a leader and you’re used to coaching your employees, you don’t always need to “coach” them when they need emotional support. If they’re going through something and they open up to you, don’t jump on the opportunity to share advice immediately. Instead, say “thank you for sharing”. Be sincere, and if they ask for advice, you can choose to provide that."

— Brennan McEachran, CEO and Co-Founder of Soapbox

5. Build A Resilience Routine

Whatever your title is—manager, director, VP, greatest boss ever—you’re human. That means you need to eat, sleep, exercise, and socialize just to tackle some of the building blocks of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Hanneke Antonelli, award-winning business coach and the host of The Savvy Business Show, explains how important this is for business leaders:

“When you are grounded, you are better equipped to lead others and to make better decisions. Right now, you have to lean into resiliency more than ever before.”

So how do you become more resilient? It starts with your routine.

Hanneke Antonelli explains what this could look like:

“My resilience routine looks like this: I wake up at the same time every day and I meditate for 10 minutes and journal for a little bit. Then I make myself a nice cup of coffee and I write – writing brings me joy. After that, I go for a 30-minute walk and only then I start my day.

It’s been proven in a variety of studies that highly effective people have a consistent morning routine. If you’re not a morning person, that’s alright!

Nighttime routines can also lead to increased productivity. Your resilience routine is yours and can fit your schedule in the ways you need it to. Consistency is key when building resilience, though. Antonelli explains further:

“Our immediate knee jerk reaction when things get tough is to deprive ourselves of all the fun and nice things that fulfill us. And this is the biggest mistake that you as a business owner and any human can make especially in difficult times. It’s crucial that you protect your businesses’ biggest asset: you. That means making time for hobbies, exercise, enough sleep. This is something you have to do daily in order for it to be effective so think of things that usually relax you and make a routine that you can practice consistently.”

So the next time you’re faced with a challenge, remember that you don’t need a suit of armor to overcome it. A simple and consistent routine can set you up to tackle anything that comes your way.

 

Lead By Example (With Emotions & Encouragement, Of Course!)

This 5-step framework can help you from blowing a fuse whenever your emotions go haywire or the company’s mood shifts. You can harness your emotions and build a culture of positive reinforcement and emotional availability by asking questions, actively listening, being empathetic, relying on your core values, and building a strong, self-care routine. 

And finally, pat yourself on the back. You're doing a great job and deserve some recognition (and encouragement), too. 


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