Remote Leadership… The Reminder of Leadership Style

As we all continue to be inundated by news headlines and broadcast updates on television and radio, vast numbers of people have been ‘punished’ by the coronavirus outbreak. I have had the misfortune to be one of those forced to work from home every day. Thinking back years ago, I would have loved the opportunity to work from my home office. However, my leadership style and motivation have evolved over the last 10 years or so. It has significantly reminded me of how my leadership style has changed as I sit inside for the third day in a row. The stay-at-home order for Wisconsin is scheduled to last at least a month, so I guess I have a long way to go.

Over the last 5-6 years of my leadership career, I have increasingly found myself in regional and expanded roles where my only personal contributions are not the determinants of success; it takes the entire team I lead to determine success. A few years ago, I realized that if I was going to be successful, I had to lead my team effectively from a distance. Before this Covid-19 adventure, I was able to visit one of my hospitals 3-4 times a week and talk to my leaders. That sounds connected, right? Not really. I have approximately 30 leaders in my region; reaching them once a month is a struggle. Clearly, my presence style is my preferred style; to the point where I feel guilty if I have to take a day off sick (knock on wood, no sick days for a few years!).

And now that? I sit in my office at my desk at home with little more connection to the world than an internet connection for email, my iPad playing CNN next to me, while all day I answer emails, gather reporting requirements, and work on emerging projects. . However, there are ways to lead from a distance that I have used with greater focus. My leadership teams face significantly challenging times in healthcare through staffing, supply and operating volume challenges.

To address these daily stresses and demands, I initiated a daily conference call to bring my site leaders together to discuss required reporting items, but also a forum to share concerns, opportunities to support each other, as well as ideas and learnings from each other. my perspective to share as the outbreak evolves, literally minute by minute. Also, when in a leadership position of this, leaders need to be completely available and constantly open. Over the course of the lockdown, I have received more calls from members of my leadership team than I normally would. In some cases, it is related to Covid-19, while in other cases, they are only connecting to share unrelated information that happens in the field.

What does fully available and constantly open mean? Supporting this first, knowing that my team needs me in a heartbeat more than ever for the ‘just in case’ situation, including any training needed, supplies needed and/or a general question comes up. During the current pandemic, I spend several hours a day on calls related to Covid-19, patient care, supplies, and incident response. However, when I’m on those calls, if one of my leaders calls, I don’t (at least very rarely) send them to voicemail to reply to them later. Rather, I switch lines and take your needs head-on. Sometimes they know I’m on another call, sometimes they don’t. It doesn’t matter either. The important thing is that they know that I am there for them no matter what happens.

And what about the constant opening? I often describe to my leaders that ‘we have to be the leaders our people need us to be’. That means you’re always in the spotlight and you can’t let your guard down. As a previous leader, I had said, ‘never let them see you sweat.’ That is powerful. Essentially, when we have the most difficult days, we still have to be the leaders that the situation and our people demand of us. So when I say ‘consistently open’, I mean answer the phone at 5am like you’re wide awakeI mean use comfortable nicknames and common communication cues. Those who report to me know that I am a relaxed leader, yet the responsibility is clearly known and understood. Socially though, I like to keep things pretty loose; there is enough seriousness in our world every day that we don’t need to take ourselves too seriously to be effective leaders. As such, my common response to an incoming call might be, ‘Hello my friend/brother/nickname, how are you today and what can I do for you?’ It’s about being the necessary, comfortable, reassuring, open and dependent leader.

Aside from these components used to ultimately maintain a level of culture, I empathize and share workloads, concerns, and needs. At the same time, there are times when you have to ‘level’ the situation. In healthcare, we are all exhausted dealing with the normal demands + the demands of Covid. When the team starts to stray from the path, I bring them together expressing a shared mission and a shared burden. Any of us can feel isolated and alone, frustrated and on an island, even when we are all in the same boat. That’s where community, presence, openness, connection, teamwork, and load sharing come into play. Occasionally you have to grab someone by the collar of their shirt and push them back into the boat while the rest of the crew works to build bigger oars and bigger sails to get through the storm we find ourselves in.

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