I remember years ago, I was training some new facilitators to deliver a virtual programme in those crazy prehistoric days when ‘virtual programme’ ran shivers up most people’s spines. One of them fed back to me that she noticed how I remembered information about the participants that I would weave back into other sessions. What this 'noticing' impressed on her was the impact it had when I played that information back: how the individuals seemed to engage and connect with the session more.
When I reflect now on my leadership learning in this last year, I found that ’noticing’ was perhaps one of my success stories. Not just as a facilitator but as a leader – noticing (I think) has made my team feel valued and as a result engaged.
Today many of us haven’t seen our work colleagues in person for many months, so we are leading at a distance. Noticing is even more important as whilst at a distance we can’t always rely on the normal cues we have in an open planned office… (he’s been in the meeting room for a while, she looks really stressed, he seems distracted by something)
So, what can we as leaders do to ‘notice’ others in today’s virtual world?
- Follow up on throwaway remarks – sometimes I don’t do this in the moment, but I finish a call with a team member and realise that in our work focused chat, a throwaway remark ‘I haven’t slept well this week’ has been made and I need to acknowledge it.
- Recognise my own filters – as a leader I bring to my role biases, assumptions and experiences which will colour my reaction to what people say – the more I can be aware of these the better, as it is easy to judge other people’s behaviour by my own starting point.
- Listen (with fascination) – stealing the words of Nancy Kliene, but really paying attention to what others are saying and what I’m noticing about how they present themselves today.
- Spot the cues & tune in – a colleague who visibly looks withdrawn on video or someone who has sent uncharacteristically long emails (maybe they need to chat?) or has stopped acknowledging information shared in the usual way on collaboration tools – reach out to see how they are.
- Give recognition the right way – ensure that you celebrate achievements, what more can you say than well done? You aren’t going to bump into them in the office later so make a point of reaching out and telling them when you have spotted something you valued.
I was reminded of this recently as I was facilitating a leadership development programme with a group of leaders I had worked with virtually in September. I remembered that one of them had told me she could do the splits and so yes I challenged her to start the day with the splits – to which she obliged. Her reaction was ‘I can’t believe you remember that about me’.
Making people feel valued and noticed as a human isn’t something we can only do in person – but to do it well virtually we need to work a little harder to show our team members we truly ‘see them’ and are making every effort to connect with them at a human level.