Ascendis Blog

How to Create a Virtual Leadership Culture That Inspires Others

Today's leaders must understand that when stress is high, productivity decreases. Employees and team managers have been finding it difficult to focus because they have so much on their minds: their health and safety, the health and safety of loved ones, whether or not they can pay their bills, what the world will look like when this period of social distancing subsides, and more.

Virtual leadership may be all we have right now, and leaders should also ensure they are also providing inspirational leadership to the teams at this time. Inspirational leadership is multifaceted. The direction is about the way your leaders communicate and interact with employees and about their vision for the future. Leadership is also what is celebrated and recognized, and what the expectations of the employee are and the extent to which they are trusted. With trust comes great responsibility, and the best way to build confidence is to showcase your abilities and to be a continuous learner.

Korn Ferry provides three areas where virtual leaders can learn to become inspirational leaders for their teams:

Remain Agile, Yet Maintain Humility: Leaders must lead from the front, exhibiting the values and behaviors they expect from the team.  Leading from the front doesn’t mean being isolated, however. To be sure, for many leaders, one of the hardest things to do is to rely on the opinions and decisions of other people. By seeking out the perspectives of others to make critical decisions, you can inspire them to stay focused on behaviors necessary to meet their professional goals.

Provide Explicit and Transparent Communication: By now, leaders should know that they need to communicate with stakeholders during a crisis. And with a viral outbreak such as the current pandemic, different organizations will need to communicate differently. Richard Marshall, global managing director of Korn Ferry’s Corporate Affairs practice, says communications should be tailored to each stakeholder constituency based on their unique concerns. Communicating with employees about what protocols the organization is putting in place to keep them safe should always come first, Marshall says.

With partners and vendors, he suggests establishing a project team to monitor the situation and relay updates. Investor relations, corporate communications, and management teams should work in unison to navigate the response from investors and consumers and address any concerns proactively. Experts say leaders need to be authentic and transparent.

“People are obviously nervous about the implications of the virus, and it is essential to keep them engaged, informed, and safe,” says Peter McDermott, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Global Corporate Affairs practice.

This is indeed a time for human resources and management to show a supportive and steady hand. “We don’t want to be proactively alarmist, but managers should be prepared to support employees’ concerns individually, as individual needs may vary widely,” says Jennifer Beery, senior director of talent for North America at Korn Ferry.

Keep Engagement High: Surveys have shown that fewer than half of employees worldwide say they are “highly engaged” at work. That task is even tougher now as the coronavirus has employees not working in their usual spots or, worse, temporarily not working. Soliciting feedback through a pulse survey can give leaders information about what employee concerns are and what actions would be most helpful to resolve those concerns, says Jennifer Streitwieser, an associate client partner at Korn Ferry and head of the firm’s US engagement and culture business. Just as critically, she says, it’s important to ensure that employees are energized once the crisis has passed.

Gathering employee feedback about what would be most helpful to them as life returns to normal will ensure that leaders and managers focus on the actions that will have the greatest impact. There are three keys to effective surveys, Streitwieser says: listen to employees, act on the feedback they provide, and, most importantly, communicate: “We hear you, and here’s what we’ve done based on your feedback.”

Keep in mind, the skills needed by managers of their team members will change and evolve. Making company-wide leadership training a priority will allow leaders to create environments and organizational cultures that are stimulating and exciting to work within. 

Virtual leadership training will inspire employees to engage in frequent, honest conversations about how they can improve processes. These conversations are likely to generate higher quality solutions to problems, and everyone will benefit from new opportunities to collaborate with all of these individual perspectives. When leaders can show an interest in investment by giving their staff the tools they need to succeed, leaders can look forward to inspiring a leadership culture that is sustainable across all business units, no matter where employees are located.