Pia Aalto is a Finnish leadership coach who combines solution focused coaching with her own international leadership experience. Her passion is to help leaders in finding their own best way to lead, not by giving advice but by asking powerful questions. She studied solution focused coaching at Helsinki University, and was certified as a coach by ICF, and for DiSC and Work of Leaders profiling. During the past years Pia has coached a huge amount of leaders in various fields: from ministries to health authorities and from construction companies to startups. Before her coach times she studied international business in Finland and in the U.S., led large global operational units at Nokia and global organization culture development at Nokia Siemens Networks. Due to her previous experience, she is a true change and remote leadership expert, with diversity and gender balance close to her heart.
As a coach, Pia’s ambition is not to grow her company but to make a difference in leadership – and to have a meaningful and balanced work-life. You can find her at Boss’s Angels that she co-founded eight years ago or at her own company Aalto Coaching. In addition to writing articles, she has co-written a popular handbook that coaches the readers (in Finnish) in challenging leadership situations. Pia coaches remotely and face-to-face from Finland, Europe where women leaders have a long history.
Towards new times with what we learned from leading remotely
According to the studies countries that are led by women coped quite well during the pandemic. One of those countries is Finland. We had successful leadership in many organizations, too. Learning from mistakes is important, but learning from what went well is the easiest way to success. What did we learn?
First, please take a moment to realize what You learned:
What went well? What did you do? What did you learn? After the pandemic, how are you going to benefit from what you learned – when moving ahead to create new success stories?
Lesson 1: Leading remotely requires clear goals
Many leaders learned that because we can’t see people, we can’t measure work by how many hours people sit by their desk. What can we do? We realized that we need to have clear enough goals and targets for everyone to work towards. We need to be able to measure individual input against that criteria. This has been an important wake-up call for many of us to have more discussion about the targets for this year, this month and this week. If the targets are agreed on together and reaching the targets requires cooperation, people tend to work together automatically. If we set individual targets only, people will most likely continue working individually. This can diminish the results, and strengthen the feelings of loneliness when working remotely.
How did you manage to include your team members in discussions about the targets? What kind of targets created cooperation? Which follow up practices were inspiring?
Lesson 2: People need trust and psychological safety
Trust is personal, while psychological safety is a group phenomenon. We need both to a good work performance. We can tell people to do things or to work together but if they do not feel safe, it will lead to average results only. The neuroscientists explain that a certain part of our brain has worked the same way since the cavemen’s time: you had to be able e.g. to trust the others in order to sleep. In leadership work this requires building trust between you and each team member, and building psychological safety within the whole team. When leading remotely many of us learned that establishing trust and safety needs special attention, such as arranging possibilities to get to know each other as human beings, and showing respect towards each other.
What did you learn about trust? What helped you to trust others? What helped them to trust you?
How could you see if those you lead felt safe or not? What made your team feel themselves safe as members of the team? What were the best ways for your team to build psychological safety within the team when working from different locations?
Lesson 3: Leading people requires keeping in touch
When working in the office we may have forgotten to ask how our team members are doing. When working remotely that turned out to be fatal. We also learned that contacting our team members in writing only is not enough. Many leaders say they finally started having short, weekly one-on-one discussions with each team member when leading remotely – and that they will never stop this practice, even when back in the office. In order to avoid ending up with an interrogation, it has helped a lot to take coaching techniques into use: asking, listening, encouraging. And less giving advice.
What kind of keeping in touch worked best for you and your team? How did you make sure you remembered to ask everyone about their situation regularly? Which coaching questions were the most inspiring for your team members?
Lesson 4: All meetings can be energizing
We learned that our time together is valuable. We also learned that poor meeting practices lead to even worse meetings in virtual environment than what we ever had in the office. That made at least some of us do things we should have done a long time ago: Create a proper agenda, invite only those who need to participate, have rather short weekly meetings than long ones monthly, use various facilitation techniques like group discussions, whiteboard or chat to collect everyone’s ideas and comments, agree on meeting rules about using own mobile phones and laptops during the meeting etc. One of the best practices was to ask everyone regularly for ideas how to have better meetings. Unofficial meetings were needed, too: Virtual coffee breaks, lunches etc. Those were often so popular that we can be sure regular breaks spent together will be continued in the offices, too. Especially during busy times.
Which facilitation techniques worked best for you to encourage everyone to participate? How did you create an energizing atmosphere in the meetings? Which virtual meeting practices could help you when back at the office?
Lesson 5: Leading yourself matters
Managing our tasks and time is important, but when working remotely we learned that leading our own energy is where it all begins. If those we lead noticed we are tired and hopeless it made it almost impossible to create the safe, hopeful and productive atmosphere we need. Your tone can be heard and seen even digitally. Digital tone is about how soon we answer, which media we use, how we use emojis, capital letters and exclamation marks. Our beliefs, values and thoughts define how we feel and how we choose to spend our time as leaders. There is one specific habit that takes away a big portion of our energy: multitasking. Many of us realized that multitasking is not just a problem caused by an open office but it is a bad habit that is not easy to let go even when alone at home.
What did you learn about leading yourself when working from home? How are you going to avoid multitasking? How is your digital tone? What are the best practices you will take with you to the future?
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