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Navigating The Leadership Nuances Of A Dispersed Workforce

By News Creatives Authors , in Small Business , at August 19, 2021

As President & CEO for Ricoh North America, Carsten Bruhn leads the information management and digital services company.

When it comes to leadership, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Aside from business goals and industry demands, there are interpersonal attributes and personal values that influence an impactful leadership style. And today, we’re at a unique point in time where we must consider how to manage teams that could be inconsistently dispersed and, perhaps more importantly, have different approaches to learning and embracing organizational values.

The future of the workplace will likely consist of a combination of remote workers, in-office workers, hybrid workers and so on. But how does a leader maintain a consistent approach with teams that have fluid workplaces?

It’s not new to say that traditional ways of conducting business must evolve, and this applies to leadership approaches as well. If we expect agility and efficiency from our teams despite the newfound flexibility of workplaces, we, too, must place the same expectations on ourselves.

A recent Harvard Business School survey of 1,500 professionals revealed that 81% of respondents either don’t want to come back to the office at all or would prefer a hybrid model of work. Some might think this is because a team is being “lazy.” But in reality, there are important factors outside of the workplace that could be influencing this new preference, including childcare, eldercare, commuting costs and others.

It’s important for us to remember that a career is just one part of a person’s life. And in 2020, employees and leaders alike were abruptly forced to juggle many more parts of their lives in ways never previously imagined.

Bring agility to servant leadership.

Remembering that we’re all human is a fundamental attribute of an effective servant leader. Servant leadership is a philosophy in which the goal of a leader is to serve. It’s a values-based approach that is centered on leading by example and encouraging authenticity, collaboration and fearless ideation.

As we navigate what the future of work will look like, servant leadership becomes more important to success and maintaining a sense of teamwork. And due to the fluidity of the future workplace, agility needs to be a centerpiece to a servant leadership approach.

Think about how we communicate in our everyday lives: The way we interpret messages in person compared to an email can vary. When in virtual meetings, we hear things differently when speakers are on video vs. audio-only. The words may be the same, but the interpretation can range.

When humanizing your approach to servant leadership, think about how you interpret messages in the scenarios mentioned above. Adjust your delivery, and perhaps even your language, in an effort to leave the strongest impact. Consider:

• Encouraging engagement: Work in collaboration with your human resources and communications teams to develop a consistent strategy for encouraging engagement. In person, this could be a “raise your hand” opportunity at an all-hands meeting. But if half of the attendees are virtual, will they feel slighted? Entrust your extended team to develop an approach that could encourage pre-activity engagement, and perhaps address those questions at the beginning of the event to help those who work remotely feel heard.

• Encouraging presence: Make each interaction one where all participants are present. To do so, consider taking what might be considered a non-traditional approach to meetings — such as no presentations are allowed unless required for a specific task or topic; no multi-tasking is permitted; and no mobile devices are permitted, whether you’re there in-person or tuning in virtually via video.

• Re-evaluating what you measure in your team: Often, team members feel they’re being measured on how busy their day is or how many hours are spent in the office. But is that really what’s going to help you move your company forward? If colleagues are measured on their output quality, I believe this would innately spark bigger thinking and inspire more purpose.

Lead with purpose.

Leading with purpose requires us to look within ourselves to understand what our values are. When you understand your values, you can discover a compass that will guide you and ultimately lead your team — no matter where they are.

That said, keep in mind it’s one thing to tell your team your values; it’s another thing to exemplify them. Whether remote or in-person, the believe-ability factor is motivational. This also leads to transparency and being present. When you use your time to ensure everyone is aware of what the management team is trying to achieve, your team will be encouraged to take action. They’ll feel like they’re part of the team and understand their role is critical to success.

By putting in the effort to ensure your leadership message is consistent and your values are clear, your purpose will be felt by your team. Whether at home or in the office, they’ll feel as if they’re in it with you, instead of in it for you.

When we live by our values, I believe we have the benefit of greater fulfillment in our lives. We’re no longer defined by our job title or the place we live. Our values are our true selves, and it’s only with this attitude that we can lead. For more on ways to lead from the back and foster community, read my first Forbes article.


Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?


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