How to Show Up as a Better Leader During Chaotic Times

How To Show Up As a Better Leader During Chaotic Times

Do you ever feel like us? Sometimes we just look at one another and say, “Why are we so tired?” Leading in chaotic times is exhausting.

But when it comes right down to it, one of the biggest reasons is all the uncertainty and contingency planning.

“If there’s a vaccine by then we’ll hold our event this way … and if not, let’s plan for an entirely different approach.”

“We will go in THIS direction unless THAT happens, and then, of course, we’ll need to do THAT instead. Can you build it out both ways?”

“We desperately need leadership training. And we’ve selected you …” (that’s the good news).

“But first, we have to see if …” (and all we head into another hopeful holding pattern).”

And your contingencies depend on THEIR contingencies. And the vortex of chaotic times continues.

How to Ensure You Show Up as a Better Leader During Chaotic Times

You just don’t know what you’re going to show up to tomorrow.

But you do have a very important choice: How you show up.

One of the best ways to become a better leader is to DECIDE how you want to show up.

No matter what.


Regardless of what happens next.

To lead from your own playbook.

You can’t always choose WHAT you show up to,

but you can always choose HOW you show up.

When Karin was teaching in the MBA program at the University of Maryland, one of her favorite assignments was helping her students articulate their values and operating principles by building their “leadership credo”(click here for a step-by-step guide to this activity which you can easily adapt for a Zoom team-builder).

We take a similar approach in our long-term leadership programs by helping leaders build their personalized leadership playbook. They reflect on and articulate their leadership values, operating principles, and what they want to be known for—their leadership legacy.

We then take the conversation a step deeper as we talk about scenarios that make it challenging to show up as this best version of themselves. And how they can help one another overcome those challenges.

Then, when the chaos ensues, we encourage leaders to pause and control what they can control: how they show up. Because they’ve got the playbook.

Your Personalized Leadership Playbook

And so we share this tool with you, to help you (and your team) build your own leadership playbook for thriving during chaotic times. Let us know how it goes. We’d love to have you share your aspirational leadership legacy with us in the comments. Feel free to use this playbook with your team. You can download the PDF here.


Your Turn:

What’s your aspirational leadership legacy. For what do you want to be remembered as a leader?

How to Demonstrate Your Leadership Potential Right Now

How to Demonstrate Your Leadership Potential Now

You know you’ve got leadership potential.

But, how do you get others to see it? Particularly, now. After all, your boss has bigger fish to fry than talking about your career.

But this crisis could go on for a while.

And you care about your future and want to make a bigger impact.

In-person visibility is at an all-time low. The company off-site where you would normally have some great hallway conversations is now virtual.

But the good news is that in some ways it’s even easier to emerge as a leader and get noticed for your leadership potential.

Because you know what your company needs right now?

Great leadership at every level.

If you’re stretching out of your comfort zone, contributing what you can, truly caring for the people around you, making the tough decisions, and prioritizing what matters most—you are bound to get noticed.

5 Ways to Demonstrate Your Leadership Potential Now

This is your moment.

New leaders always emerge in times of crisis.

Stay focused on adding value, making a consistent contribution, and worry less about who gets the credit.

It might not happen right away, but trust me, there will be a point that people look back and say, “Who made a difference during our time of crisis, what did they do, and why did it matter?”

You want your name at the top of the list.

Here’s a start.

1. Connect deeply.

Everyone is struggling in their own way right now.  Show up with deep empathy (and a bit of vulnerability) and work to connect. Influence starts with trust and connection. And you know what else? It feels good! For you and for them.

2. Keep your cool.

Grace under pressure is by far one of the hardest leadership competencies to teach. And, it’s one of the most important leadership competencies needed right now.

When everyone’s freaking out about a fast pivot, or visibly oozing pandemic stress onto everyone around them, the people who can provide stability and calm stand out.

Just like stress, calm is contagious.  Anything you can do to help the people around you stay grounded will add huge value. Be the one who helps the team stay focused and productive.

3. Consistently contribute I.D.E.A.s to improve the business.

And not just any ideas. Bring ideas that are strategically aligned with what your organization needs to do to thrive in the next 18 months.

No one has all the answers. That’s your invitation.

Show that you get what matters most and bring ideas about how to solve a big problem, and in the next 9 box review, your boss will be sharing how resourceful you are with excellent critical thinking skills. You can use our I.D.E.A. model to vet your ideas and then make your case.

4. Be sure every meeting you attend is better because you were there.

Leading remote teams resource pagePeople are Zoomed out. Everyone we talk to is sharing that remote work is leading to more meetings, not less.

You don’t have to be in charge of a meeting to make it better.

Check out our FREE remote team’s resource center for ideas on how to lead remote meetings, run better remote one-on-one and more and work to make any meeting you are a part of better. Suggest alternative ways to communicate, including asynchronous communication.

5. Lead a team to solve a problem.

There’s no shortage of challenges right now. Pick something that’s really frustrating you, that’s within your ability to make better. Find a few like-minded people and work on it. Don’t do it because you need visibility. Do it because you care and want to make your organization better. Every leader I’m talking to right now is looking for more gung-ho, solutions-oriented people to help.

Be the person others see as working to make things better.

Your turn.

What ideas do you have for someone looking to demonstrate their leadership potential right now?

how to be compassionate without destroying consistency

How to Be Compassionate Without Destroying Consistency

The other day, “Joe” reached out with a genuine dilemma. Throughout this crisis, he’s encouraged his supervisors to be compassionate.  Because, like you, he knows that everyone is dealing with their own set of challenging circumstances.

Like you, he’s focused on doing the right thing for the human beings on the team. Which, of course, means an extra dose of flexibility.

This compassionate, flexible approach worked great—at first. But, now, half a year into this work-at-home reality, with no end in sight, people are complaining about consistency.

And frankly, a few folks are taking advantage of the loosened expectations. The results could be better. The supervisors who try to reign things in look like the bad guys.  Frustration abounds.

How to Calibrate Compassionate Consistency

So what should Joe (and you) do? How do you reset expectations without being a jerk? How do you create compassionate consistency within and across teams?

It starts with setting parameters and calibrating with specific examples.

We find it helpful to think about decisions in three buckets: hard lines, soft lines, and your lines.

Hard Lines

These are areas where employees don’t have much discretion. Think compliance, ethics issues, or even brand standards. Your people can’t bend a rule like that without coming to you.

And, you’re not likely to budge either. Being really clear about your hard line parameters saves time and frustration—for everyone.

Soft Lines

Soft lines are decisions that have more discretion.  People are free to make the call, within certain boundaries. This is where calibration is vital.

For example, suppose you will bend your attendance policy, giving people an extra chance for extraordinary family circumstances during this time. What does that actually mean? It’s likely that your managers will have different interpretations of what constitutes “extraordinary.”

Start by identifying what decisions fall into your “soft lines” bucket, and then play with some imaginary “what if” scenarios, and help the team collaborate and discuss what they would do. It’s far easier (and way less emotional) to calibrate on what compassion looks like in “pretend” situations. And, having already had a similar discussion makes it easier when the time comes to make the tough call.

Your Lines

And if there are areas where your team truly has discretion, be very clear about what those are.   For example, if you only need people in “the office” (working synchronously) during certain hours, say so. And give them the flexibility to manage the rest of their schedule around their life. Or, perhaps you’re requiring every manager to hold a weekly one-on-one with each member of their team, but exactly what that looks like is up to them.

It’s surprising how often people feel overly constrained in areas where they actually have discretion.

The antidote to uncertainty is clarity. The more clear you can be about who owns the decision, and calibrate on what a compassionate response actually looks like, the easier it will be for your managers to make the right, and more consistent, call.

online meetings that don't suck your soul

Beyond the Basics: Online Meetings that Don’t Suck Your Soul

We don’t hate online meetings – we hate soul-sucking wastes of time.

After months of online meetings, video conferences, Zoom, and Teams meetings, you’ve mastered the basics:

  • You’ve got light in front of you (not behind you) so we can see you.
  • You look into the camera to connect with your team.
  • You’ve got a list of everyone attending and you call in each person to take part.
  • You found a decent microphone so your team can hear you and you don’t have to yell.
  • You invite the least number of people to make the best decisions.
  • At the beginning of the meeting, you summarize the purpose.
  • Your agenda is short, snappy, and people don’t drift and start checking emails.
  • At the end of the meeting, you check for understanding and schedule the finish by asking “Who’s doing what, by when, and how will we know?”
  • And, vitally, you’re not holding a video meeting when a phone call or email will do.

You’re doing these things, but online meeting fatigue persists. What now?

Why Online Meetings Wear Us Out

Online meeting fatigue is real. There are a couple of reasons it happens and, when you know why, you can do something about them.

Remote Energy Drains – It takes energy to look into that camera and convey your support, encouragement, urgency, or concern. And then, you’re putting that energy into the camera, but you don’t get it back.

Your brain is built to work with the verbal and nonverbal cues you get from other people. Without those cues, you spend more energy in the form of anxiety, trying to figure out what’s happening. Much of this is unconscious, but it’s happening and it wears us out.

Seeing Yourself – Imagine a traditional face-to-face team meeting. Now imagine holding a mirror in front of your face while you’re talking. You would become hyper-aware of your facial expressions, posture, the tilt of your head, that fly-away hair that won’t behave, asking yourself “Should I move that way, no-wait-I’m-mirrored-go-the-other-way. Oh dang, that looked dumb, argh …” the list goes on.

The default “see-yourself” settings in many video meeting platforms create new awareness. For some of us, this isn’t bad—we needed the help. But this awareness of yourself consumes yet more energy – energy you never had to expend in a face-to-face setting.

People Become Less Human – One of the challenging aspects of our humanity is that it’s easier to see people close to us as fully formed persons with complex lives and a range of interests. The farther away a person is, the easier it is to reduce them to their role, a number, or even a problem. Online meetings can reinforce this tendency if we’re not careful. (Fortunately, they can also help to humanize one another if we’re intentional about it.)

How to Invigorate Your Online Meetings

Get Personal – One of the most effective and easiest ways to reinvigorate your online meetings is to show up with (and invite others’) full humanity. You can set a different tone and create meaningful connection by starting with the people, rather than the business.

Get past the friendly banter and start with meaningful, but safe, self-disclosure. For example:

  • Ask everyone to share an inspirational quote that’s guided them through challenging times.
  • Have every participant show an object that is meaningful to them and explain why.
  • For a lighter tone, you might start by asking everyone to share the most humorous regret they have during the pandemic.

Add Drama – What made Tiger King such an early pandemic phenomenon? Perhaps it was the lack of new alternatives, but at its core, that show had drama. (I wasn’t a fan of the show, but every minute had you wondering “What the heck will happen next?”)

Now, I’m not suggesting you threaten your competition or accuse a colleague of murdering their spouse (and if those references don’t mean anything to you – you didn’t watch the show, and that’s perfectly okay)—but, you can add drama to your meetings and make them more interesting.

There are several ways to amp up the intrigue, drama, and curiosity.

Start by making interesting decisions. Start a decision-making discussion with a clear definition of what’s at stake, why the decision matters, and what their choice will accomplish.

Not making a decision? Use a classic pre-commercial television technique: the teaser. “When we return, will our hero save the day or will she face crushing failure?”

In a business meeting this might look like, “Today we’re discussing a new process that will reduce our headaches and give us a chance to catch up on …”  Assuming you’ve told the truth and the process really does those things, now I’m leaning in, paying attention, and wanting to get to the good stuff.

Another fun way to add dramatic tension is to use tools like the Wheel of Names to review content, summarize action items, check for understanding, or choose someone to answer questions. You don’t want to overuse it, but people almost hold their breath waiting to see where the needle lands.

Finally, you’ll introduce more drama as you vary the other techniques in this article. Your team will constantly wonder what might happen next. That positive anticipation alleviates fatigue and boredom.

online meetings fatigue

Collaborate – One of the best advantages of online meetings is the ability to collaborate quickly, discuss critical questions, and regroup to share analysis, conclusions, and solutions. We’ve been so proud of the speed with which large teams can quickly identify strategic solutions and move to action when given the chance.

Use your breakout rooms, whiteboard tools, collaboration platforms like MIRO, and your public chat room to take advantage of all the thought-power on your team.

Bottom line: if you hold a meeting and don’t have participants talking with one another about critical issues, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

online meetings fatigue

Think Outside the Screen – It’s only natural – we zero in on the camera lens with an occasional glance at the video images on the screen. Before long, your world—and the world of your teammates—has shrunk to the rectangle in front of you.

Ease online meetings fatigue by thinking outside the screen.

  • Get people moving. Stand up. Dance.
  • Have a yoga practitioner on your team? Have them lead a 60-second yoga break.
  • Do an agenda-related scavenger hunt – “In 30 seconds, find an item that best illustrates [the problem we’re addressing] or [the future we want to achieve].”
  • Communicate key messages outside the screen in ways no one will expect (check out this article for a fantastic list of ways to communicate off-screen.)

Build, draw, tear—almost anything you’d do in person, you can adapt for remote meetings.

live online leadership development

Remove Energy Drains – Once you’ve got your camera set up and you know you framed your backdrop the way you want it, in many platforms, you don’t have to keep looking at yourself. Here’s how to hide your video from yourself in Zoom.

What about that energy drain of not getting reactions?

Depending on your platform, you can use thumbs up, claps, emojis, chat responses, or visual cues (think jazz hands) for real-time feedback. Create a culture of engagement and people will naturally interact with one another’s comments, feedback, and presentations. No, this doesn’t replace the real-time nonverbal signals we’re accustomed to, but over time it will help.

Your Turn

Some of the most fun moments over the past few months have been talking with leaders about the fun and creative ways they run meetings and engage their teams. We’d love to keep that spirit of creativity, fun, and team engagement going here.

Leave us a comment and share: What is your best suggestion to alleviate online meeting fatigue?

stop remote work from stealing your life

How to Stop Remote Work from Stealing Your Life

Awareness and intention will help stop remote work from stealing your life.

It’s not your imagination: if the pandemic shifted your job to working from home, odds are, you’re working longer hours. For many of the leaders we’ve spoken with over the past months, WFH arrangements are sapping their energy and their team’s morale and mental health. To lead your team through these challenges, it’s vital that you stop remote work from stealing your life.

One of the best parts of working with so many business leaders around the world is seeing the concern and creativity of leaders to help their teams during the pandemic. There is no magic wand that will solve every challenge, but you can stop remote work from stealing your life by incorporating some combination of these approaches.

Six Practices to Stop Remote Work from Stealing Away Your Best Self

Tap into the Power of Ritual

You’ve likely heard of Parksinson’s Law: that work expands to fit the time allotted for it. That’s a big problem when time seems unlimited.

One way to stop remote work from stealing your life is to clearly define the time in which it must happen. If you know you can’t work before or after a certain time, you’ll write that email in half the time, shorten or eliminate meetings, and spend less time on social media.

Without that clear definition, it’s easy to start work while you’re blearily reading emails in bed while waking up, keep on working through breakfast, and stumble into the evening without ever having stopped.

That’s a poor way to live (nor is it a good way to be a productive team member).

Tap into the power of rituals to create a “container” for your work. Writers are famous for rituals they use to define their work. Victor Hugo would take off his clothes to write and put them on again once he was done (not recommended for those Zoom calls!)

One IT manager we spoke with said his powerful work-from-home ritual was simply to pack his lunch. He’d eat breakfast with his family, prepare his lunch, put it in a cooler bag, and then take it with him the 15 feet to his desk. That would signal the start of the workday.

Perhaps you light a candle to start and blow it out during breaks, lunch, or at the end of the day. Others set a timer. Find a ritual that tells your body and mind when it’s working and when it’s not.

Shift Out of Crisis Mode

Another factor that has contributed to the expansion of remote work is the feeling of crisis. As the virus first spread and shelter-in-place orders went out, most businesses and teams faced legitimate crises.

  • How will we maintain enough cash?
  • Will we survive this?
  • How can we get everyone working from home quickly enough?
  • How do we keep our people safe?
  • Will I keep my job?

A crisis energizes people. It provides clarity, focus, and adrenalin. It disrupts inertia and sparks innovation. Everyone rallies together and you can achieve amazing results. Some leaders love crisis-productivity so much that they manufacture drama and drive everyone nuts with constant fire drills.

But the power of crisis is limited. You can’t maintain that energy, focus, and adrenalin forever. It’s like sprinting. You sprint 400 meters. You can’t sprint a marathon.

Shifting out of crisis mode is difficult when the initial crisis isn’t over. The pandemic is a slow-moving economic and social crisis that isn’t over in a week, a month, or possibly even a year.

To stop remote work from stealing your life, shift out of crisis mode. Sometimes deep breathing, meditation, prayer, time in nature, or conversation with good friends are enough to make this shift.

A ceremony can also help. Declare the crisis of initial response “completed” and define the next stage, including the level of energy, effort, and overall health you expect of yourself and your team.

Still struggling to shift back to a gear you can maintain? Make two lists: what you can control and what’s outside of your control. Highlight your M.I.T.s (Most Important Things) on the first list. Release the second list (burn it, flush it, shred it, or delete it) and release yourself from having to work on the things you can’t control.

Find your focus on specific actions you can take toward the M.I.T.s where you can make a difference.

If, after these practices, you’re still finding it difficult to shift down, a conversation with a mental health professional can help.

Practice Mini-Experiments

One fun way to maintain your sense of life, build culture, and personal/professional development is a technique Karin learned from Susie, an executive whose company cultivated the technique of personal mini-experiments.

In short, you choose a behavior you want to try out. The criteria are that it has to be easy to do—and it has to scare you or make you uncomfortable. You commit to practice the new behavior for two to four weeks and see what happens.

For example: Susie described how she had a tendency to over-prepare for meetings. So her mini-experiment was to limit her preparation time to one hour. She worried that she would be under-prepared, but she discovered she did as well as ever–and now she had reclaimed many hours.

As the pandemic has progressed, we’ve heard leaders share their own mini-experiments:

  • Giving themselves permission to put down their phone and have lunch with their family for 30-45 minutes.
  • Starting a garden.
  • Waking up 30 minutes earlier for exercise, reflection, or to try a hobby.
  • Saying no to opportunities.

Enjoy a Hobby

Your mini-experiment might take the form of a hobby. One way to keep remote work from stealing your life is to have somewhere else to focus. David, who already enjoyed baking bread, used our extended time at home to join the ranks of sourdough bakers. It refreshes him and keeps him going between long days of leadership development.

Bread might not be your thing, but what might you do that would be fun and absorb some of your attention?

stop remote work from stealing your life

Make Team Agreements

One of the powerful tools we’ve seen many leaders use is to establish team norms of shared expectations about how they will work together. Examples include:

  • An international team that decided they will not schedule meetings after 7 pm for any participant. This forces them to be efficient with the time they have.
  • Other teams that have declared no-meetings-days such as Wednesdays or Fridays.
  • A commitment to always leave 15 or 30 minutes between online meetings.
  • Clarifying what communications tools to use for specific content. What can wait, and what needs to be discussed promptly? What should be an IM, an email, a phone call, and what must be a video meeting?

These discussions and commitments help everyone use their time more effectively.

Use the Flexibility

Working from home gives us opportunities. Where can you use the flexibility to restore your energy and relationships? Can you take an exercise break mid-morning? Can you meet your partner, child, or neighbor for a 15-minute break? Perhaps a walking meeting?

We talked with a team leader whose team all leave their work-from-home desks and walk while they meet by phone for 30 minutes.

Your Turn

For many, working from home during the pandemic is more difficult than traditional remote work. The challenges of family members unloading the dishwasher while you’re on a call, ad hoc workspace, concerns about illness, and social isolation add extra layers of complexity and stress.

If you’re working remotely, in order to lead your team and help them maintain their health and productivity, it’s vital that you stop remote work from stealing your best self. Energy, confidence, and empathy are hard to find when you’re strung out and exhausted from unending work.

We would love to hear from you. What techniques have you and your team used to stop remote work from stealing your life? Leave us a comment and tell us what’s working for you!

See Also:

What Your Employees Are Yearning For in a Remote One-on-One

What Employees are longing for in a remote one-on-one

What Employees are Yearning For in Remote One-on-Ones

If you really want to connect and support your team, there’s no better place to start than a great cadence of meaningful one-on-ones.

And yet, even before this transition to remote work, when we would ask employees about their experience with one-on-ones, we often heard nervous laughter and responses like these:

“One-on-ones, what are those (hahaha)?”

“She has an open door. She tells us to come by whenever we want. (Of course, she’s never there. Hahaha)”

“I just count on windshield time with my manager between client visits. He’s so busy, that’s the only time I know I’ve got him captive (hahaha).”

“He just leaves me alone. I do a good job. I guess he would tell me if I was screwing up (hahaha).”

Obviously, these responses are less than ideal, but it’s even harder to wing it now. So much is changing—and fast.

In the last few months, when we’ve asked employees about one-on-ones, the tenor of the conversations has changed from nervous laughter to deep concern.

Employees are yearning for MORE DIRECTION and CONNECTION in their remote one-on-ones.

“Dear Boss, here’s what I need most in a remote one on one…”

Today we share what we’re hearing employees need most right now in their one-on-ones. We encourage you to share this article with your team and to talk about what’s working in your remote one-on-ones and what you can do to take them to the next level.

Clarity: Help Me Understand What’s Most Important Right Now

“I understand that you don’t have all the answers. Priorities change.  But please give me a fighting chance of working on the right things, because quite frankly, I’m feeling overwhelmed and I don’t have time for rework or wasted effort. Please use our one-on-one to ensure I know what matters most this week, and what I need to do to be successful.”

Caring: Show Me I Matter More Than My KPIs

“It’s been a rough week. I’m tired. I signed up to be a working parent, but not a working parent with no daycare! I know you’re busy, but before you jump right in and talk about the project, can you take a minute to see me and check-in to see if I’m doing okay?”

Consistency: Give Me a Cadence I Can Count On

“I know your heart is in the right place and that you’re being pulled in a million directions too. But this is the third time you’ve canceled our one-on-one. I had my list all ready to cover with you. And now I’ve got to track you down. I scheduled my one-on-ones with my team AFTER ours so I would have answers for them. Now I’m heading into those with unanswered questions which is embarrassing and is slowing all of us down.”

Credibility: Be Real With Me, So I Can Be Real With You

“You know what made me feel great, that one time when you opened up and really shared how you were feeling. It made me feel so much better to know that you’re scared and tired too. But since then, you’ve just been so perky and positive—and I wonder, are you for real?”

Capacity: Ask Me What I Need

What I need to hear more than anything right now is: “How can I be most helpful?”

Curiosity: Ask Me For Ideas

I’m learning a lot and I’ve got some great ideas about how we can do things better. But, I feel awkward sharing my ideas if I’m not asked.

Boss, I really care about you, this company, and our success. I’d love to have some time to pull up with you each week in a quick one-on-one to share as we work through this important time together.


Your courageous employee.

Your Turn:

What would you add? What’s working well in your remote one-on-ones?

See Also:

How to Overcome One of the Biggest Challenges from Working From Home

How to Hold an Effective Mid Year Review in a Pandemic

How to overcome one of the biggest challenges of working from home

How to Overcome One of the Biggest Challenges of Working From Home

The Harvard Business Review article,  The Implications of Working Without an Office covers great research about the benefits and challenges of working from home. I highly recommend it.  If nothing else to validate those mixed emotions you’re having.

Because if you’re like every client we talk to, this new working from home model isn’t ideal. But it’s not a disaster.

The big challenge is not that people are forced to work from home. It’s that they’re working from home in a pandemic with children crawling all over them. Their other routines are disrupted. They can’t see people they love. All in an unstable economy. And of course, there’s the emotional investment in the very important conversations about racial equity and injustice.

People are tired. Worn thin. Scared. Lonely. Overwhelmed.

And Yet …

And with all that going on, the research shows many people are feeling more productive.

Since all-virtual work began, employee stress, negative emotions, and task-related conflict have all been steadily falling; each is down at least 10%. At the same time, employees have experienced an approximately 10% improvement in self-efficacy and their capacity to pay attention to their work. A couple of months in, employees reported that they were “falling into a consistent routine,” “forming a pattern [of work time and breaks] with my coworkers,” and “learning what makes me the most productive and how I can best manage my time and energy.” One employee even noted, “I think it’s weird how normal everything has become — the virtual meetings, the emails, everyone looking grungy.” Another stated that it just became “business as usual.”

Comments made by everyone from frontline employees to CEOs revealed a slew of perceived benefits from working from home. One CEO told us he “hoped this put an end to the ‘fly across the country for a one-hour meeting’ expectation forever.” Others reported that they had “more focus time,” “shorter meetings,” and “more flexible time with family” — and, most commonly, were “not missing the daily commute.” By the eighth week, many employees reported getting “into the groove of working from home” and “wanting to continue” working virtually. Several even said, “I love it.”

And if your teams are like the many employees being surveyed by HR departments all over the globe,  you’re hearing, “I’d prefer to work from home at least some of the time.”  Particularly once we’re past this pandemic and the kids are back in school where they belong 😉

Lost Informal Collaboration: One Big Challenge of Working From Home

One of the biggest challenges of working from home is lost informal communication that leads to spontaneous collaboration, best practice sharing, and new ideas.

One key reason to think twice before going down that path (a long term shift to WFH) is the loss of unplanned interactions that lead to important outcomes. Physical offices cause people who don’t normally work with each other to connect accidentally — bumping into each other in the hallway or the cafeteria — and that interaction sparks new ideas.

This is worth considering and being deliberate about addressing.

4 Ways to Foster Deliberate Collaboration in Your Work From Home Team

1. Ensure you have meaningful shared goals and measures.

If your employees are only being measured by their own KPIs (or stack-ranked against their peers), you’re already fighting an uphill battle when it comes to collaboration. Now add “out-of-sight,” and it’s natural for people to keep their head down, focus on their own work and forget about the “team,” which is a generous use of the word in this case. If you want your team collaborating, ensure they have some shared goals, and shared skin in the game.

If your success depends on your peer’s success, you are far more likely to pick up the phone and see how you can help.

2. Create deliberate time for collaboration and I.D.E.A. sharing.

The challenge of depending on spontaneous collaboration, even in an office setting, is that it might not happen.

Don’t leave collaboration to chance. We’ve been amazed at the incredible ingenuity that’s coming out of quick, focused zoom breakout room sessions where cross-functional teams come together and ask important “How can we?” questions and share their best thinking. With the right set-up, even twenty minutes in focused conversation is enough to get people sharing micro-innovations and solutions.

This is more than just asking “Does anyone have any ideas?” at the end of the meeting. Start with clarity about where you need a great idea, and then give them tools to vet and share them.

3. Enable asynchronous communication.

In his book, Remote: Office Not Required, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson describe the best practice they use at their company 37signals.

At 37signals we’ve institutionalized this through a weekly discussion thread on the subject, “What have you been working on?” Everyone chimes in with a few lines about what they’ve done over the past week and what’s intended for the next week. It’s not a precise, rigorous estimation process, and it doesn’t attempt to deal with coordination. It simply aims to make everyone feel like they’re in the same galley and not in their own little rowboat. It also serves as a friendly reminder that we are all in it to make progress. Nobody wants to the one to report that “This week was spent completing Halo 4, eating leftover pizza, and catching up on Jersey Shore.” We all have a natural instinct to avoid letting our team down, so when the commitment becomes visual, it gets reinforced.

4.Train in cross-functional cohorts.

We’re in our third year of an award-winning cohort-based, live-online leadership development program (see my interview with Michelle Braden on why this worked).  We run this 7-month program in cohorts of 20 or so employees from 6 countries across a wide variety of functions. It’s highly interactive so it’s easy to share best practices and work through challenges together. Although participants are not people who would normally work together, they build deep relationships and learn an incredible amount about other areas of the business—all while honing their leadership skills—all without ever being in the same room.

Remote team collaboration requires a bit more intentionality, but with just a bit of focus, you can actually get more collaboration than waiting for people to bump into each other in the hallway.

Your turn.

What are your favorite ways to overcome the biggest challenges of working from home?

How to Lead Decisively When You Don't Know What's Next

How to Lead Decisively When You Don’t Know What’s Next

How do you lead decisively when you just don’t know what’s coming next?

You don’t know what you don’t know, and even what you DO know you know, could change.

In a recent conversation, “Joe,” a senior leader in the assisted living industry, recounted his first days of the COVID crisis in what turned out to be an early hotspot.

In those first few days we had so little information about this virus or how it spread and no guidance on what to do next. The only thing we knew for certain is that our residents were the definition of vulnerable—so I told my staff ,”Close the doors. No more visitors. Period.”

“But the families will be angry,” my staff warned. “Yes, they will—our primary mission is resident safety, I repeat close the doors.”

“But, what about …” (insert all the reasons why a bold, decisive move like this will be unpopular.   “I hear you. Close the doors.”

He shared, “I’m certain that early decision saved lives.”

A courageous culture needs clarity.  Knowing your values. Understanding what’s at stake and being willing to lead decisively with the information you have at the time.

And, staying curious and open while the situation evolves and be open to ideas of what must happen next.

5 Ways to Lead Decisively When You Don’t Know

When leading during times of uncertainty and change, it’s easy to feel like you don’t know anything. But you do.  Start there.

1. Ground yourself in your values.

The most decisive leaders we know have a clear set of values that guide their decision making. The wafflers are the ones who are more focused on optics or popularity than doing what is right.

2. Stay focused on what matters most.

Joe could act decisively because he knew saving lives trumped satisfaction ratings or anything else. Of course, he cared about his residents and their families. He understands the importance of quality of life and the need for human connection. All that matters, a lot.

And in this moment, saving lives came first. In a time of crisis, being laser-focused on what matters is key when you have to make a quick, tough call.

3. Make the best, next, small, bold decision.

You don’t have to make all the moves to act decisively. Your equivalent of “shutting the door” doesn’t have to be for a month. But, 48 hours can buy some time to get more information. You can tell your team, “I don’t have all the answers. And our direction may change. But for today, this is what we’re going to do.”

4. Show up with confident humility.

We were talking with “Jane,” another healthcare leader who had been given an enormous responsibility for operational safety during the early COVID preparation.

I was given a yellow vest to wear which meant that if there was a tough decision to make, it was up to me to make the final call. Sometimes this meant I was being asked to make decisions in departments where I was not the functional expert. I had to show up confident, people needed to see that in their leader—but also incredibly humble, to ask a lot of questions of the right people and to really listen to their point of view, including watching the looks on their faces while I weighed options. And then take that information in to make the best rationale call.

5. Prepare for the pivot.

We’re all living in a world where the news could change tomorrow. Leading decisively at a time like this also means being willing to remain detached from the decision and be ready to pivot when new information comes along. It’s okay to say, “Yesterday I said we were going to do this ___ and that made sense with what we knew at the time. And now we also know ____. So here’s what we’re going to do now and why.”

And sometimes…

“Let’s wait and see” is also an appropriate answer when you just don’t know. Some decisions don’t need to be made right now. Deciding when to decide is also a decision worth making.

See also: How to Change your Mind and Not Lose Their Trust and Support

How to Disrupt the Disruption and Help Your Team Move Forward

You can download a FREE chapter of our new book Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates here.


how to find the best ideas to make remote work easier

How to Find the Best Ideas to Make Remote Work Easier

Whether you’ve been leading remote teams for years, or you’ve been pushed into the deep end of remote leadership without much time to prepare, we imagine you’ve learned more than you could ever dream of over the last few months about leading remote teams.

Was “Zoom fatigue” even a thing before this mess? You’ve figured out the basics and how you’re ready for more. How do you tap into your team’s best ideas to make remote work easier?

How to Help Your Team Make Remote Work Easier

Over the last month, we’ve been working with teams all over the world to help them capture what they’re learning during this crisis.

What we’re finding is that when teams simply carve out a few minutes and …

(1) Ask: How can we make remote work easier?

(2) Give them a framework to vet their best ideas (see the video below)

(3) Respond with regard and do something with their ideas

they can easily generate GREAT ideas that improve both the employee and customer experience.

Some ideas generated so far include:

  • Eliminate that meeting and meet in smaller groups instead.
  • Create work schedule flexibility for working parents and caregivers.
  • Find ways to up the fun! (One of our clients even held a “prom.”)
  • Create new roles and job descriptions focused on shifting priorities.
  • Eliminate unnecessary work (and then got specific.)
  • Use breakout rooms for more intimate conversation.
  • Host a resiliency series to give people a chance to talk and exhale.
  • Shift our approach to mid-year reviews.

Introduce our I.D.E.A. Technique to Help Your Team Vet and Share Their Ideas

Join others Looking to Tap into Their Teams Best I.D.E.A.s

In addition to our private sessions with clients, we have some FREE I.D.E.A. Inspiration Summits coming up, where you can learn more about our tools, and to hear what others are doing.

July 23rd: Let’s Grow Leaders I.D.E.A. Inspiration Summit


June 23rd: In partnership with Careers in Government

How to Start Your Next Zoom Meeting in a More Meaningful Way

How to Start Your Next Zoom Meeting In a More Meaningful Way

Have you noticed that most Zoom meetings start one of two ways?

Friendly banter. “Hey Lauren, why did you choose Tiger King as your virtual background?” “Oh my gosh, I need a haircut.”   “Haha, not me. There are some advantages to being bald.”

Or, you jump right into the Zoom meeting agenda because “everyone’s so busy there’s no time to waste.”

No wonder we have Zoom fatigue.

Most of us are doing the best we can with what we have from where we are. We’re human beings navigating uncharted territory, experiencing the wild ride of emotions that shift by the minute. There’s not a lot of time to process. Most people I talk with are yearning for deeper conversation.

So, I’ve been thinking about an easy way to help you start your next Zoom meeting in a collective deep breath. Give people a minute to reflect on and share what’s on their minds. I hope you will give it a try and let me know how it goes.

An Easy Way to Start Your Next Zoom Meeting By Connecting a Level Deeper

Share this article with your team a day or so before the meeting.

Invite them to pick one of the quotations below that really resonates with them right now (or to bring a favorite quote of their own).

Then, start your Zoom meeting, but asking each person to share which quote they chose and why they find it valuable right now.

And watch the magical conversation unfold.

Inspirational Quotes For Difficult Times

Start here, or bring your own. In fact, I’d love for you to add your favorite to the list in the comments to give others even more choices.


“All courage is a threshold crossing. Often there is a choice: to enter the burning building or not, to speak the truth or not … But there is another sort of courage we are talking about here—the kind when afterward, the courageous are puzzled to be singled out as brave. They often say I had no choice.” -Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I’ll try again tomorrow.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

“I believe the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity … is daring to dare. – Maya Angelou


“Hang onto your hat. Hang onto your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.” -E.B. White

“Fall seven times, get up eight.” – Japanese Proverb

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” -Margaret Thatcher

“Never interrupt someone doing something you said couldn’t be done.” -Amelia Earhart

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword help in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of patter and a pitter. -J.R.R. Tolkien

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere or endure despite overwhelming obstacles.” -Christopher Reeve


“First tell yourself what kind of person you want to be, then do what you have to do.” -Epictetus

“If things start happening don’t worry, don’t stew. Just go right along you’ll start happening too.” – Dr. Seuss

“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refused to be reduced by it.” -Maya Angelou

“All you need are these: certainty of judgment in the present moment; action for good in the present moment; an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way.” – Marcus Aurelius


“There is a better way to do it. Find it.” -Thomas Edison

“The secret to change is to focus all your energy, not on figuring out the old, but on building this now.” -Socrates

“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” -Duke Ellington

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.” – Mister Rodgers

“The type of disruption most companies and government agencies are facing right now is a once-in-every-few-centuries-event … More than changes in technology, or channel, or competitors—it’s all of them all at once” (and this was said BEFORE this crisis, even more true now). -Steve Blank, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Stanford

“The most promising ideas begin from novelty and then add familiarity.” -Adam Grant

Shifting Perspective

“My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.” -Minutia Masahide

“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing the small things, so all the small things go in the right direction.” -Alvin Toffler, Future Shock

“When the winds of change blow, some build walls and others build windmills.” -Chinese Proverb

Your turn.

What inspirational quote is speaking to you most now?

See Also:

Lead Remote Meetings That Build Trust and Relationships

How to Build a Better Live-Online Leadership Training

Lead remote meetings to build results and relationships

Lead Remote Meetings that Get Results and Build Relationships


Even after social distancing ends, remote meetings are here to stay. In this episode you’ll get several ways to ensure that your remote meetings are the best use of everyone’s time – including how to take advantage of technology to do things you can’t do in a face-to-face meeting. Every meeting should lead to results and build relationships – and remote meetings are no exception.

In this time of extraordinary uncertainty and change, your team has learned to adapt quickly and do the best they can, with what they have, from where they are.

You’ve seen what can be done, despite constraints, as you worked to find creative, sometimes even Herculean solutions to serve your customers while keeping everyone safe.
As we look beyond this immediate crisis to establish a new normal, how will you leverage this spirit of micro-innovation, problem-solving, and customer advocacy on your team? Join us for a free IDEA Inspiration Rally to unleash your team’s best ideas for a better, bolder future.
how to lead a team that suddently has to work from home

How to Lead a Team That Suddenly Has to Work From Home

This week we’ve received so many calls like this from managers faced with implementing new work from home policies.

“I get the safety issues, I really do. But my team is used to being together in the same office. We collaborate all day long. That’s what makes us so successful. I’m concerned that this work from home policy is going to tank engagement, stifle communication and reduce productivity. What can I do?”

“I love sitting out on the floor with my team. That’s how I know what’s going on. How can I stay connected if everyone is working from home?”

“The timing couldn’t be worse. We’re in the middle of a huge project. How can I ensure my team stays focused when they’re working from home and distracted by fear?”

5 Ways to Keep Your Team Productive and Engaged While They Work From Home

These are all very real and legitimate concerns. Not everyone is cut out to work from home.

And it’s tricky to lead a remote team, particularly if you never have before.

So how do you keep your team focused and engaged when working from home is the only option?

1. Require video for your meetings and one-on-ones.

Your team may resist. Be clear from the beginning this is not optional. Being able to look one another in the eye leads to better listening (body language matters) and prevents multi-tasking.

This human connection is even more vital now that we’re all afraid to shake hands and see every human we interact with as a potential threat to disinfect.

2. Formalize informal communication.

When you’re in an office it’s natural to connect first before jumping into work. “How was your weekend?” When everyone is working remotely, it’s tempting to skip the small talk. Be deliberate about finding ways to communicate at a human level.

Last week, we sat in on a remote team meeting where they started with a virtual chorus of happy birthday. Not the best rendition we’ve ever heard. But, it was a brilliant minute well spent as everyone laughed before jumping into the stressful topic of coronavirus contingency planning.

Here’s a list of meaningful icebreaker conversation starters to keep your team connecting.

3. Over-communicate your most important priorities.

Your team is likely stressed and distracted about their health and the health of the vulnerable people they love, tanking stock prices, and what’s going to happen next. On top of all that, now they have a new routine at work. In times of uncertainty and change, you’ve got to overcommunicate more than you think is necessary.

Mix it up with as many techniques as possible For example, you can start the day with a quick team huddle  (over video of course).  Then follow-up with a recap email. Up your frequency of one-on-one check-ins. And be sure you’re deliberately asking your team for their best thinking for ways to work effectively in this new environment Or look for more creative ways to reinforce key messages such as starting an internal podcast.

4. Encourage people to work together (without you.)

When everyone is remote, it’s easy to become the hub for all communication. Which of course is a huge time suck for you and a missed opportunity for them. Assign people to work on projects together (over video). Encourage brainstorming and best practice sharing (over video). Consider assigning collaborative homework in advance of your team meeting or huddles.

5. Learn the art of great remote meetings.

Take time to establish new norms for your remote meetings. How will you ensure everyone participates? What’s the rule on multi-tasking? See How to Take Charge of Your Remote Meetings,  for a quick primer you can share with your team.

Just like any other change, a shift to a work-at-home policy will take some adjusting for you and your team. Be sure you’re checking in with your team to see what’s working and what more they need from you and from one another.

See Also:

7 Ways To Help Your Team Deal with Ambiguity 

Seth Godin: Stuck at Home