So you’re working at home…how effective is your leadership shadow?

Photo by Jason Strull on Unsplash

Each week I receive an email from Medium telling me which of my articles have been most read. The article that tops the list most weeks is one I wrote 4 years ago titled Who’s in your leadership shadow?

Given that it’s been 4 years, I’ve been pondering the most relevant way to re-visit the topic of leadership shadow. It struck me that, since writing the original article, our world of work has changed significantly. Some of us are only working remotely while others are adapting to a hybrid model of working at home and at the office. In both cases, the leadership shadow will be different to when we were face to face with our teams 100% of the time.

Coincidentally I had a conversation with a potential client this week that reminded me of the importance of aligning on definitions. He referred to a desire to ‘reduce his leadership shadow’. His comment set my coaching spidey-senses tingling. My mind went immediately to “why would you want to reduce your shadow?” — and then it dawned on me that his definition was different to mine. His association with leadership shadow was limited to unintentional, negative impacts. Mine is broader than that, so for clarity, here’s how I think about it.

As a leader, what you say and do has a big impact across your organisation. This impact casts a shadow that, either implicitly or (preferably) explicitly, says to your team “This is how we do things around here. Follow my lead”. As I described in my original article, when things are unclear people fill in the gaps with their own version of the story. They make assumptions about what is right and wrong. So, for me, the key to your leadership shadow is to intentionally use it to guide and support your team.

So, given the changes to our ways of working, how effective is your leadership shadow?

Let’s break it down into its component parts:

Your message will always be critical to your success as a leader. Nothing’s changed there. In the remote/hybrid world, I suggest paying extra attention to…

  • how I say it — tone can be so easily misunderstood in Slack and email,
  • where I say it — is Slack the right medium for our message? It’s important to choose your medium carefully to ensure your message is well received, and
  • how often I say it — we’re all bombarded with email, Slack, WhatsApp and other messaging apps which means that the likelihood we’ll miss something important increases — so it’s worth considering how often you need to repeat something to make sure everyone gets the message.

Working face-face increases the likelihood that we have consistent visibility to each other’s’ actions. In the remote/hybrid world that’s not necessarily the case. It’s probably worth thinking about how you amp up your communications to ensure everyone understands what you plan to do, why you plan to do it AND then what you’ve done.

Many leaders I’ve spoken to have reconsidered time allocations as their work location(s) change. Time in the office is now devoted to connecting with their team (on both work and personal levels), while individual work is completed on days at home. The rhythm of the work week has changed — which can look like a change in priority. It’s worth making sure you’re being explicit if that is the case so that nothing is left to chance.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’d heard speculation about the relative productivity of face-face vs remote work. No doubt the answers will vary depending on industry, function, role and individual circumstances (among other things). The key here is to remember that the measures you focus on (aka the questions you ask about what’s happening in the business) form a big part of your leadership shadow. They send strong messages to your team about what is most important you — so make sure the message received = the message intended.

Click here for more information about leadership shadow. With thanks to the work done by Chief Executive Women and Male Champions of Change.

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